Writing Tips & Tools

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Lesson 19: Turning Points

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

What I am going to endeavor to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. This will by no means suffice as an alternative to reading the book...or the workbook. I hope it piques your appetite to buy the books. They are invaluable reading and reference!

Today's lesson is in Section TWO: Turning Points.

A turning point in a story is when things change. It could be new info coming in, a shift in events, a reversal, a twist (like revealing another role for a character), a challenge, or a disaster.

Figuring out turning points is easy enough. Making them as dramatic as possible is another story...LOL...Heightening takes work. Sometimes it is as simple as letting go of an old way of looking at things.

Take a look at the turning points throughout your manuscript. Are they as dramatic as they possibly can be? No...I guarantee it. Go back to work on them. Use stronger words, hand objects, dramatic gestures, more evocative settings...whatever it takes to wring out of them all that they have to give.

Step 1: Pick a turning point in your story. It can be a major change of direction in the plot or a small discovery in the course of a scene.

Step 2: Heighten it. Change the setting in some way. Make the action bigger. Magnify the dialogue. Make the inner change experienced by your POV character as cataclysmic as an earthquake.

Step 3: Take the same moment, and underplay it. make it quieter. Take away action. Remove dialogue. Make the transition small and internal, a tide just beginnning to ebb.

Note: Which works better, heightening the turning point or underplaying it. How did you change the setting, or use it differently? How did you make action more dramatic? Did the dialogue get louder, sharper, harder, more cutting? If a realization has taken place, how did it deepen?

Follow-up: go through your novel and find the turning points in twenty scenes. find ways to heighten (or pointedly diminish) them.

Conclusion: Many novels do not strive forward in pronounced steps. Many authors are afraid to exaggerate what is happening. That is a mistake. Stories, like life, are about change. Delineating the changes scene by scene gives a novel a sense of unfolding drama, and gives its characters a feeling of purpose over time.


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