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What are “TURNING POINTS” in a novel?

Put simply: a turning point in a story is A POINT AT WHICH THINGS CHANGE.

You should be able to find a turning point in most of your scenes: it’s an indication that your story is moving forward. Any story is full of degrees of change, or small changes.
However, you need to clearly understand your story’s MAJOR turning points. These are the ones you want to play up. If you can heighten the drama in your major turning points, your readers will see that your characters are growing and changing, and will want to live through these changes with them. Well-written scenes featuring major turning points heighten the tension and build the pace.

Often, turning points involve a ‘light bulb moment’. The character (let’s call him Harry) comes to realise that:

  • his old way of looking at things is no longer viable
  • he has outgrown his childhood friends, or conversely
  • only his friends from childhood appreciate the ‘real Harry’
  • it’s time to let go of the past (e.g. bitter feelings towards his ex-wife; victimisation in high school)
  • his own stubbornness has landed him to his present predicament

You can see, too, that the light bulb moments above all involve EMOTIONAL turning points, which are so important in any novel. Emotional turning points often involve letting go, or accepting a loss.

There are other kinds of turning points. What else can make the novel change direction, or set Harry on a new course?

  • 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 Harry thought he was, or that research he has been asked to do is to be used for a completely different purpose)
  • a challenge

If you clearly understand the major turning points in your novel, you will also find that writing a synopsis is much easier. The editor or agent reading your synopsis will notice the difference, too: turning points are like road signs; they show that the author knows what he/she is doing.