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Turning Points

March 22, 2015

Turning Points

Take a moment to think back over your life. List your major turning points; significant events that profoundly changed you and/or your circumstances. These could be major, external changes like switching jobs or getting married, or something subtler, like a book or conversation which permanently altered your worldview.

Now choose one of these turning points. Describe it in as much detail as you can remember. Include the following: What was your life like before? How was it different afterwards? What do you feel now when you think back to that time?

Whether you’re writing a short story, a novel or a memoir, this exercise will help you think analytically about story structure. A short story will typically focus on a single turning point in the life of a character, while a novel might deal with a longer period of time containing several key changes, culminating in an ultimate turning point.

Obviously, a memoir is less likely to lend itself to a neat structure, as ‘our lives are largely plotless’ (Stephen King). But think about the stories you’d tell about yourself to a new friend. Most likely, these would hinge on key points in your life where everything changed, the moments that made you what you are.

These are the moments that most interest your reader, because they’re the times in our lives – and those of our characters – when something’s at stake. This is because change almost always involves a sacrifice of some kind.

So if you’re writing fiction, ask yourself: what does my protagonist want most? What is he or she prepared to suffer or forego to get it? What stands in their way?

If you’re writing non-fiction, you probably know the answers to these questions already.

That’s your story.

Did you find this exercise useful? If so, perhaps you’d benefit from my short course, ‘Unlocking the Book in You‘ at SPAN Community House, Thornbury. Call (03) 9480 1364 for more information. 

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