Turning Points

Katherine Longshore 7 Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I am not an outline plotter. Structure does not come naturally to me. I am what we call a pantser. My characters run away with me. And they certainly don't always do things according to outline.

So when I think about turning points, I have to think about what's already there – in the novel itself, in the history – and figure out how to determine and accentuate the turning points after the fact.

Yes, I’m a little backwards.

The idea of a turning point is implicit. It is when something happens that changes the direction of the story. Easy, right? A turning point is when Luke Skywalker discovers the death of his aunt and uncle and begins his journey. It is when Rhett tells Scarlett he doesn't give a damn. It is when Wilbur meets Charlotte.

Now, there are many many people out there who have written about turning points much more effectively than I can. Almost everything I've learned about turning points, I learned from Christopher Vogler, James Scott Bell, or Donald Maass. However, I have also learned a few things the hard way. That is, from failure.

When I wrote Book 2, I had turning points in mind. Bell tells us that the major turning points within a novel should be associated with little deaths. Real death, emotional death, metaphorical death. I knew this, and applied it. Ineffectively.  My turning points lacked tension and resonance.  The prior scenes were episodic and therefore gave no bearing.

This is what I learned when I got my editorial letter. The turning point must be preceded by a buildup of emotion and tension. And any buildup of emotion and tension must lead either to a turning point, a reversal, or a revelation. Again, it seems like a no-brainer, but for me at least, I must learn these lessons again and again with each book, with each revision. Only then can I begin to apply them.

And so I had an epiphany. I reorganized the entire scene structure of Book 2 to reflect this. The scenes leading to each turning point pivoted on the point itself. My protagonist’s motivations, emotions, reactions altered as a result.

I'm not saying I got it all right. I'm not saying that a reader of this draft would be able to pick out my turning points in a lineup. I'm certainly not pretending to know anything more than you do. I guess what I'm saying is that we are all in this together–learning, growing, and helping each other. Perhaps you will learn something from my mistake. Or perhaps you will just laugh at me and learn something from Talia tomorrow. Either way, thank you for reading.


"The turning point must be preceded by a buildup of emotion and tension. And any buildup of emotion and tension must lead either to a turning point, a reversal, or a revelation."

Katherine, thank you so much for that tip. It is NOT a no-brainer. And, you are right. With each book, each revision, we must learn these lessons again and again.

Have a good day!

Hi Katherine,
It's such a relief to meet another pantser - but this revision I actually applied some 'Save the Cat' logic, looking at turning points, emotional journey etc. and writing the main thrust of each chapter on index cards as it's been a real wow -that's how people write their third drafts instead of slowly finding my way after six! Great post, thanks!

Nope, it's not a no-brainer, because I would've (and probably have) done the same thing, and left out the emotional tension & build-up before the turning points. I always get something from your posts, Katherine!

Thank you, ladies! I love hearing from you because I really do feel like we're all in this together.

And Keely, thank you for mentioning Save the Cat! I forgot to mention Blake Snyder - he wrote about plot and turning points effectively and efficiently.

Many thanks for this post, Katherine. I've just begun a massive revision and this was exactly what I needed to hear.

Thank you for letting me know, Pat! I'm so glad it was helpful. And good luck on your revision!

I have read that often the second novel is even harder than the first because you've got so much to remember, live up to, etc. It's just so much more. If you're a pantser, I can imagine it would be that much harder. I'm still a fledgling. I've written my story so many times, but haven't found a way to make it work yet. I can't even figure out if I'm a pantser or an outliner. But everything I read about writing, it tells me to keep going. So thanks for one more bit of information.


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