Saturday, July 21, 2012

Brick by Brick: Turning Points, part 2

How Do You Know It’s A Turning Point?

So far I’ve talked about what turning points are and what they do. I always thought the hardest part of understanding turning points were how to spot them.

This is what I wanted to know for months on end when I first learned about turning points. I understood what kind of things happened, what it was, and why it was important to have them. The one elusive quality was how did I find turning points within my own story or other people’s stories. Now, I may be off base to some, but this is how I find them.

1. The adventure gets more complicated.
It sort of feels like an oh, hell moment. You wanted me to do X and Y. Now you're handing me Z? Are you serious? Or, better yet, it's like a Simpson's episode. The episode starts off simple enough and then something happens and that simplistic opening is blown to smithereens.

2. The doubt increases. (Am I doing the right thing? Who am I? If I make this choice what are the consequences? If I do nothing, because I really want to do nothing, what are those consequences?)

3. The alternatives become limited i.e. the blur syndrome. Things are moving so fast the first choices that come to mind are the only ones you have the time to think of, so it’s either those choices or nothing.

4. The choice the character makes is final. They cannot backtrack. In a romance novel, even in real life, there is no such thing as un-kissing someone. You can not kiss them anymore, but you can’t take back that one kiss.

Every scene has conflict, which means every scene is emotionally charged in some way. Turning points are definitely emotionally charged. Every scene pushes the character to where they need to be by the end of the novel. At turning points the character is closer to getting there.

I know some people embrace change. My character, and everyone else’s character, is not one of them. Otherwise everyone would be writing short stories.

Even with those cues above in the list, the one common thread I found when looking for a turning point is the character gave a little (or a lot) on their never stance. The give is preluded by a choice they’ve faced before and decided to go with the established reaction, but this time the reaction is different. It’s the sigh before the mother says yes after being asked a hundred times Can I have candy? 

Example: In When Harry Met Sally you get these beautiful sections of the story. They're stories within a story. But one never Sally has for the first half of the movie (hell, 3/4s of the story) is she'd never date Harry in a million years. He's the annoying, gross guy after college. Years later, while on an airplane, he's the smug, pessimistically optimistic guy she once had to sit next to on an airplane.

Sally would not, could not spend another moment around him. These are special circumstances, meaning she couldn't jump out the car or airplane to get away from him.

They meet a third time but now she's gotten her heartbroken. (Although, she doesn't yet feel that heartbreak. Or admit it to herself.) She's lonely and he's there. He's not so gross now. Yeah, he's still pessimistically optimistic, but she's changed. The break up has changed her and she gives slightly on her never.

Sally's established reaction is to get away from Harry as soon as it's physically possible. Her new reaction to become his friend. If you've seen the movie then you know how that one decision, one she can never take back though she tries, snowballs.

Using the Four Turning Points To Write A Novel:

If you know your overall goal or picked it out of the ether, you know where your character is and you know where your character is going to end up. Turning points are the roadmap. You can create them beforehand or write to them. They'll likely change as you get to know more about your character. That's all good. The wonderful thing is if you write them down and fill up the space between you've got story. I'm not saying you're going to start outputting Great American Novels. I'm saying writing and revising that Great American Novel will be somewhat easier.

Some questions you can ask yourself:

What is the embodiment of my character's fear?

What's behind the locked door?

What wouldn't they do to open that locked door?

My favorite question: what can I make them do?

What are the worst things that can happen to this character? And, how would it change them?

*Fodder For the Turning Points

The fodder comes from story and story comes from character. Fodder can also come from plot and plot comes from character. Fodder comes from theme get my drift. If all else fails, find out more about your character.

Tip: Watch a movie or re-read a favorite book and find what you think are the four turning points.

A big tip: Even though the character changes internally make sure you show the change externally. Put your story where your mouth is.


Ok. Is that clear as mud? Good. Next up I'll be putting this big chunk of turning points into the bigger picture of the Three Act Structure.

As usual I'm more than open to questions or outright disagreement. Do so in the comments.

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