Turning Points in Stories

Turning Points in Die Hard
Turning Points in Die Hard

I’ve talked, more than once, about turning points in stories. This post takes another look at this all important topic, adding what, I hope, is fresh insight.

A turning point occurs when something big happens in a story to spin it around in an unexpected direction. This takes the form of new information granted to the protagonist and audience.

I’ve indicated that an action-orientated turning point should be supported by a strong inner motivation. I’ve suggested that such motivation is nested in the inner journey. So, if we draw a zig-zagging line to represent the outer journey as the physical series of actions and events, the inner journey is the line that rides below it, tracking it in parallel. The turning points are the horizontal lines intersecting the two.

Examples of Turning Points in film

But what form should this new information take? Specifically, should it come from the outer journey—such as news that a solar flare seems set to destroy the earth in the film, Knowing? Or should it spring from the inner journey of the hero, as in Oblivion, when Tom Cruise’s character realises that the flashes of memory that have been plaguing him are actual memories of his wife (albeit, as we’ll later find out, through the medium of resonance, which unites his clones).

Does it really matter, which comes first, you may well ask, since the outer and inner journeys meet at the turning points anyway? My personal view is that it does.

Turning Points that come from the inner journey to intersect with the outer journey, contain more of an “Aha” moment.

Such turning Points draw our attention to the character’s background and motivation and makes us care more about his predicament. It makes the action more meaningfully, right off the bat. It bestows empathy and verisimilitude.

This is not to say that pure action can’t give rise to a turning point. Action films such as Die Hard and the crop of superhero films such as Batman and Superman often take that route. Still, letting the turning point spring from the inner journey heightens the authenticity of the protagonist’s actions. It may therefore be the more appropriate place to mine for turning points in drama-ordinated genres.

Summary

Turning points that spring from the inner journey increase character authenticity and verisimilitude in stories.

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Stavros Halvatzis

I'm a writer, teacher, and story consultant.

2 thoughts on “Turning Points in Stories”

  1. I am glad that you use Batman v Superman as a example. The 2016 CGI mess of a movie is the textbook example of a turning point gone wrong. When Batman has the opportunity to kill Superman , the defeated kryptonian tells Bruce to save Martha . We are given a flashback of the night Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed and that the relation between the two caped crusaders is that there mothers have the same name – this results in Batman not killing Superman but rather joining forces to defeat Lex Luther. It might work on a page but in the end it should not matter what the mothers names are! It has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. The turning point in the first Shrek is much more effective. We see a change in Fiona when Shrek opens up to Donkey on the reasons why he justifies his life of isolation. Only after Fiona sees Shrek express his inner sadness do we see the love story take place. In short : a tuning point must be plot driven. Before we can enter act 3 the turning point ( that preferentially must take place in act 2) must serve the same purpose of the inciting incident that occurs in act 1

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