Sunday, 4 March 2012

Turning Points in Novels

We often hear about ‘turning points’ in novels, but what exactly are they and how do they work?

A turning point is a defining moment within the story, and often involves the main character. Invariably it involves a high moment of tension and action and may be followed by some sort of resolution. This doesn’t have to happen at the end of the novel – that’s the climax, the denouement, and it is very different from a turning point.

Turning points can happen at those moments your character has an epiphany, they learn something significant, or something very important is revealed. Perhaps the story goes in another direction. Sometimes a turning point comes with a change of dynamics – such as serious events that happen to characters, their darkest moments through something terrible, or it might involve a change of momentum, i.e. stepping up a gear with fast-paced action, thus taking the character in a completely new direction.

Turning points are about the experiences and dramatic events that happen in the story as your character works his or her way towards the end of the novel.

Not only that, but turning points act as a way to move your story forward. They are highly visual ways to show the reader the changes that your characters undertake on their journey and how those experiences change them as they work towards the final outcome.

The best way to look at it is this - your character begins a journey in your novel, walking a long road and not knowing where it might end, but that road is never straight. It’s full of twists and turns and highs and lows, and sometimes it reaches forks in the road – this is where the story turns and your character’s actions form part of a series of events that will eventually culminate in the final scenes of the novel.

These kind of significant events don’t have to be on a grand scale either – like big action scenes – but instead they can be subtle emotional events, they can be small thought-provoking events, they can be quiet moments of revelation – however small or large, they let the reader see how your main character is evolving within the story. 

By planting these turning points throughout the story, you can keep the reader’s interest, you can heighten tension and vary the pace and you can move the story forward. They enable you to take the story in a new direction; you can reveal information and change your character’s lives and so on.

Eventually, all these dramatic events build up to finally culminate in the climax of the story.

What those turning points may be or where they appear will depend on the kind of story you are telling. Maybe your character finds out that the man who kidnapped his wife is really his brother...or the car he’s been driving around in forms the clue to a murder investigation...perhaps your character discovers adoption papers stashed away in an attic...or maybe your character simply has do decide to fight for what he or she believes in...

Whatever they are, they should come naturally with the progression of your story and should never be forced to illicit dramatic effect – this will prove counter-productive and stifle the creativity of the whole piece.

Study any novel and you will see that by the end of the story the character has changed in some way, they have discovered something about themselves, they have realised or learned something. That’s because all the turning points along that journey have shaped the character’s view, and their final outcome at the end of the novel.

Every story needs turning points, because without them, the main character won’t evolve, the reader won’t learn about the story and the story won’t actually move forward in a seamless, natural way.

Turning points:

  • Decisive change
  • Revelations
  • Character’s epiphany
  • Action or emotional scenes
  • Darkest moments
  • Change of pace
  • Defining moments
  • Allows the character to evolve

Next week: Does a character really need goals?
  

4 comments:

  1. Can this be applied to short stories?

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  2. Depending on the length of the short story, (i.e longer short stories), there is room for a turning point or two of some significance to enhance the story.

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  3. I've noticed in some books, a character is introduced that has some kind of relationship with the main character. Then he's reintroduced later in the story. The changes in him kind of magnifies the change in both characters.

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  4. This is often employed by writers to keep the reader's attention, Curmudgeon, and to maintain a touch of atmospshere, although if not handled correctly, it can render the whole thing clumsy, particularly if the reader has paid little attention to the character in the first place to care about his 'reappearance.'

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