One of my favorite speakers on writing is Jennifer Crusie. For some reason, she makes sense to me…as if she has an expressway dug directly into my writing mind. Stephen Cannell (creator of The Rockford Files) was the man who etched 3-Act Structure on my brain, but for turning points it was all Jenny Crusie.
Below is an excerpt of the talk she gave at an RWA conference a few years back, and I’m using it this morning to edit my fiction.
The 5 Turning Points ala Jenny Crusie:
A turning point is a part in the story where an event happens that throws the protagonist into a whole new place.
1st turning point is where things go from stable to unstable. You can start 5 mins before or after this turning point, but not later. You must introduce a protagonist that the reader wants to stay with for the whole book. (It’s why you often start things off with the protagonist in trouble.)
Your reader is going to connect to your hero or heroine from that first page – you give them the payoff with your turning points.
2nd Turning point – The original trouble gets worse.
3rd turning point is where the reader can’t go back.
Some people title each turning point, which I think is a grand idea. In Agnes and the Hitman it was called “Agnes Unleashed” and it was where she gives in to her rage.
4th turning point is the Dark Moment. This is the crisis where both the heroine and the reader lose everything. This is the crisis the heroine is not sure she can overcome. The actions the heroine decide on here will determine the last turning point.
5th turning point is the end where there is once more a stable world, it is just a new stable world.
Now, here come my favorite bits of “Jenny” advice about turning points!
1. Do not identify these turning points until the 2nd draft.
2. If you’re thinking in terms of 100K book, the 1st turning point should be at the 30K word mark. This needs to be a very big event.
3. About 20-25K words later, you hit them with another big event. (This second event combats “sagging middles.”)
4. Each chunk of the book should grow smaller.
5. Things are getting worse faster if the pacing is quick and you keep the heroine struggling with these events.
6. Pace the novel AFTER the first draft.
7. Every scene should have a protagonist and an antagonist (keeps conflict on every page).
8. People do not change because of thoughts – they change because of actions.
Are those stellar or what??
Most writers shake their heads over Elmore Leonard’s famous quote on writing:
I try not to write the parts people skip.
Jennifer Crusie’s talk on turning points was the first time I got a glimmer of what the hell Mr. Leonard was talking about.
Have you ever heard a good talk on turning points? Who gave it? What turned the lightbulb on for you? Add your own bit of advice in the comments! If the idea of turning points is new to you in your writing, do you have questions? Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!