Michille: Turning Points

Left-Turn-Sign-X-W1-1LA 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?

8 thoughts on “Michille: Turning Points

  1. Although I’ve known about three-act structure and turning points and all that for a long time, I’d never used it in my writing until I went to McD. Before that, I just thought in terms of the action and the emotion escalating until the climax, when it all wound down quickly to the end. I wouldn’t have been able to pick out a turning point in one of my own books if it jabbed me in the eye.

    With the current WIP, I wondered if I had turning points. Have I been writing them without knowing it? I think maybe so—at least, I think this WIP has turning points. My crisis isn’t strong enough, but that’s still in revision, nor my climax (ditto). But looking back, I think I’ve got the turning points in there. Jenny had an idea on her blog the other day about finding the turning points—print out the manuscript, divide it up where the acts end, and see how it looks. I might try that, at least on my screen, to see what I have when I’m done with this second draft.

    • If you can figure out where your acts end, that should show you where your turning points are, right? It seems to me that if you can figure out that one section ends and another starts then something significant must have happened to change the landscape of the story.That could help you identify and then shore up the turning points you have already identified as not strong enough. And now that I’ve written that to you like I know what I’m talking about, I should go apply it to my own story. Off to apply . . .

  2. I tried applying rules of structure in the pre-draft phase with my current wip. In theory, it would streamline my writing and increase efficiency. Oh, the best laid plans … Maybe someday I’ll be able to do it, but I won’t be trying it again anytime soon. I am a pantser, and knowing what happens in my story from the beginning kills the joy for me. Best of luck to you, and here’s hoping your experiment is more successful than mine.

    • I’m a pantser, too, although I do usually have an idea of some of the major scenes/turning points. They aren’t refined – that comes in the edits. I vaguely recall seeing the Elizabeth Lowell plots out her whole book before writing. Jenny Crusie doesn’t focus on turning points until the 2nd or 3rd draft. Some of the screen writers I referenced in my post plot them before they write. To each his own.

      • I think this is where a lot of right brain/left brain stuff comes in. I lean to the left, so I like structure, organization, and no surprises. I’m also analytical, but not so left-brained that I don’t like a bit of creativity, too.

        In the stuff I’m reading by Margie Lawson, she suggested that we left-brainers sketch out a scene before writing it, and that’s exactly what I do. If I can form a loose idea of what’s supposed to happen, then I can plow right along. Otherwise, I just stare at a blank screen.

        As for acts, I still don’t think I know where one act ends and the other starts…I just know where the action/tension gets amped up. I guess that’ll have to do for now.

  3. I’m a string-of-pearls gal. One scene leads to another leads to another, and if I can make it to the end, I’m happy. But, that kind of thing doesn’t work for great books — only a handful of good books can pull that off, and a lot of those are pattern-structured books, anyway. I wish I could internalize those escalating acts. Not there yet.

  4. Pingback: Kat: Turning Points | Eight Ladies Writing

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