Turning Points Are…


Turning Points are…crossing a point-of-no-return. Whether it’s a transition between Act 1 & Act 2 or the Ordeal or any of those crafty terms, once your characters pass that moment, it is impossible for them to get back to where they were before (physically, emotionally, spiritually, or – preferably – all the above). Up until that instant, there is a chance, however remote, that things could go back to normal. For example, in THE HUNGER GAMES, the Capitol could cancel The Games or Katniss could shimmy down the training tower to safety, but once she enters the arena and that Turning Point door shuts behind her, the story is forever changed, and she can’t just go back to District 12.


Turning Points are…where all the trains crash. Remember those word problems about trains leaving the station at a certain speed and when will they collide? (Don’t worry, I’m a math geek and I hate those too). Well, that’s another way of thinking about Turning Points. They occur when all of the themes and character arcs and plot threads racing through a story, smash into one another. Sometimes they ricochet and head for a bigger explosion later (Act 1 to Act 2 transition) and sometimes it’s the final Ka-Boom of the climax. 

Turning Points are…tests for your characters. If in the beginning, a character states they will never, ever kick a dog. Then I fully hope/expect that at least one of the Turning Points revolves around him kicking a dog accidentally or being forced to kick a dog to save his cat or…you get the idea. This is when the characters are tortured to see if they’ve changed or broke or were truly reborn. In the end, Katniss has the ability to win The Games, but is willing to die in order to prevent the Capitol from a true victory.


Turning Points are…touchstones. These moments are when the story returns to the main dramatic fuel. It’s easiest to give a case study for this one. For THE HUNGER GAMES, this driving force is presented in the first Turning Point where Katniss volunteers for Prim. This moment poses the big question of “Will Katniss survive?” and sets up all the other Points: When she enters the arena, we wonder the same with a stronger conviction. And by the end, when she’s grown fond of Peeta and they’re heading back to the Cornucopia, we ask again and have to know the answer. 



Turning points are…sneaky. The best Turning Points are the jaw droppers. The ones where you say, “Oh no, she DID-DENT.” Katniss pulling out the poison berries is the perfect example. It’s very hard to predict (for me, at least), but it works brilliantly. Now, I know it’s hard to plan those sorts of moments (oh, boy, do I), but often times those are the ones that sneak up on you while writing, too. You’ll be clacking along, heading for your outlined plot point, when BAM! A character says or does something unexpected and, suddenly, their world has changed irrevocably. Folks, these moments are gems and I hope you see where they take you. Psst, I’m not saying to spend months writing the entire manuscript along those lines, but take a few minutes and work through the path while you stare out the nearest window.

Turning points are…<insert your definition here>

6 comments

Dude, I got nothin'. You said it so well.

C'mon, Bret. Katniss would never shimmy.

Turning points are like shepherds - okay, work with me here lol!!!. Without them, there is no reason to continue reading, no change to come, no expectations of something more, something different, something dangerous. There is nothing to drive the reader forward. That is what turning points do, they cause the reader to continue forward, much as a shepherd drives a herd along a chosen path.

Yeah, that one was a stretch.

Beth, Thanks!

Ryan, my deepest apologies. You're totally right, Katniss is not a shimmy-er.

Angela, THAT is a great one!!

Thanks for these different ways to think about turning points - very useful!

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