Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tip O'Day #12

Novelist and screenwriter Dennis Foley blogs at http://dennisfoley.blogspot.com/ and his online writing courses can be found at the UCLA Writer's Program and Writers On the Net. I always look for profluence in the writing of others, but had never heard the word before meeting Dennis.

Profluence and Throughline:

A plot or subplot follows the efforts of the protagonist within that plot to achieve his primary goal. He does this by attempting to accomplish all the lesser goals necessary to achieve the primary goal. (If he is going to kill someone he has to go get a gun first.) This path to the primary goal is the plot's throughline. It is vital to the life of your story.

Recognition of this throughline by the reader gives the reader confidence that there is profluence to the story. Profluence is the clear sense that things are moving toward something, getting somewhere, flowing forward, have a direction and a destination.

The reader demands some reason to keep turning the pages. He won't do it just because the setting is interesting, the character is unique, pages are filled with endless detail or your writing style is fresh. The story needs to be going somewhere. How do you do that?

— You quickly and clearly make it obvious to the reader who the central character is.

— Make it clear what he wants, needs or desires.

— Resist the urge to explain or offer unnecessary back story.

— Remind yourself that you are writing a story and not a biography or a resume.

— Don’t dwell in that character's history, past, earlier experiences or anything from the character's life that wouldn't fall into the category of being absolutely necessary to the story's forward motion. History is final, done, behind the character and has already occurred. The minute a novelist begins to explain what happened when the character was six or what life was like years ago the reader knows that whatever it is, it didn't result in the worst thing that could happen or else the character wouldn't be present in the story.

— Ask yourself with each scene if it is clear that the scene is a logical step toward the protagonist's ultimate goal.

We can't write like previous generations of novelists. Start your story on a train in motion or at least pulling out of a station.

Evidence of continued profluence is the presence of causally linked scenes in pursuit of what's most important to the protagonist. Stories without profluence are normally populated by a lack of causally linked scenes and the presence of unrelated scenes showing no progression or connection to other scenes other than being about the same characters.

Know what your character wants and let your story be about his struggle to get there.


  1. I enjoyed reading this piece - it's a nice reminder how we have to be clear and concise in order to keep the readers attention - oh and thanks for teaching me the new word!

  2. Very nice piece. A few years ago, a fellowship judge commented that my submission piece had profluence--my first exposure to the term in a writing context. Your post is a nice expansion on what it means.