The Turning Points
Now that you have done your origin scene, which I just have to say, especially to you guys at home who actually had the time to do it, congratulations. I think it is really amazing that you have dug so far back and for now it's as far back as you need to go. We're now going to start going forward again, but by really digging down to your protagonist's misbelief and that moment that it was born, that it took root. You know what it is, and not only that, but you know why. You know what happened, what it means to your protagonist and why they believe what they believe. It's kind of amazing and as I said earlier that some of you, by really digging down deep and writing a scene like the one that we read in the last segment, writers often learn how to write scenes at this point. Because it is that internality, the notion that in every scene, your protagonist or POV character comes in, they've got some expectation, you let the reader know what that is. Because if a story is about scene by sce...
ne by scene by scene how our expectations aren't met, if we don't know what someone expects, how do we know their expectations aren't met? We don't, so you let us know what that was and then you pulled us in and you let something happen that blew those expectations out of the water. Your protagonist had to struggle internally to figure out what the heck they should do about it. And then they learned something and they took some action. Again, story is action, in one scene, action, internal reaction, where you try to figure it out, you change, it's difficult, decision, and now within that scene, they've made a decision. And in the scene that we read before, the little girl decided yeah, not only am I gonna go to camp, I'm not making any friends there. Because why would I risk that? And then that decision plays forward. So in writing that scene, you often learn how to write a scene. And again you begin that cause and effect trajectory that is gonna last the entire length of your novel. So that's pretty amazing, now what we're gonna talk about is we're gonna start from that moment that that misbelief came into being and we're going up to the moment where your novel is going to kick into gear, which chances are you don't know what that is yet, which is fine. You probably have some idea because most people do when they get that first blush of an idea, you know, that you started with. And we're gonna look for the turning points. And by turning points I mean places in your protagonist's life where that misbelief was challenged by life, was questioned by life, where it played into story-specific decisions that they made, that then played forward, that are going to build up into the problem that is going to kick off on page one. And when I say the problem is going to kick off on page one, I mean it on both levels. The problem, the internal problem, that change that your protagonist is going to need to make, that your plot is going to propel them toward whether they like it or not. And very often the plot problem that they're gonna face when they get to page one. Now you may be thinking, okay, wait a minute, didn't you just tell us not to do a long, if not birth to the opening scene, you know, the origin scene up to the opening scene bio on your protagonist, is that what you're asking us to do? And the answer is no, that is not at all what I'm asking you to do. I'm asking you to zero in on the story specific moments. The places where that misbelief and that desire guided your protagonist's life, they made a decision, and that played forward into what's going to build on to page one. Because a mistake that writers often make is they don't realize this, they don't realize that the misbelief is going to guide their choices from the moment up until the story starts. So they'll start with something and they'll go, okay, we had the, what we were talking about earlier, the first one we were talking about which is the nicer someone is to me, the more they're trying to use me. And now that is something that the protagonist is going to go for, so they don't trust people because they think that they're gonna be used, that's why people pretend that they like you. Got it, she's nine, now the story is gonna start when she's 39 and that's her misbelief and nothing's happened from one to the other. It's a mistake that writers make. Again, that's what happens when things stay conceptual and aren't made specific by what happens within the story. Because obviously if somebody at the age of nine has a feeling that the nicer someone is to me, the more that they're gonna try to use me, that is gonna guide their life and change the course of their life from that moment, up until your story starts. And that's what you're looking for. Because again, that's what's going to kick off that cause and effect trajectory, which is what a story is. A cause and effect trajectory, one problem that grows, escalates and complicates from the beginning to the end. But here's the thing, while the beginning of your novel, it's on page one, right? Obviously, by definition, right? So one of the things we can say for sure, novel begins on page one, but that doesn't mean that that cause and effect trajectory started there, it actually started way back over here with the origin scene. And it's gonna carry all the way forward. So for instance, the other thing to think about is that it's not like the misbelief stays static. And as we said before in a prior lesson, that in every scene they're gonna think, oh my gosh, the nicer someone is to me, the more they're trying to, oh he's being nice to me, he must be trying to use me. It's not like they're gonna think that in a static lockstep way, you know, from beginning to end. It is going to be absorbed in the decisions that that character makes and, here's the interesting thing, it is going to pick up other misbeliefs to support it along the way. So it might be, for instance, something like your protagonist, you know, the nicer someone is to me, the more they're trying to use me. Now that comes to you when you're nine, that's going to push you forward but by the time, let's say, you're in your early teens and now you're attracted to, let's just pretend because you can be attracted to any gender, but let's just say for argument's sake in this one because it's easier, that you're attracted to the opposite gender. So now, and that you're female, because you might have noticed but they're always female to me. So now, you're coming forward and now there's some guy that you like and you're like and he seems to like you and you want to like him back but you know that the nicer he is to you, the more he must be up to something. And now you don't even like yourself that much because why are you falling for this, you're an idiot. So now you might try to, and this is what we all do in so many ways in life, self-sabotage. Because now you're looking for the ways that he's manipulating you. And maybe he is not at all doing that but you're gonna find a way and you're gonna create a way to bring that trauma on yourself. Not because there's something wrong with you, not because you're morally bereft, not because you know what you're doing, but because you're trying to stay safe. And that's what makes you feel safe. So now, and maybe it does blow up in your face, and now you're doubling down on that misbelief. You see, I told you. Now you're gonna carry it forward and now you believe it even more. And now you might meet someone who really likes you, but this person goes a bit deeper. And they're older of course, because now you're older in your life. This person goes deeper and they kind of see that you're trying to self-sabotage but they like you anyway. It doesn't blow up and now you're thinking, what a simp, what's wrong with this guy? He doesn't know anything, in fact, you know what? He seems to like me so much, I can manipulate him, maybe that's what I should do. And then wow, that gives me a lot of power, I feel really powerful and empowered now. Now we've got other misbeliefs coming up. Yeah, I'm supposed to do it back and that's where power comes from, power comes from manipulating. That's how things grow, escalate, and complicate. And of course, the other thing that you're looking for and you're thinking about, is that you wanna be sure, if that was the case, what we just said, that would mean that the novel that you are writing had to do with some sort of a way in which your protagonist needed to trust someone, perhaps in a romantic relationship. And you're building toward that so we'll understand, or she'll learn to understand, what's really true, which is, and I really hope this is true, but the nicer someone is to you, doesn't mean they're trying to manipulate you. That's true, right? I mean out there in the real world? Nevermind, it's a big fear, I totally admit. But then that's what that's going to be about, when you're looking for these turning point scenes, which are about how their misbelief grows, escalates, and complicates, picking up these supporting misbeliefs along the way. You're not looking for one-offs, you're not merely looking for examples of where the misbelief raised its ugly head. And writers will do that all the time, well here's an example of how that's really screwed up her life in this situation. And now over here, here's another example of how it really screwed up her life in that situation. You're looking for this cause and effect trajectory. Nothing in a story is ever a one-off. So that's not true of this but that's true of all the scenes you're writing, too. It's a cause and effet, if this, they make that decision, that makes the next thing happen, and that's the meaning, they read into it. That's what you're always looking for. A one-off is something where, yeah, this awful thing happens and it sucks for her in that moment but nothing really led up to it and there's no consequence from it that's gonna play forward, it's just this thing that happened. You don't want that here as these turning point scenes and you don't want that ever in your novel, either. One way to develop these turning point scenes, rather than going okay, I'm going to start here with a misbelief and I'm going to look for them up to this moment, where right now I'm thinking my novel's going to start. My advice instead is to come up to this what if, come up to where you think your novel's going to start. You have some idea of what that's going to be about. And then look backward to go, okay, where are the scenes, where were the moments where that was built? For instance, I was working with a writer and when she first came to me, you'll see in a minute, she had like no plot, the story present was like one line. And what it was basically going to be was that, it was a woman, very young woman, who grew up in South Carolina. And she had a mother who was a raging alcoholic, and she feels like her mother has destroyed her life, people are judging her based on who her mother is. And so when she's 18, she leaves South Carolina and goes to Los Angeles and makes a life for herself and meets someone and gets married. But because what she learned at home was, yeah, you know, I don't wanna show myself, tell them anything about my past because they're not gonna like me, they're gonna realize I'm damaged goods and that's gonna be it. So she's very closed off to her husband. Instead of that being a good thing, it turns out to be a bad thing because now he feels like she's locked him out. And he feels like she doesn't really care about him because why won't she be open? And as the novel opens, the very opening of the novel was that she has now found him and she thinks he's cheating on her and he almost is but not quite. She thinks he's cheating on her and she comes home and she's livid and there's a message on her answering machine and it's her mother, who she has not talked to in the eight years since she left South Carolina, who says your father has cancer and you need to come home right now because you might never see him again. And then the plot of the novel was, and she goes home and she and her mother reconcile. That was it, that was it. And writers will start with stuff like that. Well, what's gonna happen? Like, what was the problem other than? I just told you, she was an alcoholic, that's not enough. How are they gonna reconcile, over what? You've got 300 pages, what the hell's gonna happen? So I was like okay, let's go back and let's dig in to the past, and okay. So when she was there, if she left because of the way that her mother treated her and because of what happened and how she felt about it, what happened, what happened that triggered that? Let's go back into the past, and the answer can't be a simple, you know, one line declarative sentence like, well you know, her mother would come to school and she'd be really embarrassed because her mother would be falling down drunk and that mortified her because the kids would laugh at her and that's why. Not nearly enough, you've gotta go deeper. And as always, when you're looking to go deeper, the answer is in your story's backyard. It's not in making something externally that you can think of in real life that would, just by definition be horrible, happen. So probing what she had, it was like, okay wait, her husband feels like she's closed off because she's afraid to let him know what her past was like because she's afraid he'll reject her. Well did that happen to her before maybe? Well yeah, maybe it did. Well did she maybe have a boyfriend there who she really cared about and she felt like when push came to shove, he rejected her because of something her mother had done? Yeah, maybe that's what happened. Maybe at the very end her mother had done some horrific thing and they were supposed to get married, maybe very young at 18, and now he refuses to leave South Carolina with her and she's positive it's because of what her mother did and she thinks that he is now looking at her as tainted goods. Could that be what happened? As a matter of fact, yeah, that is what happened. And this guy, Joe let's call him, is Joe, does he still in South Carolina, in that town? Yeah, as a matter of fact, he does. And is that really what happened? Did he really reject her because of what happened? No, of course not, she misread that. And does he feel bad that, whatever it was that he did that made her go, the reason that he wouldn't go with her, has he been carrying the torch for her this whole time? Yeah, as a matter of fact, he does. Now the plot starts to come. Now we spent a very long time digging, there was way more to it than that. Joe turned out to have a sister who was our protagonist's, whose name was Karen, was Karen's best friend. Her sister had also rejected Karen, again for reasons that had nothing to do with her mother. She's still there as well. So in other words, the point is, is that by the time you start to dig into this, your plot starts to appear, it starts to auto populate. Because again, if this character's going to go back to resolve past problems, what past problems? With who? How are things being misread? What is going to happen? And she was able to write a really wonderful novel by digging back into all of this stuff. And the great thing also when you end up doing this is that, what's more than a two, is there such thing as a threefer or a fourfer or a fivefer? It's like, you tend to end up developing characters who are going to be in the novel as well. So it's not like you're just digging into your protagonist's past and now everything else is gonna come from somewhere else. Like well she needs a best friend, let me pull her out of this, you know, there's a grab bag of possible archetype best friends. Don't ever do that. It's always going to be over here in the past because that's where amends is going to be made. So as the writer was developing Karen and Karen's past, she also developed these other characters. She developed Joe, the boyfriend, who's still there, and he had done a ton. In fact, it turned out, who knew, that he had actually come looking for her at one point and then saw her with her current husband and felt like, I guess she's happy, and went back. Is that something she's gonna find out in the novel by a bartender because is she gonna actually start drinking herself as well? Yeah, I mean, all of that came from diving into the past and trying to figure that out. So in other words, it does double and triple duty. This is when I say your plot will start to auto populate, this is what I mean. Now to be very clear though, when you do this, it's not like, okay now you're going to be up to the story present and now we're done with the past, we're not going to look at it anymore. You are going to be diving into the past from beginning to end. In your fifth draft, well okay, let's say third draft because maybe you won't have to write five whole drafts. You're still gonna go, wait a minute, I need to know a bit more. Or wait, here was this other character, where did they come from? You're constantly going to be pinging back and forth. The point is is writing is iterative, it's circular, it's not going in one direction. So that's what you might ask yourself about what you're writing about. People often write about, they often write about marriages dissolving. For some reason, that is a big topic. So if that's what you're gonna write about, you go okay, well then, how did she meet the guy? If he's the wrong guy or she's the wrong girl, why did it seem okay at the time? What were they swallowing, what were the sublimating, what were they reading in that's wrong? And then as things are going bad because it's going to have gone bad before we get to page one, well what happened there? Why? What caused them to double down on that misbelief? What maybe supporting misbelief did they pick up at that point? What is the problem here, that is now going to get solved or plumbed over here? So that is what you're going to want to do. Because again, you're looking for story-specific situations. So everything you discover over here is going to have some effect on what you're writing. And, again, and I say this because people, it seems really obvious to me but, because it's always obvious when you know it, right? Chip and Dan Heath talk about that, what is it, the curse of knowledge? When you know something, you just assume everybody else does. So I just want to say it again, all of these scenes occur before page one of your novel. These are not turning points once we get on to page one and go forward. They are all from your origin scene, up until the moment that your novel is going to kick into gear. And you might be thinking, okay, I got it, but what about, what about if I'm writing something and here's the world the protagonist grew up in, but guess what, very soon after page one, they're gonna go to a completely different world. Nobody from here is gonna be over here, do I really need to do all this? Is this really important, is this really going to help? You're looking for a way out and I'm not gonna give it to you. Because yes, you still have to do it. And let me give you an example of how profound that can be. And the example is Outlander. Outlander is a series of books by Diana Gabaldon, and full disclosure, I have not read the books, I have however seen the Starz series and that was all it took. Totally addicted to the Starz series. But the bulk of that novel takes place in Scotland and it begins in 1743. So that's where the bulk of it's going to take place. But here's the thing, the protagonist, Claire Randall, right before she goes to 1743, you know what year it is? 1946, 1946. So here's her backstory, here's what's gonna happen. Claire Randall, it's 1946, I think she's, I don't know if anybody's read the books, I don't know how old she is. Do you know how old she is in 1946?
I'd say late 30s.
No no no, she's gotta be, no I think she's younger than that.
She can't have children.
Maybe in the TV show they changed it, because she's very young there, and very cute. Anyway, doesn't matter, she and Jamie, I mean like oh my god. Deep cleansing breaths, do not need to think about Jamie. Anyway, so here's the thing, watch the show, I promise you. Anyway, so here's the point. So it starts, and I think in the show actually, she's supposed to be in her, believe it or not, like mid 20s.
He is younger, because she comments on it.
That's true, he is younger, he's a couple years younger. Okay, so let's say she's 30, we're gonna compromise on 30, so she's 30. So she is a field nurse and the show opens and it's the end of World War II, but we see a bit before and like, she is a field nurse and if there are people who are like squeamish and they can't stand the sight of blood, she's on the opposite side of that bell shaped curve. Like it opens up and there's some guy who's like, he's got this gash down his leg and like blood and guts are coming out, and she's like, oh I'll just sew that up. And you're going like, tell me when this scene is over, I can't even watch it. So she's like totally not squeamish. She's also really good with medicinal herbs, like she can heal people. And part of the reason for that is because her parents were killed in a car crash when she was five and she was raised by her Uncle Lamb, right? Good, I got that right, yes, her Uncle Lamb, and she was really headstrong and really, you know, she was really headstrong, really smart, did not wanna be told what to do, could figure things out for herself and she did not want to go to school and he let her not go to school and he was an archeologist. So she grew up going on archeological digs out there, and you can imagine what that is like. Is there running water in the 30s or 40s on an archeological dig? No, is she mostly with men? Yeah, is she gonna have to figure out how to navigate that? Or not survive, so yes, she is very tough. Story opens, the end of World War II, she's married to Frank. I don't know how long they were married but they've been apart for five years because she was a field nurse and he was like in intelligence or something. So now they're getting back together. And we know they love each other and they're kind of going for this get reacquainted second honeymoon sort of thing. But we can also sort of tell they didn't have a real passion. They love each other but they didn't have passion. So they go on this trip and they go to the Highlands of Scotland. And Frank is, he's a history professor, right? Yeah, he's a history professor, he's about to get a job I think at Oxford or somewhere, he's going somewhere but they've got the time now to have this vacation. He's also a genealogist, like he's really into his own genealogy. So they're up there and they're in the Highlands of Scotland and he's pointing stuff out to her, like you know, the Battle of Culloden was over there and Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, which are things I knew nothing about. I know everything I know about Scottish history from Outlander. But he's saying, this is when the battle was, and over there is this outcropping of rocks and they were like ambushed over there. So she's got all of this foreknowledge. He also says, oh and by the way, I had an ancestor back then who actually fought on the side of the British. So okay, now we've got all that. So now the story opens and they're in Scotland and they go to some, it's like they're watching like this druid ceremony sort of thing at night. It's this dance and it's by, picture a mini Stonehenge. And they're watching and they think, oh isn't that funny, this Wiccan thing, how lovely. And then the next day she says, she left her purse there, there's some reason. Yeah, she had left her bag and she says to him, he's like doing whatever he's doing history wise. She goes, I'm gonna go back up there, I wanna get my purse and I'm gonna collect some herbs. So she goes back up and now she's on this like little hillock with these like mini Stonehenge. And the music goes wonky, and you know it is in shows. It's like the protagonist has no idea what's coming but the music is really well aware of it. So now the music is very wonky and then all of a sudden the wind starts to blow. And now she's standing up and she's like, she's drawn to touch these stones and bam, now she's in 1743. She's not gonna be back here in the book, until a different book, but she's not gonna be back here. The rest of it's gonna be in 1743, so why do we need to know all of that, so what difference does it make? And the answer is because it's the lens through which she sees stuff. We needed to know that she's really tough and that she's been with nothing but men and she's not gonna go, excuse me, where's the bathroom? She knows there's no running water, she knows how to deal in the world of men, she knows how to heal people. She's got the herbal remedies, which of course you could still have back then, it wasn't like, you got some penicillin? I don't think they even had penicillin in 46. Anyway, but the point is, and she's fiercely independent. And because of what her husband told her, she has an idea of what's to come that they don't yet know. Not to mention the fact that she meets his ancestor like the minute she goes through the stones, which is an other story altogether. But the point is, that is what drove her forward. Otherwise, if we didn't know any of that, if she just decided, okay here's the plot, it's gonna be this woman from is gonna end up in 1743, she'd be just a generic stereotypical person. She'd be going, excuse me, where's the loo? I don't know where the loo is. She'd be going, these high heels, it's hard to run in high heels. She'd be going, my lipstick just broke. In other words, she would have no idea how to function in this world. It would be completely different, the only thing that you could play against would be the stereotypical what a person was like in 1946. But that's not what it is, you want to dig deeply. And along with the fact that of course she was married and now she falls in love with, did I mention Jamie? Who wouldn't fall in love with Jamie? It's just oh my god. Anyway, so you know, but then there's that tug of, but I wanna be loyal to Frank, who actually isn't alive because he hasn't been born yet. And what does she do? So all of that is part of that, what she's dealing with as she goes forward. Because everybody has a past. So what I'd like you guys to do now, for the exercise, would be to identify three possible turning point moments between the origin scene and where you think your novel is going to start. And when I say three, had to pick a number, two's too few, four's too many, three is the magic number. The truth is, this can be way more than three. Each one might dig you deeper into another one before. So let it loose and what you wanna do, not you, because you guys have three minutes, unless you really can channel Stephen King, you can't write that much this fast. You guys at home, what I would love to see you do, is really write some of this out in scene form, because you want to get down to the specifics. What happened in each of these scenes, your protagonist is going to learn something new, is going to change a little bit. It's going to push them forward. This is actually part of a cause and effect trajectory that will then land them on page one and going further. So think about three possible turning point moments. Ready, begin. So, how is that? Was that hard, was that easy? Is it getting a little easier? No, it's still just. And again, what I would say to all of you is, this is the hardest part on one level because you're creating something out of nothing, and that's hard. What tends to happen is you go forward, the deeper you dig and you go forward, it turns out that it gets much much much easier. Because now you know who that person is, you know what their past is, you know what they want, you know the memories that they've got and figuring out what they do and why they do it becomes much easier. Sort of like figuring it out for a friend, which sometimes we're right and sometimes we're wrong, but we know them that well at that point. And again, as I'm very fond of saying, there's no one right answer. You might write something and go, no that didn't happen at all, it's actually this over here. But the point is you are asking the right questions, you are digging in the right spots.