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mainly Australian, US and Canadian a theme or idea that runs from the beginning to the end of a book, film, etc
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012


What is a through-line?

A through-line is a theme that is consistent from the beginning until the end in literature, film, and similar arts.

A through-line is a metaphor involving a line, as in a rope or string, that is connected through time, from the beginning of a story to its end. It can refer to a character or the story itself.

When through-line refers to a character, it is a visualization of the path that a character takes from the beginning to the end, such as Frodo being focused on destroying the One Ring in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. All of Frodo’s actions are small actions  that lead to his final goal, destroying the ring at Mount Doom.

When it refers to the story, the through-line is often a visualization of the plot itself, including actions that take place before the beginning of the story being studied. In J.K. Rowling’s Prisoner of Azkaban, the third book in the Harry Potter series, the through-line is the threat that Sirius Black presents.

Through-line is sometimes spelled through line or throughline.

Example: Our literature class studied the through-lines of popular children’s novels.

Where does through-line come from?

The first records of the term through-line come from around the 1930s. It combines the terms through, meaning “in at one end and out the other,” and line, meaning “a cord or a wire used as a guide,” to create the sense of a string of ideas through a literary work that together create a theme.

The concept of the through-line was initially established and used as an acting tool for actors to more appropriately get into character by Konstantin Stanislavski in the book An Actor Prepares. It is now used to describe anything that has a beginning and end.

It is also sometimes used to describe a connection between two things that crossed paths at some point. For example, when several incidents happen in a short period of time, people will often try to draw connections between them and if one consistent theme or aspect of the events is similar, that theme will be called a through-line. This idea is explored in an NPR podcast called, appropriately, Throughline.

Did you know … ?

What are some other forms related to through-line?

  • through line (alternate spelling)
  • throughline (alternate spelling)

What are some synonyms for through-line?

What are some words that share a root or word element with through-line

What are some words that often get used in discussing through-line?

How is through-line used in real life?

Through-line is almost always used in reference to literature or history and can often be applied to any story or situation in which something changes dramatically over time.



Try using through-line!

Is through-line used correctly in the following sentence?

Val didn’t like the movie because they thought the through-line got lost in the middle.

How to use through-line in a sentence