Aha! · Writers Write

Comic Throughline

Since I started this book, I’ve had the worst time explaining exactly what it’s about. Every time someone asks and I do manage to get out a rambling sentence, I see eyes glaze over after a few words. So, I’ve been working on something writer John Vorhaus, in his book The Comic Toolbox, calls “comic throughline.” He suggests answering the following questions in the simplest format possible. Here are my answers:

  • Who is the hero? Annie Smart is a contemptuous rule follower, who teaches high school English.
  • What does the hero want? Annie’s outer need: to finish the school year without being fired. Annie’s inner need: to be a superhero in the face of bureaucratic tyranny.
  • The door opens . . .when Principal Evelyn Bozono implements a scheme to steal Annie’s master’s thesis.
  • The hero takes control . . .when Annie dumps her play-it-safe attitude and follows her heart.
  • A monkey wrench is thrown . . .when Nick Garrett falls in love with the new and improved Annie.
  • Things fall apart . . .when Evelyn Bozono actually steals the thesis.
  • The hero hits bottom . . .when Nick breaks up with Annie because she is afraid to expose Bozono.
  • The hero risks all . . .when a student comes to her with a problem requiring Annie to go to the police about Bozono. Bozono reacts by kidnapping the school custodian and strapping a bomb to his chest. Annie saves the day by defusing the bomb.
  • What does the hero get? Annie achieves her inner need to be a superhero. She achieves her outer need to keep her job. As a bonus, she gets Nick.

Of course none of the details are included in this description. And we all know–the devil is in the details.

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