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.
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.
So now Jane’s plot doesn’t sag, thanks to turning points:
EXAMPLE: MAYBE THIS TIME
Beginning: 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.
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