IPT Writing Clinic – Turning Points – Clinic 3

Welcome to this week’s Indie Plot Twist Writing Clinic on turning points. If you missed the introduction or the first two weeks, you can read them by following the links at the bottom of this post.

This week, I’m taking a closer look at the first minor turning point.

The turning points are the events upon which your story hinges. To recall the analogy I used in the introduction, the turning points are the tent poles that support the tent of your story. Without them, the tent–and your story–falls flat.

The first major turning point comes at the end of the first act (about one-quarter of the way through the novel). It launches your lead character into the story. The second major turning point happens at the middle of the book. The third major turning point at the end of the second act pushes the lead into the final conflict.

The major turning points are like books. The two minor turning points are the “bookends” that hold the “books” together.

Today’s Project

This week, I’m working on the first minor turning point for the story we looked at in last week’s clinic. It’s a mystery between drafts. The first three parts of the turning point outline as it currently stands look like this.

  • Act 1A Beginning of Story: The lead is in the middle of a much deserved vacation when he’s called back to the office on an emergency
  • Act 1A First Minor Turning Point: ?
  • Act 1B First Major Turning Point: The lead discovers irregularities in the client’s accounts

How Does it Stack Up?

Moment of Opportunity Rejected: Notice, there is no first minor turning point; no moment of opportunity rejected. That’s not uncommon in a first draft. This manuscript was first written over ten years ago, before I knew anything about turning points. The plot unfolded intuitively. That’s not always a bad thing, but in this case, it produced a poor first act.

In addition, I discovered upon evaluating the manuscript that the first major turning point happens too soon. Not only is there no first minor turning point; there’s no room to squeeze one in.

That’s not the disaster is may seem at first glance. Why? Because I now know what the problem is and I have a place to begin in correcting it. That’s good news!

What Exactly is the First Minor Turning Point?

At the first major turning point, the lead makes the difficult decision and enters the story world (there would be no story otherwise).

You can think of the first minor turning point as the lead character’s first opportunity to make a safe decision. He or she is faced with a decision and chooses the easy thing, rejecting the difficult choice.

The first minor turning point might also be something that happens to the lead. The lead wants to do the right thing, but is blocked. The reason can be internal (fear, rebellion, etc.) or external (scheduling conflicts, weather, other obligations, etc.), but there is something keeping the lead from taking action immediately.

How Can It Be Improved?

Or, as in this case, how can you find the missing first minor turning point? My two favorite methods are:

  • Brainstorm minor turning point situations or events
  • Consider rearranging the existing turning points

Brainstorm Events or Situations. The first major turning point as currently written is the discovery of irregularities. My lead is going to accept that challenge. That’s a given.

What event could mirror that event and be one he would be able to refuse?

A few options might be:

  • The call is from a coworker seeking help; the lead gives advice over the phone but refuses to get further involved
  • The call comes while the lead is involved in some long-anticipated activity; the lead refuses to be drawn away from that activity
  • The call comes during a moment of family crisis; the lead refuses involvement beyond giving advice or counsel
  • The lead is out-of-town and is called by an associate in that town asking for help; the lead does what he can but is kept from offering further assistance by his trip home

Notice what each of these options offer? The lead, who is a conscientious man, is able to reject the call for help and still give assistance. He can reject the call for help without feeling like a heel.  In some of the options, that would be more important than others. No one is going to begrudge someone rejecting a call for help when a family crisis is brewing, after all. Find the right balance of personal interest and outside interest to give the lead a legitimate reason (at least to him or her) to reject the summons.

Does that mean I never consider options that might leave the lead feeling like a heel? No. In some cases, you want your lead to feel bad over the choice he or she made. That might play a vital role in setting up an opposite decision the next time the choice arises. But I know this character well enough to know that isn’t necessary. At least not for this story line.

As you work with story lines and characters, you’ll learn what will and won’t work for each lead character and for each story line.

When you brainstorm, push the list as far as you can. The first ideas are rarely the best, so put as many options on your list as you can. My list for this story currently has eleven options. I add to it as new ideas present themselves.

Don’t discount your writing partners, either. Run the situation past them and ask for input.

Consider the Timing of All of the Turning Points. Take a look at how the turning points line up. Is one of the first major turning point really a minor turning point in disguise?

Let’s say the current first major turning point is really the first minor turning point. The lead takes the assignment, meets the girl he’s going to marry, and sets about being professional and competent as quickly as possible so he’s free to initiate a relationship with her. Things are going great, then he finds irregularities.

Moment of decision. Does he ignore the irregularities in order to close the account fast? Does he settle for the first easy answer that comes along? Does he ignore them altogether?

If he does, this might be considered the “safe” decision. Or, in this case, the expedient decision. Then along comes the first major turning point and he’s forced to make the decision that throws him into conflict with the antagonist.

The same two methods described above work here, too. Make good use of them and don’t throw out any option or idea until you’ve found the right one. You may end up moving all the turning points forward and finding better turning points for the end, but that’s okay. No two stories are the same, so no solution works with every one.

The New & Improved Version

The first part of the turning point outline now looks like this:

  • Act 1A Beginning of Story: The lead is in the middle of a much deserved vacation when he’s called back to the office on an emergency
  • Act 1A First Minor Turning Point: The lead is called while he is involved in some long-anticipated activity; he refuses to be drawn away from that activity
  • Act 1B First Major Turning Point: The lead discovers irregularities in the client’s accounts

I may tweak the first major turning point somewhat, depending on how the first act develops. But I now have to guide posts by which to navigate through the first act. If the rewritten first act takes another route, I can come back to the turning point outline and correct it. No harm, no foul.

In Conclusion

How you solve this problem will differ from one story to the next. It’s worth taking extra time to do this work between drafts so you have a firmer foundation for the next draft you write.

Next week wraps up this Indie Plot Twist Clinic with a look at the second minor turning point, the dark moment. Join me then.

If you have a story idea you’d like help with, email me.

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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