A turning point is a defining moment in a story. The names for the turning points vary, but the ones I used in the McD program, and continue to use, are Inciting Event (or Incident), Change of Plans, Point of No Return, Crisis (or Dark Moment), and Climax. Turning points are scenes, not summaries. They change the protagonist’s world and he/she can’t go back to the way it was before.
I saw Jenny Crusie give a presentation at a New Jersey Romance Writers conference a number of years ago and she used the metaphor of the turning points being telephone poles holding up the sagging story line. She also had a loose rule of thumb for pacing the turning points so you build tension. The Inciting Incident opens the story. A little over a quarter of the way through should be the second turning point. The third turning point should be just over halfway through. The fourth turning point should be at three-quarters through with the climax at the end. Another way to think of it is to divide the book into four parts, then add a little the beginning and take away from the end. Jenny has five turning points. I’ve seen seven turning points used to support the three-act structure. A Hero’s Journey would have three turning points (separation, initiation and return).
At RWA a couple of years ago, I attended a workshop that used Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat as the basis for plotting a story. That also uses a three-act structure and identifies turning points with words like Opening Image, Catalyst, Midpoint, Black Moment and Finale. There are a lot of other tools out there to help organize your thoughts and/or edit your story. I’ve seen a worksheet that turns Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering into a beat sheet and one that turned Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure into a beat sheet.
Jenny says look at turning points after the first draft and many agree, but some use these plotting tools at the beginning to plan out the story. The first approach is how I’ve typically written. I’m trying my hand at the other approach now – switching from pantser to plotter.
When do you look at turning points? Have you ever used a beat sheet or other tool to help figure it out?