Turning Points: A Better Way

Lani and I were just sitting here talking about structure–because we’re wonks, that’s why, and also because she’s setting up her Story Wonk revision class–and she mentioned that she saw turning points as hinges in the story, which is a good image. I said, “So you think of turning points as a choice the protagonist makes?” Which is freaking brilliant. The problem with teaching turning points is that you have to make sure that the point is an event, not just the protagonist suddenly deciding to change her life. The turning point needs to be external. But if it’s just something that happens to the protagonist, she’s not pushing the plot. She can’t just get hit by a truck, she has to step out in front of it. But if you combine “external event” with “choice,” then you’ve got both. So Maddie finds the passport in the safety deposit box (event) but the direction of the turning point depends on the choice she makes at that moment.

I like this. I must think about it more, but I like it a lot. Lani rules.

15 thoughts on “Turning Points: A Better Way

  1. Lani does rule! (You do too ) She helped me so much with her critique of my MS that I cannot recommend her revision class strongly enough. So if you wonkers out there haven’t signed up for it yet you are missing out!

    And so sorry to see Wolfie wearing the “Cone of Shame” as the dogs in “UP!” call it.

  2. Wow. I concur. Lani rules. I never really thought about it that way. I’ve been having some minor plotting issues (almost identical to your example – a heroine who is being forced to change by fate – booorrrring) but I think this will go a long way towards fixing them. 🙂 Thanks.

  3. Lani has one space in her revision class and the discovery class is full, but she’s keeping a waiting list, so if anybody drops out or doesn’t follow through with the payment, she’ll fill in the slots from that list.

    She really is great.

  4. I think it’s also important to remember that turning points don’t change the original story goal. That’s a biggie. And easier said than done. 😉

    Also, Jenny, I haven’t found anything on the net, in books or anywhere else that is up to par with the HW/SW notes I have and still use.

  5. Jenny,
    Your Turning Points RWA session was one of the most helpful things I have ever heard about writing – I cannot wait for your writing book. Thanks so much for the lecture, and also for telling us about Lani’s workshop.

  6. Okay, so turning points as hinges. I get that. I went to Wikipedia and found this list of lesser known hinges. They sound like turning points or act titles. ; )
    Counterflap Hinge
    Flush Hinge
    Coach Hinge
    Rising Butt Hinge
    Double action spring hinge
    Tee Hinge
    Friction Hinge
    Security Hinge
    Cranked or ‘Stormproof’ Hinge
    Lift-off Hinges
    Self closing Hinges
    Butt Hinge

  7. Oh my. That list of hinges presents all sorts of ideas for plotting points and chapter heads. The flush and coach hinges would be helpful in a Regency romance.

  8. Tee hinge for something set around a golf course?
    Lift-off hinge for he space program.
    I could go on. 🙂

  9. I’ve been thinking about this for two days straight, and not only is it completely brilliant, it gives me hope that I actually can develop the skills to complete a novel I like. Turning points always baffled me, but this is so simple, and so do-able.
    Sorry to go all fan-girl on you guys, but this is really something. Thank you, Lani, and thank you Jenny for broadcasting it.

  10. Even non-writers use hinges. Hated my fat body. Within 24 hours of each other, two complete strangers, one in a yarn store, and one at a tack shop, told me how wonderful they felt after success at weight watchers. Talk about cue cards for life, or hinges opening new paths. One year later and 35 pounds less and my body is just fine, and I’m always aware of the possibility of hinges.

  11. bizarre. I was just re-reading then scene today where Maddie opens the safe deposit box and then I read this blog entry……

  12. I am so looking forward to the revisions class with Lani and this does nothing to help me wait. My nails are being chewed here. This is good stuff!

  13. Yes, this makes utter sense and for my money it dovetails with what screenwriter the Chris Soth/UCLA film school’s mini-movie method says about structuring a script to sustain tension.
    Essentially, each mini-segment within an act (which divides a script/book into 8 turning points in total) should trigger the battle between hope/fear. And what more organic a way to trigger tension than with a decision by the protagonist?

  14. I’m a Cherry, so I heard about turning points all the time when the forum was on fire. It didn’t click for me until I went to a workshop by a woman named Robin something. She said that a turning point should be the character facing one of their fears. And, then you started talking about Tell Me Lies a while back *around the same time*.and how Maddie was making the wrong decisions at every turning point. Her MacGuffin (I know I’m getting that name wrong, so forgive me) was protecting her daughter. She was going about it all wrong. But, with Lani’s definition it makes sense now. I didn’t get how Maddie doing it wrong fit with turning points. Each hinge was just turning Maddie to the right way she was supposed to protect her daughter.

    Must mull over this some more. I love structure. At least when I write.


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