Justine: Look at Your Turning Points with Fresh Eyes

typewriter2I’m immersed in another awesome weekend of Margie Lawson’s Immersion Master Class. I’m still working on Three Proposals, which has been my book du jour for the last three years. One of the challenges of working on a book for too much time (too many years!) is that you become accustomed to the words on the page. You become comfortable with what you’ve written and it’s hard to see what parts of your book really need some improvement. My turning points could really use some work.

In case you’re new to fiction writing, a turning point is when a significant change happens that sends the trajectory of the story in a new direction. This is something I had a lot of trouble identifying in my book when I first started writing. Some turning points are huge (like when Susannah’s uncle tells her she’s getting married) and some are smaller.

Here’s one…a medium turning point that Margie thought should be bigger…at this point in the story, Susannah is seeing her uncle for the first time. She knows about him, knows he’s her guardian since her parents died, but she has never met him in person. This is my original attempt (which I have edited several times). For reference, Susannah enters the house with her friend Maggie:

With a click and a whoosh, Bertram opened the door, not sparing either of them a glance. Susannah had not gone two steps past the vestibule when she stopped. Her breath caught, as if her corset strings had been cinched too tight. Maggie collided into the back of her.

“Susannah!”

Susannah was incapable of speech. Before her stood her uncle, tall, thin, and a could-have-been-his-twin replica of her father. Tears pricked her eyes and she suddenly longed for her parents.

Maggie’s continued complaints returned Susannah to the present. She whispered an apology to Maggie over her shoulder and entered the hall, her eyes gravitating to her uncle.

It took mere moments for Susannah to see the differences between her father and Uncle. Unlike her father’s warm, brown eyes, Uncle’s were slate colored, cold, and hard, buried under bushy gray eyebrows. His pinched lips conveyed disapproval and Susannah flushed, although she’d done nothing wrong.

He inspected her from head to toe. “Hello, niece. Welcome home.” Like his eyes, his voice was hard and unforgiving, and it rubbed Susannah’s nerves like burlap against her skin.

As Margie said, it’s okay, but it could be a lot better. My task this weekend was to make this turning point more impactful.

So what can you do with your turning points to give them more impact and more oomph? You can expand time, amp up the emotion, or add more powerful words.

Expand Time

When you expand time, you slow the pacing. You take one event or moment and make the time within that event happen second-by-second. Expanding time draws out the tension. It gives the opportunity for the reader to get fully immersed in the event. For example, if there’s a car accident, people often say that time seems to slow down. Everything happens in slow-motion and an event that takes just a second or two seems to take an hour.

Expanding time gives you the opportunity to enhance emotions, as well, because you’re giving more page time to the emotional and visceral reactions a character has to something major happening. That brings me to…

Amp Up the Emotion

Amping up the emotion is a great way to make a turning point more powerful. Think about what’s happening to your character at that moment. Is it a major reveal, like your character being told she’s set for an arranged marriage, as in the case of my character, Susannah? Who is telling her? Her father? Her guardian? What is her relationship with the one delivering the news? What would her reaction be?

When analyzing her reaction, think about what happens to you when you’re given big news. The first thing that happens is a visceral. This is the immediate, uncontrolled response to the stimulus. Think racing heartbeats and quickening breath. After the visceral will come the more intellectual response. She’ll begin to mentally process the news, as well as the repercussions. Her mood may change, going from shocked to angry to determined.

Once you’ve figured out the emotions, you need to…

Make Your Words Powerful

Think about what you read in books. A lot of the same words, same expressions, same descriptions. To take your writing to the next level, come up with original ways to describe things like pounding hearts and adrenaline rushes. Yes, a thesaurus can help, but it’s more than making your words different; you have to use those words in creative combinations, making powerful imagery and emotions that touch the reader.

I’ll admit, that’s why I’m in Immersion. To learn how to do all of these things. It’s mentally exhausting, but so rewarding when you read through a scene you’ve edited that used to be “ho-hum” and has now become “oh wow!”

This is the revised turning point I came to after working with Margie this weekend (admittedly, it’s still in progress). I hope it has a lot more impact and makes the turning point even more powerful.

With a click and a whoosh, Bertram opened the door. He didn’t spare either of them a glance. Susannah stepped from the vestibule into the hall.

A man stood in profile at the door to the study, working the key in the lock.

Susannah’s feet stopped.

Her heart stopped.

Her world stopped.

Papa. Her papa.

A chill overcame her and she gasped, hand to her mouth, fingers trembling.

Her papa turned. A painful ache swelled at the back of her throat, squeezing tight.

It wasn’t him. It wasn’t her papa.

He had her papa’s curly hair, but the lips were wrong. This man’s lips were disapproving. Taut. Something papa didn’t do, even if she had upset him.

He had her papa’s nose, but the eyes were wrong. They were slate colored. Cold. Hard. Her papa’s were warm and brown.

“Hello, niece. Welcome home.” Like his eyes, the man’s voice was hard and unforgiving.

Susannah’s heart flip-flopped and her stomach dropped like a bundle of books.

Her uncle. Her Army officer, never-before-seen, could-have-been-her-father’s-twin uncle.

“Susannah? Are you alright?” Maggie’s distressed voice cut through.

Susannah tried to make sense of the man standing before her. She turned to Maggie. “Papa. I thought he was Papa.” She could feel herself crumbling, the tears coming.

Maggie rushed forward, her expression grave with concern. “Oh, dearest, what a shock. That he looks so like your papa.”

Susannah looked at Maggie. “I can’t…can’t do this. Can’t look at him. He’s…not papa, but…” The sudden longing for her father and her mother was beyond intolerable. Like a huge crushing weight on top of her, suffocating her and snuffing out her last breath. The tears threatened to tumble.

Maggie glared, her index finger extended. “Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare cry.” She looked Susannah up and down. “You can do this. Be the strong woman I know you are.”

Susannah barely heard Maggie’s whisper. But she obeyed. Susannah straightened her shoulders, cleared her face of emotion, and faced her uncle.

2 thoughts on “Justine: Look at Your Turning Points with Fresh Eyes

  1. Hello Justine —

    Fabulous blog!

    I loved working with you in Immersion class on that turning point. You added interest, picked up pace, and hooked the reader viscerally.

    You took that piece from nice to NYT Stellar!

    Kudos to you!

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