Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Turning Points in Writing

By Debby Giusti

I teach a writing class at my church and was unsure of what my topic would be this month. We’ve all heard that the best way to learn is to teach, and a little interior voice kept telling me I needed to focus on turning points for both my class and the story I was brainstorming. Thankfully, I listened to that little voice because a review of turning points was a win-win. The class was well received, the writers learned something new, and I used the turning points model to plot my next story.

I’m sure most of us can identify important events in our lives that have affected us in one way or another, either for good or for ill. Marriage, divorce, birth of a child, death of a parent, college graduation, a new job, loss of a job, illness or an accident that led to debilitation, scandal, betrayal, and the list goes on and on. The events are turning points that caused us to change emotionally, physically or spiritually. After undergoing a significant turning point, we may see the world and ourselves in a different or new way so that we’re not the same person we were prior to the event.

The same holds true for our characters. They change and grow because of the unexpected events we include in our stories. As writers, we use significant turning points to enhance the emotion, ratchet up the conflict, place our hero and heroine in jeopardy and cause them to change. 

Just as in our own lives, our hero and heroine become new people by the end of the story. They see the world in a different way. They’ve learned a valuable lesson about themselves or about life in general. They’re able to forgive those who hurt them in the past and can also forgive themselves for the mistakes they’ve made. Most important, they are able to love and be loved, to open their hearts to the Lord and to embrace life to the full.

πŸ‘‰ Tip: Marg McAlister, in her blog piece, “TurningPoints in a Novel,” provides the following turning points that can be included in a story:
  • a reversal of some kind
  • new information
  • a disaster - involving nature, or man-made objects, or technology gone wrong
  • a change in the course of events
  • a twist (such as revealing that a certain character is not who the hero thought he/she was)
  • a challenge

Screenwriting consultant Michael Hauge, in his article, “Story Structure: The 5 Key TurningPoints of all Successful Screenplays,” says, “In a properly structured movie, the story consists of six basic stages, which are defined by five key turning points in the plot.” Although Hauge’s main focus is on screenplays, his techniques and workshops have been well received in the romance genre. Everything he teaches about story applies to novels as well.

Screenwriting follows a certain sequence or formula, and Hauge identifies the five turning points needed to create a blockbuster in the following way:

First Turning Point: 
The Opportunity (occurs 10% of the way into the movie)

Second Turning Point: 
The Change of Plans (25% into the movie)

Third Turning Point: 
The Point of No Return (50% mark)

Fourth Turning Point: 
The Major Setback (75% mark)

Fifth Turning Point:
The Climax (90-99%)

The titles Hauge gives to the various turning points are fairly self-explanatory, but let’s do a quick review.

Turning Point #1: introduces the problem or situation and an initial goal, or opportunity, that catches the protagonist’s interest. At this early stage, the protagonist puts his toes in the water, so to speak, but he’s not ready to jump in feet first.

Turning Point #2: The hero sees the scope of the problem a bit more clearly and realizes it’s a bigger issue than he first imagined. Or he may uncover a more critical situation that must be addressed so that a new, more important goal moves to the forefront. Note that the goal must be well-defined and significant enough to be carried throughout the book since the entire story hangs on whether the hero can succeed. At this point, the hero dives headfirst into the action.

Turning Point #3: At the halfway point, the protagonist is so immersed in achieving his goal he can’t turn back. In our water analogy, he’s too far from shore and must keep paddling to reach his goal.

Turning Point #4: The setback that occurs 75% of the way into a screenplay is a new, unexpected problem—A VERY BIG PROBLEM—that thwarts the hero’s plans and threatens to destroy all his hard work up to this time. The future looks bleak and failure looms. This is the Black Moment in a romance. Going back to our guy in the water: Sharks are circling and he sees no way to save himself.

Turning Point #5: The exciting climax follows when the protagonist and antagonist come to blows, literally or figuratively, with the hero emerging triumphant. Our courageous swimmer battles the sharks, sustains bites but survives and makes it to his island goal.

Novelist and writing coach C. S. Lakin, discusses turning points in her article, “The 5 Key Turning Points in Your Novel.” Her placement of the various turning points within her stories and her explanation of each point is similar to what Hauge teaches.

Lakin’s first turning point is the inciting incident. What she calls a visible goal is established in the second turning point. The third comes at the midway mark when the hero is at the point of no return. The fourth turning point is the Black Moment and the final turning point is the climax.

Interestingly, Lakin mentions that a lot of stories she reads fall short at the climax. Perhaps the clash between the protagonist and antagonist (In a love story, the antagonist is the love interest.) is resolved too easily in some romance stories. πŸ‘‰TIP: Don’t cheat your reader. Ensure your hero confronts and battles a worthy opponent in the climax.

Author and writing instructor Robin Perini, in her workshop “Transform a Good Book into a Great Book”, suggests adding “major turning points every 20-25,000 words (or so),” which, according to Perini, solves the sagging middle problem.

Perini uses four turning points in her stories and provides the following diagram available on her website.  (According to Perini, the realization is what the characters learn.)                                                                 
© 2018 by Robin Perini

My writing class used Perini’s story board to brainstorm a romance, similar to the stories made into Hallmark movies. Here's what my class came up with:

The heroine, a needs-to-be-needed type person, is the protagonist. She’s involved with a strong-willed man who thinks mainly of himself. Her best friend, a laid back guy who takes life as it comes without fighting for what he wants, is the real hero in what turns out to be a “friends to lovers” story. The three main characters work in an auto production company in a small town that hosts a car show each year. 

The domineering boyfriend is in charge but quickly passes responsibility for the event onto his girlfriend and her best friend. As the hero and heroine work together, their friendship grows into something more significant. The friend-hero has built a new car that he plans to unveil at the show, but the domineering boyfriend claims the design is his. In the Black Moment, Mr. Domineering asks the girlfriend to marry him and the friend to lover thinks she says yes. Brokenhearted, the hero prepares to leave town. He’ll leave the girl he loves and the car he designed and move on with his life. 

The heroine rejects the domineering guy’s proposal. She no longer needs a man to validate her. She’s her own person and confronts the old domineering boyfriend in the climax, revealing how he lied about his role in the new car’s design. Before leaving town, the friend-to-lover hero realizes what’s important and returns to declare his love. At the end of the story, the hero and heroine drive into the center of the car show in the new auto he designed. If you watch many Hallmark movies, you know what happens next. The hero and heroine kiss, which is how this story ends.

Kudos to my class for brainstorming such a fun story, in less than an hour, by focusing on the turning points.

Create your own Hallmark story the same way my class did. The exercise is fun and stimulates creativity.

Are you having trouble plotting your story? Check your turning points.

Knowing your turning points before you start to write ensures your story will keep the reader engaged and flipping the pages. It also gives you a guide to follow as you write that keeps you on track.

Please share any tips or techniques you use to create turning points in your own stories. Do you include them intuitively, and if so, where do they usually fall within your stories? Readers, do you think about the turning points in the stories you read? 

Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for my November release, “Her Forgotten Amish Past.”

Happy writing! Happy reading!

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti


She can’t remember who she’s running from.

Is she safe with the Amish?

Someone wants Becca Troyer dead, but who or why is a mystery to her. Seeking refuge at the home of Amish farmer Zeke Hochstetler is her only hope to stay one step ahead of the killer. With every clue she finds about her past leading to more confusion, Becca and Zeke must untangle the truth before her pursuer discovers where she’s been hiding.

Pre-order HERE!


  1. Good morning all! I've brought an assortment of pastries and bagels, along with fresh fruit. The coffee is ready. I'm pouring a second cup.

    Looking forward to our discussion on turning points today!

    1. I'm late, but grabbing coffee and pastries. Thanks, Deb!

  2. Good morning Debby!

    This is a great post, and I can see why your class loved it.

    I also plot my stories using Michael Hauge's method (and Stan Williams from The Moral Premise.) It helps so much with the flow of the story! I find that following the method you used with your class (plotting those key points first) helps so much. I follow up by plotting what happens between those points and filling in the rest of the story.

    And speaking of story, I need to get back to it. Working on a deadline!

    1. Michael Hauge is so good! I "get" his instruction, if you know what I mean. Often, we can identify with certain techniques but not others. It's what clicks and Hauge clicks with me.

      Prayers for your deadline, Jan!

  3. As a reader I definitely think about the turning points and see how they relate to similar things that have happened in mine. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Hi, Debby! Thank goodness for coffee--pass a cup over here, please! What a stellar post--brimful of excellent tips and guidelines. Will definitely be sharing this--and how I wish I could be in that writing class of yours! Such an incredible blessing for your church family!

  5. Laurel, I'm raising my mug to you! Thanks for sharing the post and your kind words on FB this morning!

    The class is a blessing to me! I learn more than they do, for sure!

  6. What a great how-to post, Debby! Thanks for sharing your example from your class. I think you and the group did an excellent job!

    I love Robin's chart! I think in my wip I put TP1 a little too soon. It's at the end of chapter 3 (where I usually like to have a big hook for proposals). I'll have to look at whether to change that.

    Thanks for sharing these tips today, Debby!

    1. I'm reviewing the opening chapters on my WIP, as well, Missy! Like you, I need to move a turning point that appears too early.

  7. Debby, this is a great post! Thanks for all the useful information. Hope you are doing well and congratulations on another book! Love the title!

  8. This is such a timely post, Debby! I've been stewing over a story for weeks and it occurred to me over the weekend that my problem is with the turning points of the story. I'm going to check out Robin's class info right now! As always, Seekerville is full of great information.

  9. LeAnne, so glad to help! I needed a refresher on turning points as well.

  10. This is the perfect post for me, Debby, as I'm busy plotting my next book. I love Michael Hauge and until I discovered him I had no idea what plot structure really meant, other than Act 1, 2, and 3. Once I learned his method I was able to sell my debut. But your post is full of extra information, so thank you! and i just love the cover of your latest book. LIS does an amazing job with their covers, don't they?

    1. Hauge is a story genius! And, as I mentioned in a previous comment, I "get" what he says in his workshops and books.

      Thanks for mentioning my cover. I agree. The LIS/LI Art Department does an amazing job. I'm always pleased!

    2. Laurie, I used to hear about acts 1, 2 and 3, and would be so confused. I love the way Michael Hauge breaks it down.

  11. Debby, this hit the spot, albeit a sore spot. I'm working on my second Christmas novella for Pelican and am a little short on Black Moment. Fortunately it's still the first draft.
    Busy today with newspaper work and nonfiction book work, so much to do before I go to San Antonio, but I am at peace. The Lord is blessing. Opening doors for the nonfiction book and providing work in the newspaper area, so I can support my fiction habit. He has opened so many doors in recent weeks, and not just with the novels. Doesn't hurt that it's a breathtaking early fall day here.
    He has made a way, but the greatest of all Ways is Him.
    Out for a while, have a great day if I don't get back here.

    1. So glad you're getting so much confirmation from the Lord, KB. You're doing his work and he's so pleased!!! :)

      Enjoy ACFW. I'm not going this year. Hope to see you next year in Nashville!

      You mentioned your Black Moment. Review your GMC. Sometimes a small change can make a difference.

  12. Hi Debby, thanks for sharing your teaching points with us. I've heard of the six stages and Michael Hauge but my brain hurts when I try to apply his stuff. ;P I've found using the 25 romance beats brings me to the same idea Michael Hauge talks about. For some reason the 25 points are easier for me to think through than the six stages - go figure! Lee-Ann

    1. Lee-Ann, so glad you found a method that works for you. We see things differently. Some techniques work for us, some don't. Finding what works is the important thing.

    2. Lee-Ann, where did you get the 25 romance beats info? That sounds familiar to me but I can't place it.

    3. Missy - it's from Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes.

    4. Debby - So true! I think there are so many great perspectives out there nowadays about plotting. I'm thankful for the variety because if one doesn't work, let me try the next one. :)

    5. Yes, Unknown! So true! Would love to know your name!!!


    6. Hi Debby - It's Lee-Ann (I signed off on my first comment, but forgot on my replies).

  13. Thank you for this information Debby. I find it very helpful and will use it when plotting my next book.

    1. Debby, I'm glad you got something from the post. I learn so much from Seekerville! :)

  14. As a reader, I feel that we all experience many turning points in our lives. It helps me to focus on seeing our disappointments in God's divine appointments. I would love to read your book, Debby....I always enjoy them!

    1. Jackie, thank you so much! You're right about the turning points in our lives. Thanks for stopping by today. Hugs and love!

  15. As a reader I can't say that turning points even enter my mind.

    1. Thanks for your input, Mary Preston. Not "seeing" the turning points is good. It means you're enjoying the story and not analyzing how all the points fit into the whole, which is what writers often do when they read. :)

  16. Debby, this is a writing class tucked into a blog.... brilliant!

    And I love Mary Preston's reply because that's exactly how it should be if we've done it right! The story should seamlessly evolve from its roots and play out... and a reader should be able to take that path without ever feeling like a turn has been "planted".

    And kudos to your church family for having you do a writing course. I love that!

    1. I agree about Mary's comment! Readers should be enjoying the story and not dissecting each facet of the plot and/or character development!

  17. This is jam-packed with great information, Debby. Plots have always where I fall short. Never enough conflict, not enough turning points. This will definitely help with the story I'm working on. Thank you so much!!

    1. I'm glad you can use the information, Glynis!


  18. Thank you. That was very informative and helpful. Got to digest this.

  19. Hello Debby I would love to read this book sounds like another great book! As seeing turning points I don't look for them I am just so into reading a great book Thank you for the chance!

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