It’s a scary place out in the world right now. So much craziness and uncertainty, with restrictions on where we can go, what we can do, who we can meet and even what we can buy.
Choice has been snatched from our hands with very little notice, and even less regard for our feelings.
With these limitations governing our every move, a feeling of powerlessness can begin to set in.
So, how to take back our power?
I say, through our writing. This is the one place we are boss. The one place we can make decisions, stretch the boundaries, and—if we’re so inclined—become king (or queen) of our domain.
I’m currently in the middle of a SIMPLY SYNOPSIS course, and I’m loving how many aha moments I’ve seen in the past few weeks. Many in relation to character, but quite a few lately in relation to turning points.
Since the world situation marks such a huge turning point in so many of our lives, I thought it pertinent to talk about turning points today—their power, their placement, their purpose.
Let’s first understand the definition of a turning point.
A turning point is a moment in our story when there is a change in direction or motion, a moment where the course of events changes.
In genre fiction, where our stories are strongly character-driven, these turning points mark a change in our central character’s growth, or what we term their ‘arc’. And if we’re talking about GMC—or goal, motivation, conflict—we’re talking about a change in our character’s journey towards achieving their goal.
Turning points can be used in a story when:
- Conflicts are challenged
- Questions are answered
- Secrets are revealed
- Relationships are changed
- Theories are tested
- Stakes are raised
- Complications are heightened
- Victories and setbacks are encountered
In most of these cases, these events challenge our characters, challenging them to face their fears, their wounds, their phobias, forcing them into a course of action that changes the direction of the storyline.
So, let’s roll with this idea and consider the purpose of our turning points.
The primary reasons a reader will engage in a story are two-fold, in my opinion—they engage in riveting characters and riveting storytelling. How do we incorporate both into our manuscripts? Many elements go into building both, but how do they all come together?
Through the turning points in our story.
The turning points challenge our characters. These events force our characters to act and react, spiraling them into decisions and dramas, and a journey that will ultimately see them change and grow in order to achieve their ultimate goal.
Examples of turning points we should include in our story are:
- Inciting incident
- Glimpses of new life
- Goes after the goal
- Victories and setbacks
- Point of no return
- Complications, major setbacks and higher stakes
- Final push, black moment and climax
- Any major, pivotal shift in the central character’s journey towards their goal
Each subsequent turning point will be tougher and more challenging than the last. Each builds up to the next, building up to the black moment, to that point in our story where all seems lost. Where it seems as if our central character will never overcome their conflicts—both internal and external—to achieve their goal.
In terms of our plot, these turning points surprise and intrigue the reader, engaging them through their ingenuity and uniqueness, as well as their unpredictability.
To this end, turning points are so very VERY important. In fact, I don’t think I’d be pushing the envelope if I said, THEY ARE OUR STORY.
This means we should position them just so into our manuscripts. They are the exciting parts of our story, hence, we should use action and anticipation to build up towards these events, priming the reader for one hell of a ride.
To drop a turning point into our story without this build up will lessen the power of the turning point, and it can, in some cases, fail to rivet the reader.
Let’s consider this through an example.
Here’s an excerpt from my novel, Lethal in Love:
My heroine, Jayda, is a homicide detective who is hunting The Night Terror serial killer. She is closing in, but just prior to this scene, she discovers her love interest has lied to her. She runs to a friend for comfort. He leaves her to make coffee, and this is what happens next:
Her gaze roamed then latched onto the canvas. She’d never looked at it so closely, always glanced at it across the length of the room from the couch. The oils were vibrant, the strokes precise. A woman, her head and shoulders, blonde hair flowing, her tears a swirl of droplets springing from moist blue eyes.
Jayda’s heart pounded so hard she could feel the throb of it behind her temple. The picture had always made her uneasy but there was something more than that now. She moved closer. Funny how she’d never noticed the tears—each skillfully painted and unique.
Her eyes latched onto one with a blue background and burnt orange sunflowers. Van Gogh.
Her vision blurred. The porcelain hummingbird slid from her fingers and shattered at her feet.
Jayda reached for her gun. How ironic she’d finally found him now.
She turned to the sound of fingers cracking. Then pain exploded against the back of her skull and everything went black.
Consider the lead up to Jayda’s realization. I’ve worked towards this, building tension by showing her thought process.
It’s not until halfway through the next chapter that I actually reveal the name of the killer. I do this deliberately. Jayda wakes up to discover she is captive, and she grapples to comprehend how she could have been so wrong about so many things, all the while as she struggles to escape. It’s not until the killer appears, and she asks ‘Why?’ that she reveals his name.
Imagine if I’d written this scene differently:
She stared at the canvas—a woman, her head and shoulders, blonde hair flowing, her tears a swirl of droplets springing from moist blue eyes.
Jayda’s heart pounded. She moved closer. The tears were skillfully painted, and almost the same as she remembered but for one new addition—burnt orange sunflowers. Van Gogh.
Her vision blurred. She reached for her gun. How ironic she’d finally found him now.
She turned to the sound of fingers cracking. Then pain exploded against the back of her skull and everything went black.
What do you think? Does the second example evoke as much tension and suspense as the first? I’ll leave that decision to you.
Just remember, as you build up to your turning point, don’t fill this portion of your story with random information and action. Use the time to build character or to deepen the layering and foundations of your plot. Make sure that any thoughts, actions, reactions or realisations are ‘in character’—that you delve inside your central character’s head, deep in their point of view, building character even as you build on the plot and their growing arc.
Lots to remember, I know. But you’ll get there. You are the controller of your character’s destiny. Don’t let their goals come easy. Make their journey challenging but believable. And strive for higher stakes—this’ll make their victory all the sweeter.
In summary, let’s consider the three things we should consider when tailoring our turning points:
Turning points have the POWER to change the direction of our story, our romance and/or impact the growth of our central characters. We can further increase their power and impact by controlling their PLACEMENT within our narration, using suspense and tension as a lead up. Every turning point must serve a PURPOSE—either by advancing the plot, enhancing character relationships (particularly in a romance) and/or developing character arc/growth.
Consider the three Ps and you’ll not only strengthen your turning points, but you’ll strengthen your writing and your entire story as a whole.
And, that’s all for this month. Short, but hopefully no less sweet.
Thank you all for coming back this month. I really appreciate every one of you reading, commenting and sharing my posts.
I hope you’re all staying safe and well in these stressful times, and that your isolation is still filled with phone calls, messages, skype sessions and other such contact from friends and family. Now, more than ever, I am grateful that modern technology allows us these wonderful abilities. I know I’m forever grateful for my family and friends, and the special times I get to spend with my boys at home.
I have to apologise for missing last month’s blog. Unfortunately, life snuck up on me and I struggled to come up with a topic in time J With this in mind, I’m looking for ideas for next month’s blog. In appreciation, I will award a 30 minute skype session to the person who comes up with the idea I choose J
And, there’s no better time than now to announce February’s winner for the 30 minute skype session:
Drum roll . . .
And the winner is:
Congratulations Rosemary! Please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss redeeming your skype session. And if anyone knows Rosemary, please let her know J
I have 2 announcements to make before I leave you to work on your turning points:
I want to tell you about a wonderful opportunity that’s available right now. My gorgeous friend, Rachel Bailey, is holding a writing fest on facebook. Membership to the group is a mere $10 donation to I Want a Greyhound rescue group in April. For this crazy price, you will get access to over 45 presentations from authors, freelance editors and other cool writing people! There will be several posts about writing every day in the closed FB Group, and you’re free to watch, read and question in as many or as few as you want.
Information and sign up details for Ellie’s WordFest can be found here:
And your $10 (or more) donations can be made here:
Don’t miss out! This is such a fabulous opportunity, and at a bargain price J
My next piece of news is the following:
I have pushed back the start date for CHARACTERISATION THROUGH NARRATION to give those who are interested more time to register. The start date is now Monday 27th April.
This 4 week course will give you the practical tools required for crafting strong, character-driven stories. The format is as follows:
WEEK 1: Character Mapping
We’ll explore the 6 elements of characterisation—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social & environment—and map these for up to 2 central characters.
WEEK 2: Goal, Motivation, Conflict (GMC)
We’ll formulate GMC for up to 2 central characters, detailing both internal and external goal, motivation and conflict. We’ll also explore how backstory feeds into GMC, bringing further depth to our characterisation.
WEEK 3: Dialogue & Exposition
We will explore how to incorporate characterisation traits and GMC into the first two elements of narration—dialogue & exposition.
WEEK 4: Action & Description
We’ll explore how best to incorporate the last two elements of narration—action & description—to highlight key characterisation traits and GMC.
And finally, we’ll bring all four elements together skillfully and seamlessly into our stories.
And what do CTN participants have to say about CHARACTERISATION THROUGH NARRATION?
Fabulous course but not for the faint hearted. Intense, involved and detailed. This course really stretched my knowledge to its limits and then some, but my writing is so much better for it. ANNETTE L
If you have any questions, or if you are a returning participant, please contact me on email@example.com before you book.
Bookings can be made here:
I hope to see some of you there!
Thanks so much for stopping by. Please stay safe, stay happy and I hope to see you all again in May J
Michelle Somers is a bookworm from way back. An ex-Kiwi who now calls Australia home, she’s a professional killer and matchmaker, a storyteller and a romantic. Words are her power and her passion. Her heroes and heroines always get their happy ever after, but she’ll put them through one hell of a journey to get there.
She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her real life hero and three little heroes in the making, and Emmie, a furry black feline who thinks she’s a dog. Her debut novel, Lethal in Love won the Romance Writers of Australia’s 2016 Romantic Book of the Year (RuBY) and the 2013 Valerie Parv Award. The second in her Melbourne Murder series, Murder Most Unusual was released in February 2017.
In between books, she runs workshops – both face-to-face and online – for writers wanting to hone their craft. The first book in her Simply Writing Series, Simply Synopsis, is changing the way writers craft this vital, yet perplexing, writing tool. And through her Simply Writing series of blogs, she hopes to simplify so much more.