I suspect that if you ask each of the 8Ladies what writing concept they find most challenging to apply to their story, you’ll get at least five difference answers. Conflict (or the lack thereof) is probably at the top of the list. Beats are undoubtedly up there, too. However, its turning points that make me want to scream. Conceptually, I get what they are and how to structure them in the story (see Michille’s awesome post). But determining what they are in my story is a whole different animal.
My problem began when I saw Jenny Crusie’s “cup of tea” illustration—a visual explanation of how turning points work and escalate the action. Since then, I tend to think of TP’s as events so big they practically explode from the page (i.e. someone gets stabbed with a fork).
Then, this past weekend I watched an old black & white western directed by John Ford. I knew it was filmed up in Monument Valley, UT and since several of the ladies (myself included) will be taking a road trip there in a few weeks, I thought, hey, road trip research.
Instead of (or maybe in addition to) checking out the landmarks, the movie provided a lesson in turning points. Most of those old movies have turning points that hit you over the head (i.e. explode off the page) and in some ways it’s true here. But the small things, the things one might miss are the things that truly turn the story to its inevitable and tragic end. The decision the troop leader makes to go right instead of left, moving a column of soldiers into an ambush, or the heroine’s decision to take things in hand and show up for dinner uninvited in order to see the man her father has ordered to stay away from her.
Still, recognizing TP’s in someone else’s story isn’t the same as developing our own. I want a definitive way to recognize them and determine whether they work in Cheyenne. So, I went to my old pal, google and found a short video by Sarah Cypher, Freelance Editor and author of “The Editor’s Lexicon”. In it, she refers to Turning Points as Plot Points, but both are the same thing, an “action a character takes that can’t be undone and moves the story ahead”. What might that look like on the page? See if the character has done at least one of these things:
- Created a new problem for themselves.
- Advanced toward something they want.
- Created a temporary statist to stay away from something they don’t want.
Sarah also advises that, “The best way to determine whether the turning point works is to look at the character before and after the TP.” Is the character changed to a point where they cannot move back to where they were? At this point in my story, the answer is no. I’ve been thinking in terms of physical movements (Cheyenne finally is pushed to move from Reed’s guest room into an uninhabitable house before she’s ready).
To me, the best way to really grasp a concept is through examples. Anyone care to share a turning point or two from their own story?