This week, we’ll look at using turning points to improve a story after the first draft. We’ll work on the major turning points this week and take an in-depth look at the minor turning points next week.
The manuscript I’m using for this exercise is a story between revisions. The basic idea is:
A CPA’s personal and professional life are turned upside down when he discovers irregularities in the accounts of a new client.
The Current Turning Points
Most good stories can be broken down into three acts. The first act sets up the story, introduces the story world and leading character, and hints at the conflict. The second act contains the body of the conflict, and the third act tells how the story ends.
There is a major turning point at the end of Act 1, in the middle of Act 2, and at the end of Act 2. Minor turning points appear near the middle of Acts 1 and 3.
The basic outline looks like this.
- Act 1A Beginning of Story
- Act 1A Turning Point Moment of Opportunity Rejected (minor)
- Act 1B Turning Point First Disaster (major)
- Act 2A Turning Point Second Disaster (major)
- Act 2B Turning Point Third Disaster (major)
- Act 3A Turning Point Dark Moment (minor)
- Act 3B End of Story
For this story, the outline 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: ?
- Act 1B First Major Turning Point: The lead discovers irregularities in the client’s accounts
- Act 2A Second Major Turning Point: The business partner proposes to the lead’s client
- Act 2B Third Major Turning Point: The lead discovers the identity of the villain
- Act 3A Second Minor Turning Point – Dark Moment: The lead is taken hostage by the antagonist
- Act 3B End of the Story: The lead fights to save his life and professional reputation
How Does it Stack Up?
Notice one glaring omission–there is no first minor turning point. No moment of opportunity rejected, so I need to figure out how to do that to make this story stronger.
The first order of business, however, is to take a look at the major turning points. Each one should present a challenge or a major obstacle to the lead’s being able to accomplish his goal.
Have I done that successfully?
Act 1B The First Major Turning Point
This is where the lead leaves normal life and enters the fray. The lead should face a tough decision. He decides one way and life stays boring and normal. He decides the opposite way and nothing is ever the same again.
At first glance, it might look like the phone call presents the first major turning point. The lead either goes to work or he doesn’t.
But the real first major turning point is the discovery of irregularities in the new client’s account. Why?
Because the lead has two goals. His primary goal is to be seen as competent and professional. But the moment he meets the new client, he has a “this is it” moment and knows she’s the one he’ll marry.
But there is a problem. His personal policy is keeping business and pleasure separate. Therefore, his client is off limits. So he wants to finish the job quickly so he’s free to approach her personally.
The discovery of discrepancies makes quickly closing the file less likely. That’s what makes this the first major turning point. The lead sets about solving the mystery and enters the story fray.
Act 2A The Second Major Turning Point
The second major turning point should be a paradigm shift for the lead. He should learn something that changes everything. What that “something” is will depend largely on the type of story you’re writing. For a literary work, it could be a personal realization. In a mystery, it might be the discovery that the prime suspect can’t possibly be guilty. In a suspense, your lead could get a glimpse of her stalker.
Since this story is a mystery, you might expect this sort of paradigm shift to be directly related to the case. Not so! Up to this point, the lead has been working feverishly, trying to find out who’s doing what and how.
But in the back of his mind is the thought that once the client is no longer a client, there might be more than a professional relationship.
So when the client’s business partner proposes in front of the lead and the entire staff, the lead’s secondary goal is trashed and he finds himself in emotional territory so unfamiliar, it affects him professionally and hinders the rest of his work.
Act 2B The Third Major Turning Point
This is the last clue and it sets up the final conflict. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. The lead stands to win or lose everything.
For this story, the third major turning point is learning the villain’s identity. The lead knows who the enemy is and is able to piece together how the crimes are being committed.
He can also formulate plans on how to deal with this revelation and that sets up the third act and the conclusion of the story.
How Can it Be Improved?
I’ve identified the structural problems with this manuscript. What next?
If I decide to proceed with this novel, the first thing I’ll do is answer the following questions:
- Are the major turning points as strong as they could be?
- Could they escalate more?
I want the story structure to be as strong as possible, so I’ll spend time making sure the answers to those questions are satisfactory. When the major turning points are as strong as they can be, I’ll turn to the next problem.
The minor turning points.
Remember no story is finished until it’s published. There’s always room for improvement. Always.
Start with the big things first. Nothing is bigger than the strength of your story’s framework.
Working through a story act-by-act and turning-point-by-turning-point is beneficial whether you have a completed manuscript or are just getting started. Even if you hit a roadblock partway through a story, this exercise can be helpful in determining what might happen next.
In the next two clinics, I’ll narrow the focus further by taking a closer look at the minor turning points for this manuscript.
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