Figuring Out Your Story’s Turning Points

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.

Note: Don’t confuse “inciting incident” with “turning point.”

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!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
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25 Responses to Figuring Out Your Story’s Turning Points

  1. Dagnabbit! I wish I’d been able to hear Crusie’s presentation.

    These turning points, while not the traditional 3-act (or 4-act) format make sense. They’re like a subset of those “acts” to keep the tension building a la Donald Maass.

    Wish we could dissect one of her books — especially one of those I practically have memorized. Say…

    Faking it!

    You have plenty of time to pull that together. I’m fast-drafting for Nationals and the request for partial from DFWCon (courtesy of your challenge). I need a semi-polished first draft before I query.

    Sending this post to my Nifty News folder. Then, off to ALL INN.


    • Catie Rhodes says:

      Gloria, at one point, you could purchase an MP3 of Jennifer Cruisie’s presentation. I did and found it really helpful. The guy who was selling them was Bill Stephens, and his website was I looked on his website just now and never could find Jennifer Crusie’s presentation, but it was from 2009 and the product number was 14-106. You might be able to do a better job finding it than I did. You can still view the handouts from Jennifer’s presentation here:


      • Thanks, Catie! The posse rescues me again. That reminds me, I haven’t been over to ARGH ink in a while. I love Jenny’s blog name. Too bad she’s so famous. Someone would notice if I stole it.

        Now, if you could wrangle up some chow and corral my inner editor….


      • Jenny Hansen says:

        Catie, thanks for that link – I’d have added that if I’d known about it and now I’m in love with Jenny Crusie all over again BECAUSE I DIDN’T GET THAT HANDOUT. It’s like a whole new lovely present. 🙂


  2. Last year I read Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, and the section on Structure helped so much! He’s got tons of examples on his website ( and it really helps clarify the turning points so the pacing is perfect. It helped my novel so much.


    • Julie Glover says:

      I’m with you, Rebecca. Story Engineering is what clarified the turning points for me. I think about them broadly while writing, but I identify them more specifically in the next draft.


  3. K.B. Owen says:

    Great tips, Jenny! I do it a little differently, with the 3-Act structure model, but I think we’re all working with the same material here. It’s been useful to me to identify the following in my outline, before I write: inciting incident, the 1st and 2nd turning points (the portals to acts 2 and 3, respectively), and the “dark moment.” Because I’m writing a mystery, I need to know ahead of time where it’s going – or at least, have the ILLUSION that I know where it’s going, LOL. You’re right about pacing – I’m always having to fix the pacing in the second draft.


  4. K.B. Owen says:

    …and the third…and the fourth draft, haha. 😉


  5. Those actually make sense in my head, too…and explains why I enjoy reading Jennifer Crusie. (Are you sure you don’t just love her because of your shared first names? ;-))


  6. kimterry says:

    Great blog! I’m on about my 100th draft. My mystery/suspense WIP averages about 400 pages. I’m saving this post.


  7. Great post! I totally get turning points now. Five minutes ago? Not so much. Thank you, Jenny and Jennifer Cruise!


  8. Debra Eve says:

    I’ve never seen a system with five turning points, but I like it! Keeps things moving. I write mostly nonfiction, but have started to noodle with the idea of writing fiction again. Just subscripted to Jennifer’s blog. Thanks for the intro, Jenny!


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  10. Awesome stuff! I still struggle a little bit with story structure. I know good story structure when I see (at least in other people’s work) it but sometimes have a hard time translating into my work or seeing it my own writing. Every slightly different perspective I see on the subject helps tremendously though.


  11. filbio says:

    I think if I ever want to write a book I will have to use all of your posts like this as an instructional tool! Great tips!


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