Turning Points - Part I
By Michelle Janene
In storytelling, most writers divide a tale into three parts. These parts are often referred to as the Three-Act Structure. The first and third acts are anywhere from a fourth to a third of the story with the second act sometimes being as much as half the story.
In general the character and world is introduced in the first act. The Point of View (POV) character(s) face multiple challenges and problems that are a chain reaction triggered in the first act. Each of these difficulties faced comes with ever increasing challenges. Logically, the third act sees the resolution of all those difficulties.
Within the three-act structure there are a couple of key turning points. These are points that change the characters and send them down paths they never intended to go.
The first of the turning points is called the inciting incident and usually happens near or at the end of the first act. This is the point where your character must make a decision that will drive everything that follows. The inciting incident is about the character. This is different than the opening action that hooks your reader.
The hook at the beginning throws your reader in to a different world with new people to get to know and grips them so they continue to turn the page and discover more. The POV character may have been kidnapped on page one. That’s the hook. Who has her? Why did they take her? What’s going to happen? How is she going to get free?
Then with the inciting incident, by the end of act one, she has to decide if she is going to believe that her kidnapper is actually her hero trying to keep her safe, or the villain out to destroy her life. She must make an irreversible decision. Either choice will dictate everything that follows. Will she stay with the kidnapper and race against the odds to survive the real enemy or plot her escape and try to remain hidden and safely away from him but totally on her own. There is no going back. This one moment changes everything.
Many times the inciting incident is action based. A physical movement of the character based on their beliefs and goals. What is the character trying to save? Their life, finances, reputation, and emotional well-being can each be the one thing the character has to protect above all else. That one thing drives the decision of the character to choose which irreversible decision they can never change.
Sometimes the inciting incident can be an action by another character that shoves the POV character into the irreversible decision and they have to choose what to do next. Take a king who is fed up with the reprobate behavior of his heir. In a fit of anger he tells the young man he is not in fact his son or the queen’s. The heir apparent is not an heir at all. What does he do with that information? Does he cave under the pressure to live as the king demands to retain the long-promised crown or does he seek out his true parents knowing he will leave the wealth and power behind forever?
The inciting incident is a key driving force that thrusts your story along. It requires the POV character to face things about themselves they have tried to avoid, to reach for their dreams or let them die. They are forced into situations beyond their control with people they aren’t sure they can trust. This is the heart of your story. And the inciting incident triggers it all.
About the Author
Michelle Janene lives and works in Northern California. Most days she blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind. She is a devoted teacher, a dysfunctional housekeeper, and a dedicated writer.
She released her first novella Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015. God’s Rebel came out in 2016, followed by Rebel’s Son and Hidden Rebel in 2017. She has been published in “Guide Post Magazine” and several anthologies. She leads two critique groups and is the founder of Strong Tower Press—Indie solutions for indie authors.
You can read Michelle’s column on the 3rd Tuesday each month here at Pandora’s Box Gazette.