Turning points in stories are events that twist the narrative in unexpected ways.
There are two types—major turning points that occur towards the end of the first and second acts, and a medley of minor ones that twist dramatic beats to create a zig-zagging effect within an act.
Here is a list of the sort of twists and turns that can occur in the narrative. Determining what sort they are depends on how strongly they turn the plot:
1. An unexpected problem arises which causes the hero to approach his goal from a different direction.
2. An important resource is lost.
3. A sidekick or friend swaps sides.
4. A lie is revealed.
5. A past mistake resurfaces to complicate matters.
6. The trust in a friend is lost.
7. An alternative plan emerges to rival the existing one.
8. The hero loses faith in his ability to achieve the goal.
“Turning the story through the use of surprise keeps the tale unpredictable and the audience engaged.”
Again, the beat type is determined by where it occurs in the narrative and how strong it is—how severely it causes a change in the original plan (such as an unexpected problem derailing the hero’s path to the goal). Story-altering beats are known as turning points.
In The Matrix, for example, Neo’s realisation that his life has been nothing more than a simulation, is a major turning point that spins the story into the second act.
A twist such as the hero losing faith in his ability to achieve his goal, however, represents a temporary pause in his journey. It does not reach the level of a turning point, but is a good candidate for a mid-point, where, typically, the hero questions his strength and ability to pursue the goal.
Other twists, such as a lie being revealed, or a sidekick changing sides, represent an ajustement to the path, but do not necessarily constitute a derailment.
Exercise: In a story you have written—is the event at the end of the first or second act strong enough to cause the next act? Do the smaller dramatic beats within your acts contain elements of surprise?
Turning the flow of your narrative helps to keep your readers and audiences engaged in your story.