Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Setting up the turning points

Turning points are the major plot events that cause some big change and modify the trajectory of the characters in the plot. But the "turning" comes from the CHANGE. It's not just a big dramatic event, it's an event that "turns" from what's come before.  Yet, if you want a logical, coherent plot, you want that big turning event also growing out of what came before.

Tall order!

But think of the turning point as the culmination of something.  Then set up for that in earlier scenes.  Then the turning point will have something to turn FROM. It will be a pivot point from one situation to another.

This is especially important with the events that have a strong emotional component. You want to set up the emotion that will be changed or forced into conflict by the turning point. For example, the reversal is a big scene that happens usually in the middle of the story, reversing something that is "true" in the first half of the plot.  Like: "I can trust Paul. He's my best friend." or "My boss is all wrong about this acquisition. He used to be really wily, but he's losing it." The reversal reverses this-- Paul turns out NOT to be a best friend, and the boss was right about this acquisition.

This is a great opportunity for a emotional buildup or set up. Set up the "before" emotion in the scenes before the reversal, and then try using a bit of opposite terminology (don't be too obvious, of course!) in the end of the reversal scene.

Let's take Paul. Keep it subtle, but in the scenes before the reversal, have the protagonist realize that Paul is his best friend. He might even say at some point, "Okay, Paul, whatever you say. I trust you." Doesn't take much to set up the association of Paul being the one the protagonist trusts. Then the reversal, when Pro discovers that Paul is the one behind the poison pen letters or whatever, will be emotionally as well as plotfully dramatic.

And the boss-- well, let's say the protagonist has been observing him. She sees some evidence of mental failure, like he looks at the financial material about the company to be acquired, and blinks, and thrust the page away like he can't absorb it all, and she thinks maybe even sympathetically that his once-sharp business mind isn't as sharp anymore.  And of course his arguments against the acquisition might come across as prejudiced and unfounded: "I don't trust that CEO. He has a weak handshake!"  And she can think that his prediction of failure in the acquisition are just a sign of his desperate fear of losing control of his company.

Then the reversal-- the utter disaster of the acquisition, on the Time-Warner-AOL merger level, proving that he was right all along-- can be that much more dramatic because it has been set up for AS A REVERSAL. 

I really think this is a key to creating a dramatic and yet coherent plot. We can have all the right turning points, but they won't zing unless they really -turn-, and that requires setting up beforehand what they're turning from.

Examples? Who has a turning point event they want to share?


Annette said...

I'm finishing up a historical women's fiction set in ancient Sparta. In the shadow of her stellar family, my female protagonist wants to be a model Spartan and bring pride to them as well. Through the first two thirds of the story she's hit with a series of difficulties. Through them all, she tries to persevere, struggling to do the "right" thing each time - at least the things her father and that difficult society would deem "right".

And then comes the day she receives word her husband is killed at battle. It's the last straw. She sees her six year old son playing with a wooden spear. She realizes he will be taken away to live at the military academy when he turns seven. And she can no longer be a good Spartan. She can't give her son to Sparta. She's given enough. She decides this even though the primary (and proud) contribution of women to Sparta at that time was to bear sons to support the military. She knows it's the ultimate failure on her part as a citizen, but she is done with sacrificing. So she takes her son and flees.

John H said...

I have a story which i've shared with you before in which we have a protag fly over the known galaxy searching for his estranged wife which he convinced himself he has no feeling for, (been coerced into finding her, but wants notihng to do with her, actively chases other women) only to suddenly find her and be struck still by the realisation he still loves her.

Of course there was a reason she was an estranged wife and the protag has to spend the rest of the story convincing her he is good for a second chance, and keeping her alive as an alien invasion finally catches up with them and rips civilisation a new one.

Edittorrent said...

Good examples! I love the realization as reversal there.