Thursday, May 21, 2020

Writing a Page-Turner: Turning Points: Three Act Structure for Novelists

By Kris Bock, @Kris_Bock

Part of the How They Do It Series

JH: Structure is a great tool to help writers develop and write their novels. Kris Bock shares thoughts on the value of turning points in a page turner. 

Chris Eboch is the author of over 60 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.

Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs.

Chris Eboch Website | Blog | Goodreads 

Chris also writes for adults as Kris Bock. Her Furrever Friends Sweet Romance series features the employees and customers at a cat café. Watch as they fall in love with each other and shelter cats. Get a free 10,000-word story set in the world of the Furrever Friends cat café when you sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter. You’ll also get a printable copy of the recipes mentioned in the cat café novels.

Kris also writes romantic suspense set in the Southwestern U.S. If you love Mary Stewart or Barbara Michaels, try Kris Bock’s stories of treasure hunting, archaeology, and intrigue in the Southwest.

Kris Bock Website | Blog | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | Sign up for the Kris Bock newsletter 

Take it away Kris...

Do you want to write books that keep readers enthusiastically turning the page? What writer doesn’t?

There’s no magic formula for writing a fabulous book. But there are formulas that offer guidelines for constructing a satisfying plot. Scriptwriters have long used the three act structure handed down from theater, with additional “turning points” as guidelines for when high and low moments and surprises should hit.

Various resources identify and name turning points differently, but here’s a basic list of the most important ones:
  • Act 1 (the first 25%): Introduction of the character and situation.
  • The Inciting Incident/Catalyst (in the opening pages): Something that introduces a problem or goal for the main character.
  • Plot Point One/Act 1 Break (about 25% of the way in): The point of no return, when the character embarks on the journey (physical, mental, or emotional).
  • Act 2 (the middle, from the 25% point to the 75% mark): The character tries to solve the problem but faces escalating obstacles and rising stakes.
  • Midpoint (in the middle of Act 2, at about the 50% mark): A moment of seeming success, but it may twist the story in a new direction or raise the stakes.
  • Plot Point Two/Act 2 Break (at the 75% mark): The moment when failure seems inevitable.
  • Act 3 (the final 25%): Wrapping up the story. Things may continue going downhill, and/or the hero(es) may develop a new plan, leading to the ...
  • Climax/Resolution: The big final scene where the character ultimately succeeds or fails.

My brother Doug Eboch, writer of the movie Sweet Home Alabama and a scriptwriting teacher, says, “These ideas date back to Aristotle; they’re not some new Hollywood formula. Three Act Structure is really just a way to talk about literary concepts. So, for example, the first act is the section where we set up the character, their dilemma and the stakes; the second act is where the character faces increasing obstacles to that dilemma; and the third act is where we get the resolution.”

(Here's more on How to Plot With the Three-Act Structure)

Solve or Prevent Problems in Your Story

Following this format doesn’t mean the result will be perfect, but, “If you understand the concepts, they can help identify and solve problems in your story, or even prevent problems from occurring in the first place,” Doug says. “Think about acts and turning points as a way to organize your story and make sure you stay on track.”

Many authors find three act structure helpful when writing books, although they may not focus on structure at the beginning of a new project. Some wait until the revision stage and use three act structure to make sure they have a solid, well-paced plot.

Personally, I like to thoroughly brainstorm and outline before starting a novel. Then I can match scenes on the outline to traditional turning points. That’s a way to identify weak spots or to discover when important plot points are happening too late in the story. This allows me to add complications or shift scenes around before I start writing.

(Here's more on Are You In or Out? Crafting Outlines That Work for You)

Tools, Not Rules

Whether you start with plot structure or consider it only after a couple of drafts, checking your work for turning points can help ensure the story feels well-plotted and satisfying. But that doesn’t mean you have to force a story to fit the “rules” precisely.

“It’s more important to understand the concepts behind the structure than to take a fill-in-the-blank type of approach,” Doug says. “Sometimes people focus on the idea that the act one turning point should happen on page 28 [in a screenplay, which is typically 110 pages]. But the reason we bother identifying an act one turning point at all is that it’s the place where the hero takes on the problem and gets locked into the story. Without that, there’s no tension because the hero could just walk away at any time. It’s far more important that the act one turning point fulfill those requirements than that it fall on a certain page.

As a scriptwriting teacher, Doug has many chances to see what works and what doesn’t. “Many beginning writers get into their story too late. Often, they don’t introduce the problem until the act one turning point and don’t trap their character in the story until the midpoint. Again, this comes from not understanding the purpose of the beats.”

Those students are satisfied to find a big event at the appropriate place – even if it’s not the right kind of event. It’s not enough to have something happen, just because you need a turning point.

“Many beginning writers have major events happen at the turning points that are unrelated to each other or even the main character,” Doug notes. 

(Here's more on Form Fitting: Using Story Structure to Your Advantage)

Focus on the Main Character’s Actions and Choices

“[Turning points] are not simply twists for the sake of having a twist; they serve a bigger structural purpose. All the turning points should be related to your main character and main story line and to each other. And each should be the result of the main character’s actions and choices.”

What does that mean? “Even if the second act turning point involves the villain getting the best of the hero, the villain should be taking that action in response to what the hero’s done before. The turning points should grow out of what the character wants in the story and what obstacles stand in the way of that goal, including internal obstacles.”

Turning points can be a powerful tool, and a way to make sure you have enough action, and enough ups and downs, in your story. But make sure you understand the true purpose of turning points so you can design them to give the reader that satisfying structure humans have sought since the time of Aristotle.

This post is adapted from You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.

Siblings Douglas J. Eboch & Kris Bock are the co-authors of Felony Melanie in Pageant Pandemonium, a new young adult romantic comedy featuring “Felony Melanie” and her gang seven years before the events of the movie Sweet Home Alabama.

About Advanced Plotting

Take your novel to the next level.

You’ve finished a few manuscripts, read books and articles on writing, taken some classes, attended conferences. But you still struggle with plot, or suspect that your plotting needs work.

This book can help.

Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer. Read the book straight through, study the index to find help with your current problem, or dip in and out randomly — however you use this book, you’ll find fascinating insights and detailed tips to help you build a stronger plot and become a better writer.

The Plot Outline Exercise is designed to help you work with a completed manuscript to identify and fix plot weaknesses. It can also help flesh out an outline. Additional articles address specific plot challenges, such as getting off to a fast start, propping up a sagging middle, building to a climax, and improving your pacing. A dozen guest authors share advice from their own years of experience.

Chris Eboch: Amazon Barnes&Noble | Kobo | iBooks

Kris Bock: Amazon Barnes&Noble | Kobo |

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