We’ve looked at this subject before, but it’s always good to revisit certain elements of fiction writing, it helps keep things fresh in the memory, so it’s time to look again at the art of a good turning point.
So what do writers mean when they talk of turning points?
A turning point describes exactly what it is – it’s a pivotal moment within the story when the story takes a turn in a different direction and things change. This occurs either through the actions or decisions of the main character, or there’s a significant reveal. It may be the character faces a terrible dilemma.
They’re important in fiction because no story is without ups and downs and twists and turns, otherwise there wouldn’t be any story. They don’t always have to be physical turning points – through actions, for example – they can also be emotional turning points when, perhaps, a character ‘realises’ a hard truth or loses someone important to him or her. Perhaps it is something unexpected, so these kind of turning points don’t always need action and conflict to turn the situation.
How do you use Turning Points?
That depends how well the writer understands when a turning point is needed.
Usually the turning point occurs when certain events within the story affect the main character and their goal, and certain character decisions will have different repercussions for the rest of the story. That often means conflict is heightened and the dilemmas created force the characters to act in unpredictable ways.
For instance, let’s say a protagonist doesn’t want to become involved in a local gang war, however, when his son is killed in the crossfire during a drug store robbery, he decides to act to stop them – this is a turning point. It’s an emotional turning point that has a significant impact on the rest of the story, because his actions will accelerate the conflict and cause repercussions.
What if the protagonist realises halfway through his crusade that his son was actually involved with one of the gangs, and kept it secret? This is another turning point, because his actions will impact the story in other ways, and will affect his decisions as the story progresses. It’s also a realisation of truth that the protagonist has to deal with.
Here’s another example – the main character has struggled with the bad guy for most of the story and can’t seem to find a way out of trouble and thinks look bad. He then discovers the antagonist has a weakness of some sort, something the main character can exploit. He can finally defeat the bad guy. This discovery would be a turning point in the story, a defining moment in the character’s circumstances that would affect the story outcome.
These examples are very simple, so how you construct yours will depend entirely on the story and the characters.
The thing with turning points, however, is that they must evolve from the main story. They should never be forced into existence just to try to create the effect, otherwise they will appear contrived and the reader will spot this.
Often they occur organically as we’re writing; they develop in order for the plot to move forward, and if that is moving forward, then so too is the story. Turning points move the story forward because they’re showing the significant changes, actions and reactions which will affect how the story eventually ends. They form part of the entire story arc and shape the character’s journey.
When you find you have a significant turning point, then it’s an opportunity to heighten the conflict, atmosphere, emotion and drama and make the most of it, otherwise it will become a chance lost. If you don’t exploit them, you’ll lose the effect you want for your reader and it may go unnoticed.
Probably the most important turning point you’ll write will come at the beginning of the novel, because every story should begin with a massive turning point in your main character’s life – the very event that starts them on their journey in the first place.
Most turning points happen because of the following:-
- There’s a decisive change in the character’s life
- There’s a decisive action the character must undertake
- There’s a significant revelation
- A main character realises something important
- The character faces a dark, impossible moment, a terrible dilemma
- There’s a defining moment such as betrayal or a loss
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.
Next week: Creating A Supporting Cast of Characters