As a writer I think we “know” a lot of things, and probably do many instinctively (automatically following story structure because we have read so much, etc.), but that is different from really “getting” something.
For some reason, I recently had an epiphany about turning points. I could have told you what a turning point was a long time ago and I put turning points in my books (they’d be near unreadable without them), but I didn’t really “get” them. So, assuming I am not the only slow one wandering around in the world, I thought I’d chat about them a bit.
A turning point is a place in the story where everything changes, where the character is forced to do things differently, where they can’t go back to life as they knew it before. Turning points are essential to entertaining fiction–ESSENTIAL. I’m sure you could have too many and give your reader whiplash, but in general I think writers are far more guilty of writing books that don’t have as many as they need.
Let’s look at some examples.
Stephanie Plum loses her job as a lingerie salesperson (that’s what she did, isn’t it?), she is forced to search for a new job and all she can find is one as a bounty hunter. Turning point–everything changes.
In the current TV series Chuck (which I love BTW), the series has been progressing with the assumption a certain character was dead. Guess what? He isn’t. Everything changes. I particularly love this example because it pushed the series to a new level. Rather than watching Chuck go through the same motions over and over, it mixed things up (at least for a couple of shows). You don’t tend to see that in TV series too much.
Another TV example, in Charmed Phoebe discovers her new love interest is a demon. (And I so miss Cole.) Hello! That changed things didn’t it?
So that’s a turning point, think of it as literally forcing your character to spin on his or her heel, leaving whatever direction they thought they were going behind.
Now why do you need them, and how many. There are very simple answers to these questions–which you have probably already figured out.
You need them because without them you have a linear journey of this happened, then this happened, they they did this and so on and so on. In other words boring–and we have all read books like this. Readers want to be surprised. They want to encounter new challenges. Turning points give them those.
So far as how many, it really varies on the length of the book. I have a friend who writes for Harlequin Intrigue and she plans three in each book–and this is not counting the inciting incident (like the Stephanie Plum example). And you may have turning points for more than one character. In my Nocturnes I do. In Unbound, Kara is approached by Risk, finds out she’s a witch, and then discovers Risk is a hellhound. All turning points for her. Each set her on a slightly new path. Risk found out Kara was a twin witch, discovered he loved her, and discovered he was a father. All changed his goals and direction. Oh, and sex. Sex scenes make great turning points. It’s cliche, but true…sex changes things, if you are writing a romance, use that.