Linear Structure: Turning Points [Revised]

Mech Heart HiRes copy 2 A Turning Point is a Scene that’s a Big Event, something so huge that it turns the story and the character in a new direction, essentially reinventing the story.


This is Jane.  She had a nice, stable world as a circus tightrope walker, and then Something Happens, an event so huge that it throws her out of her stable world and into Her Story.  At the end of her story, something huge will happen (the climax) that ends her conflict and creates a new stable world for her to live in.  Jane’s good with all of that but the middle of her story is sagging.  Jane needs a turning point.

TP 2

So halfway through her story, an event happens that’s so huge, Jane is forced to re-evaluate how her world works and to do things she would never have done at the start of her story.  The first half of her story, the first half of her struggle, has changed her so much that she cannot return to the stable world she lost at the beginning: she’s a different person now.  For that reason, the midpoint turning point is sometimes called The Point of No Return.

You will notice, however, that Jane’s story is still sagging on both sides of this Midpoint. Obviously, Jane needs a couple more turning points.

So somewhere between the beginning and the midpoint is a big event that’s a Wake-Up Call that business-as-usual is not going to cut it: Jane is going to have to change and grow, cross boundaries and break her own rules to achieve stability again.

And then somewhere between The Point of No Return and that final big event, the Climax, is another turning point.  It’s called the Crisis or the Dark Moment, and in epics it’s often the place in the narrative where the hero literally goes to hell. It’s both a terrible physical event for the protagonist and a psychological crisis, changing her once again irrevocably.

00025-TP 1 and 3

So now Jane’s plot doesn’t sag, thanks to turning points:

TP 4 Complete

Meeting with North: Andie is hired by her ex-husband to nanny two traumatized children who are living in a supposedly haunted house in the middle of nowhere (southern Ohio). Her goal: Get the kids to a better place without traumatizing them further.
Wake-Up Call: Andie in Alice’s Bedroom: Andie finds out the ghosts are real, and the reason the kids won’t leave is that somebody dies every time they try to.
Point of No Return: The Seance: Andie’s ex and another dozen characters descend on the house thinking she’s crazy because she believes in ghosts, planning on taking the children away, and she has to convince them there’s a real supernatural danger.
Crisis: Death on a Couch: Andie puts her plan to take the kids into action and somebody dies.
Climax: Banana Bread Scene: The ghost is exorcised because Andie’s made a family.

Obviously you can have more than five turning points or fewer than five, and you can call them anything you want; this is not the One Right Way To Do Turning Points. The thing to keep in mind is that every turning point is also a turning point for the reader, forcing her to look at the story in a new way. If you put in too many turning points, your reader gets whiplash. If you put in too few, the reader gets bored.

Turning points make a narrative new just as the reader has grown accustomed to the story, forcing her or him to look at events in a brand new way.

Troubleshooting If you’re not sure if a scene is strong enough to be a turning point, look to see how much it has changed both the plot and the character. If it hasn’t, you need to rewrite so that the consequences of that scene are game-changers.

For other posts in this unit, see The Structure Unit Table of Contents

16 thoughts on “Linear Structure: Turning Points [Revised]

  1. This explanation feels a little confusing in that IT’S not linear. It would be clearer in my mind if you explained it in order: catalyst, TP 1, midpoint, crisis, climax, instead of: catalyst, climax, midpoint, crisis, and TP 1.


    • I thought about that. The problem is that it reduces the turning points to a sequence instead of important events. That is, if you say, “The first turning point is the place where things get worse, and then the second turning point is the place where things get even more worst . . .” they become stepping stones. Whereas if I say, “Midway through, the impact of the plot has made it impossible for the protag to return,” then the first half and the second half play off that.

      But I’m still not sure about that.

      To me, the Big Three are the Beginning Event/Scene, The Point of No Return, and the Ending Event/Climax. The other two turning points are just way stations.

      I probably need to rethink this.

      ETA: I rethought it and rewrote it. Better?


      • But it is a sequence, isn’t it? And that’s not a bad thing. Thinking about my story in terms of its evolution is how I channel all those great, popping ideas into one cohesive, compelling story. From the catalyst, to the moment the goal is formed and put into action, until the point of no return, to the All is Lost…I mean, even if you’re a pantser, understanding that basic evolution–that road map–is invaluable.


      • A story is a sequence.
        A turning point is a scene.
        And of course a story is a sequence of scenes broken by turning points.
        What I wanted was to get away from the idea that turning points were a sequence in order to focus on what a turning point was.
        Not at all sure this post is doing that, but that’s why I’m putting them up here so we can talk about them.


  2. These turning point tips could not have come at a better time. Clear and concise. Also for structure (linear) I always find your calendar idea so helpful for layering the various events and keeping things chronological–not sure you remember recommending keeping a calendar! Should probably be a tip in your book somewhere as it is amazingly organizing to my messy brain:)


  3. I liked this way of presenting the info: it feels really usable and helpful. I could come up with the big three, and then fill in with the extra twists. I’m still trying to come up with a story, and this could help. (Even though I’ve got it all down in my ‘how to write a novel’ notes already.)


  4. carolc says:

    The explanation of why we need turning points was clear, but I’m still shaky on identifying turning points. Some examples would be very helpful.


    • Example added.

      You know, I always feel as though it’s better to use movies as examples since more people are likely to have seen them than read any one book. If anybody’s still readint the comments, what do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      • carolc says:

        Well, I rarely watch movies, so books work better for me. I think most of us here have read your books, so that works well. If you expand on these posts for a how-to book, there’s no reason you couldn’t do both.

        And thank you. That helps.


      • Movies as examples are okay but I like your books better, like Welcome to Temptation in the “escalation and pacing” post. That was super clear to me–anyone reading your writing book will have ideally read your novels. And if they haven’t then they should. If someone is serious about writing the best novel they can, they will not think it a hardship to figure “oh okay, to improve my craft I need to also read WTT to get the full picture here.”


  5. This is great! Very clear. I notice, though, you don’t think of the first plot point in terms of conceiving and launching the story goal. Do you not see it that way? Or do you not like to define it so strictly?


    • We’ve already established that the story starts when the conflict starts and the conflict starts when the protag and antag cross each other in pursuit of their goals (see the previous Conflict unit).

      So rather that put it all in there again, I’ll stick with the new idea of stability to stability, assuming that anybody who’s made it through the Conflict unit already knows that the destruction of stability is what gives the protagonist her goal.

      It’s really difficult to simplify this stuff, not because each part isn’t simple but because all the parts interlock. Because it’s not just the destruction of stability giving the protagonist her goal and the antagonist crossing her giving her the conflict, it’s also the impact of identity on the goal and the important of setting as a complication, and the necessity of theme being established at the beginning . . .

      So one concept at a time, slowly, slowly . . .

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m sorry, I meant the second plot point–the wake-up call. I’ve always thought of that moment in the story as the formation and implementation of the story goal. I’m understanding from this description that it’s more of a moment of realization as opposed to the launching of action that drives us into Act II.


      • Ah.
        Well, of course, writers can work this any way they want.
        I’ve always wanted my stories starting on the first page. Then the first act (there’s a post on acts coming up after the next one on pacing and escalation), is her starting her battle which introduces her and her world to the reader. She’s fighting but she’s still within her skill set. The first turning point is the place she realizes that everything has changed
        BUT that’s not the One Right Way. I think if turning points work for a writer (big If there), then she figures out how they work in her story.

        Liked by 1 person

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