Story Grid Spreadsheeting: The Turning Point

What the heck is a Turning Point in Story Grid parlance? I struggled with this idea and spent more than an hour frowning at the spreadsheet Kim started and rereading Chapter 42 in the Story Grid. For good measure, I even emailed Kim for some help and then frowned at what she emailed back.

For some reason, the Turning Point concept was elusive. I’d think I’d get a glimmer of what it was and then I’d read an example in Chapter 42 and sit back in my chair, frown deepening. The concept would make less sense when I’d read my own scene, trying to find that magical moment where “ information comes to the fore and the character can’t help but react.” In my story, there is always new information and the character is always reacting to these things he’s learning. So do I pick just one?

Since all the frowning was getting me nowhere and hastening the inevitable BOTOX injection to boot, I decided to take a step back and think of the five commandments of storytelling (per Shawn Coyne).

The five commandments are:

  1. Inciting Incident
  2. Progressive Complications
  3. Crisis
  4. Climax
  5. Resolution

In the book (that damned Chapter 42 again!), the turning point is sandwiched between commandments 2 and 3 and described as the little buddy of the Progressive Complications. What??

Furthermore, Chapter 42 also instructs you that an event can turn on either Character Action or Revelation. Double What??

In a fit of pique, I decided to add the five commandments to my spreadsheet, in their order; 1, 2, Turning Point, 3, 4, 5. Deliciously, the Turning Point suddenly became clear.

At the beginning of any scene, chapter, section (beginning/middle/end), or global story, something happens to move the story forward. That’s the inciting incident. So your character tries to move forward. You, the writer, throw a bunch of obstacles in their path (progressive complications). Now, if you just keep throwing obstacles, nothing really happens. You have to have a way to close the scene. But does your character just throw up their hands and give up?


Side note, the author might give up while trying to Story Grid Spreadsheet her monster manuscript, but she would never allow a character to so capitulate. Click To Tweet

So something has to happen to bring your character to a crisis. And that thing that happens is the turning point. Here’s an example.

Betty comes home to find smoke in her kitchen (1). She looks around but can’t see much because of how thick the smoke has become (2). Her eyes tear and her throat starts to sting (2). She runs into her kitchen island and slices her hand on a knife she left on the cutting board (2). She opens the oven and flames and smoke pours out (2). Betty realizes that the fire is getting out of control (TP) and must decide to try to put it out herself or escape the house and hope the fire department arrives in time (3). She decides to grab the fire extinguisher she has stashed under the kitchen sink (4). The fire extinguisher sputters and she realizes that it expired years ago. Betty sinks to the floor overcome with smoke and despair (5).

The above example shows a Revelation turning point. And should remind you all that fire extinguishers DO expire. Check your dates people.

Here’s another example.

After Barney’s wife dies from smoke inhalation caused by the conflagration of a teddy bear mysteriously left to warm in the oven, he decides to nurse his grief on a tropical island (1). When he gets to the island, he finds that the resort has lost his reservation (2). Angry, he calls every other resort on the island trying to find an available room (2). While he’s making calls, his luggage is stolen (2). In frustration, he walks to the beach and doesn’t see the tsunami heading his way. Barney is hit by the rogue wave (TP). Clinging to debris, Barney must choose to try to swim to the side or stay on his course (3). Seeing a child in the water go under, Barney chooses to stay on his debris (4). Picking up speed, the debris is swept into the open ocean on the far side of the island and Barney is never seen again (5).

In Barney’s case, the scene turns on Action. He is swept toward his crisis by the wave. And, one could argue, his murderous nature.

After adding the five commandments to my spreadsheet, Kim’s comments also became clear. When I emailed her, she had replied,

The Turning Point is the final Progressive Complication. It’s the fulcrum of the scene, the moment when the Life Value and Polarity shift happens…The Turning Point is what prompts the Crisis. It creates a fork in the road. The character can’t just continue on their path as they thought—they must CHOOSE.
-Kim Kessler

I think the concept was difficult for me to pick up at first because I was trying to pick out one component of story structure. Once I looked at the scene as a whole, it became very clear. Victorious, I can now conquer the rest of my manuscript. Eleven scenes down. One hundred and three left to go. Hopefully, conquering the Turning Point will be my own Turning Point and the editing will start to pick up speed.

Have you tried to spreadsheet your story using the Story Grid methodology?

Have an opinion? Tell me more!