Monday, August 17, 2009

The Spine

One of the most important lessons that I have learned through bitter experience is "Don't forget your spine".  This does not mean that I'm wimpy;  in fact I have been told that I can defend my positions with gusto; no, I'm talking about the spine of your story - that one sentence that sums everything up.  The 'what happens when' or 'what happens if' or 'Why...' that got the ball rolling back when the hints of the plot first starting knocking on your consciousness.

Yesterday I was talking to someone who is having trouble writing a play.  They have done mountains of research and adore the subject matter.  I asked "What's your play about?" and answer came there none. I expounded my theory that without the spine no one will get anywhere.  The spine becomes your roadmap, your litmus test.  I use it constantly to assure myself that I'm staying on track.  Does each sentence push the plot forward, add a new dimension to a character, color a scene?  If the answer is yes - the sentence (or paragraph) stays.  If not - out comes the highlighted delete weapon of destruction.

The spine, ladies and gentleman.  No book, play, screenplay etc. can survive without it.


  1. Is the spine of your book sort of like the logline? That one sentence you can give to an agent or someone who asks what your book is about? (Sort of like the logline you would find in a TV Guide?)

    Straight From Hel

  2. Helen; Yes. I call it the spine because the story won't stand up without it.

  3. I can start with a spine, one liner, log line, or whatever. But, I find that when I get into actually writing the guts of the story, I’m to micro and the Spine is too macro to help me very much, except in, well, a macro way.

    Not saying It’s not a great idea and a useful thing, it’s just that for me, I sometimes get lost in the details…and maybe THAT’s a problem in itself and trying to tell me something.

    Best Regards, Galen
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  4. I never know what the spine of my story is when I first begin. Several chapters in I might say, "Ahhh, there it is," and after that the storytelling is much easier.


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