IPT Writing Clinic – Introduction to Turning Points

Today begins a new IPT Writing Clinic. The focus for this clinic is turning points. Every story needs them. The stronger the turning points, the stronger the story.

Tents and Novels
Think of your story like a tent. The story as a whole is the canvas or fabric part of the tent. It’s bright and beautiful, embellished with ruffles and flourishes and all the fun stuff. But it’s just lying there. Maybe a wind comes along and makes it flutter a little, but it just never seems to get off the ground.

Now put up some tent poles. Big, strong tent poles. One at each end and one in the middle. Each tent pole is well anchored and can bear a significant amount of weight. Together, they can hold up a tent.

Your tent.

Your novel.

The tent poles are the turning points. The turning points support the story like the tent poles support the tent.

Just like tent poles, turning points have ideal locations. One in the middle to hold up the middle part of the story (the part that sags the worst, incidentally) and one toward each end to support the beginning and the end of the story.

Basic Structure
Most good stories can be broken down into three acts. The first act sets up the story, introduces the story world and your leading character, and hints at the conflict awaiting. The second act contains the body of the conflict and the third act presents the resolution of the story.

The initial framing of your story will have seven components: A beginning, an end, and three turning points. Something like this:

  1. Beginning of Story
  2. First Minor Turning Point
  3. First Major Turning Point
  4. Second Major Turning Point
  5. Third Major Turning Point
  6. Second Minor Turning Point
  7. End of Story

Different writing instructors refer to the turning points by different terms. In Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method, they are called a disaster.

For Larry Brooks, the turning points are plot points (Story Engineering).

Dr. Stanley D. Williams uses a different name for each turning point (The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue & Vice for Box Office Success).

Regardless of the name, these turning points signify places in the plot where the character either faces a major decision or must make a major course correction.

What The Turning Points Look Like
Here is a basic outline of story structure as defined by Dr. Stanley D. Williams with some personal variations that help me keep things straight in parentheses.

  • Act 1
    • Act 1A Turning Point: Opportunity Rejected (or inciting incident)
    • Act 1B Turning Point: Opportunity Accepted (or first major turning point)
  • Act 2
    • Act 2A Turning Point: Moment of Grace (second major turning point)
    • Act 2B Turning Point: Third major turning point (or final clue)
  • Act 3
    • Act 3A Turning Point: Dark Moment
    • End of Story

Two Types of Turning Points
Notice I’ve identified two types of turning points: Major and minor.

The major turning points are the big three (hence the name). These are the big events upon which the story hangs.

The minor turning points are also important, but are less significant. They mirror each other, with the first coming about halfway through the first act and the second generally about halfway through the final act. The first minor turning point may go unnoticed but you can think of it as the moment of rejected opportunity. The second minor turning point is that moment in the story when all looks lost, otherwise known as the dark moment.

Do I Really Need Turning Points?
Can you write a novel without knowing what the turning points are or without a list like the one above?

The short answer is yes. How do I know? Personal experience. I wrote six complete manuscripts before learning about turning points. I wrote stories that kept me personally engaged and that had rising peril. The plots worked themselves out intuitively.

When I did start learning how to write, I didn’t think any of my old stories were worth taking another look at because they were almost certain to be train wrecks. Guess what. They weren’t. I found the turning points when I started looking.

So you don’t need to go through all this trouble before you write, and you don’t need to know the terms or purposes, either.

But knowing both terms and purposes will be helpful at some stage in the process.

  • In the beginning, to help you set up the story in the best way possible (if you plan first)
  • Between first and second drafts, to help you figure out what’s wrong and fix it (if you write spontaneously)
  • When you polish, to help you make sure you have the strongest story possible (no matter how you write)

How Do I Find the Best Tent Poles…I Mean Turning Points?
That’s what this clinic is all about.

Each of the next four weeks, I’ll walk you through the process of developing turning points.

In the first clinic, I’ll show you how to find the best possible turning points during the pre-planning stages.

Clinic 2 will be all about identifying the turning points in a story that’s already written, beginning with the major turning points.

I’ll devote Clinic 3 to the first of two minor turning points, the moment of opportunity rejected. The clinic will wrap up with the second minor turning point, the dark moment.

If you have a story that doesn’t seem to have much life and you’d like help with it, or if you have an idea and you’d like help finding the turning points before starting to write, leave a comment in the comment box below.

If you’d like, we can even use your story or idea as the subject for one the clinics.

Wherever you are in planning or writing your current work, I hope you’ll join me on May 4 for the first clinic.

The links to books by Larry Brooks and Stanley D. Williams in this post include my Amazon affiliate code. If you follow the links and purchase either of these books (or both of them), I’ll earn a commission on the purchase. If you decide to do so, thank you very much.

If the idea of affiliate codes and commissions bothers you, all you have to do is head to Amazon.com directly, look for Story Engineering or The Moral Premise and make your purchase that way.

Clinics in This Series
Introduction: Introduction to Turning Points
Week 1: Using Turning Points to Develop a New Story
Week 2: Using Major Turning Points to Evaluate a Finished Manuscript
Week 3: Moment of Opportunity Rejected/Thwarted
Week 4: The Dark Moment
Week 5 Bonus: Chicken Run Turning Points

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