Monday, January 15, 2007


Intellectually I understand the need for turning points. They change the direction of the story; they push some character change. They create a place of no return. I can even identify them in stories – for the most part! Dorothy landing in Oz is a turning point.

I’m not against character’s changing, hell, I live for characters to change, but in real life, it takes a lot of work to change – weeks of practice, years of therapy. Rarely does a single turning point create real change. A momentary epiphany, I’ll accept.

But Dorothy’s going to get home after her stay in Oz and she’s going to hug everyone and tell them how much she loves them, then in about two months, she’s going to think, “damn this place is boring, people want me feed the pigs,” and she’s going to hightail it out of there.

Here’s another scenario – a character - let’s call her Buffy -- feels responsible for the world and its problems; she constantly works to better things, and she’s always doing it “alone.” Sure people are there around her, sometimes, even slaying along with her, but she still feels alone. Very alone. Every now and again, she recognizes that she’s not alone (a mini ephiphany) but then she goes right back to feeling alone – it’s a neural pathway thing. She can’t help herself. It took many seasons for Buffy to finally “learn” that she really, really wasn’t alone. That she wasn’t completely responsible. That a team works better than a single person. But it was seasons of incremental changes and that theme kept circling around – in a good way! That’s the beauty of having a series that takes place over a few years. You can have character arc that’s realistic. (Now a turning point like going to heaven is bound to create real change when you’re back on earth!)

A novel is tough for me because in a short span of time your character has to learn something and it has to be convincing. I’m rarely convinced. The rake who is no longer a rake because of the love of a good woman – hell, he’s going to be a rake again, ten days after the last day in the book. Neural pathways. You can’t fight them, you need to re-train them!

Turning points have to be significant; they have to send things in totally new directions; they have to be life altering, and short of death, illness or infidelity, there’s little out there that will create real life altering changes (unless you do a whole lot of re-training of those neural pathways).

So that’s my problem with turning points. Anyone have any advice?



At 10:53 AM, Blogger Heidi said...


Okay, there's two things to rememer with turning points, I think. The whole point (pardon the pun) of a turning point is to be the pinnacle of a rising tide of a turn. It isn't Dorothy landing in Oz, it's her standing up to Gulch but still honoring her family, her getting away from the storm. If she hadn't run away and then come back, she'd never have flown to Oz. She'd have been in the root cellar with everybody else. It's the whole series of events leading to the point where everything change, but not because of something random but because of the series.

The other thing is that you may have noticed that the above explanation is a little pulled and contrived and is not the best example in the world of events building to a turning point, and that Dorothy's action--defying Gulch and protecting her dog--is far away and a bit muddy by the time we get to "landing in Oz." And unlike the Rules, this turning point wasn't brought on by the antagonist.

Turning points are important and it's useful to find them, but I think what the READER needs is to feel that shift, the sense of rounding a corner, that actions they took vicariously through the protagonist in one act lead to the change in the next. I think it can be a lot simpler than the rule books make it out to be, and like Dorothy, it can even be your own version of a turning point.


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