Using Turning Points to Pace Your Novel

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I’ve been listening to a workshop Jennifer Crusie gave on turning points at 2009’s RWA Conference. What’s a turning point? It’s when your plot goes from a normal, stable situation to a life-changing event.

Ms. Crusie notes that there are usually several turning points in a manuscript:

  • Beginning of your Novel – when the protagonist’s world changes
  • Crisis – things get a bit worse (@ around 30k words if you are writing a 100k novel)
  • Point of No Return – Your character has irrevocably changed by this point (Middle of your novel – around 55k)
  • Dark Moment (around 80k)
  • Climax – return to stability

Why aren’t these turning points evenly spaced? For pacing purposes. You want the crisis points to come closer together toward the end to propel the reader forward. This makes the story feel like a quick read.

This is one of the clearest explanations on pacing I’ve heard, and every time I write a new story I am now mindful of those turning points and where they come into play.



9 thoughts on “Using Turning Points to Pace Your Novel

    Elijana Kindel said:
    April 4, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Loved this workshop in DC! Thanks for reminding me of it! Also, in case you haven’t found it yet, Ms. Crusie also posted a handout for this workshop on her website; you can find it here:
    Take care and happy writing!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      April 4, 2011 at 8:39 am

      Thanks for the link, EK! The workshop sounds hilarious, and I love the way she broke down the turning points. Wish I’d been there in person. 🙂

    Julia Rachel Barrett said:
    April 4, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Great general outline, however I do think we have to be careful not to use, well, filler between the crisis point and the climax, just to stretch out a word count. I like a novel that moves along fairly quickly, without extraneous and meaningless activity or words. For instance, I don’t need to know…and then they went here and then they went there…and they did this and they did that…
    Some authors have the ability to write a 600 page book without a single wasted word, some can manage 150 pages.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      April 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm

      So true, Julia. I’m a firm believer that a story takes as long as it takes to be told. Some are longer, some shorter.

    laradunning said:
    April 5, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Sounds like workshop I’d like to take. The turning point tips with word counts is very useful. Thanks1

    Rosalie Lario responded:
    April 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Sure. 🙂

    Shellie Sakai said:
    April 10, 2011 at 9:29 am

    Thanks for the post. That is the best explaination I have ever read. I am printing it out and keeping it.

    Thank you.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      April 10, 2011 at 9:33 am

      I really liked it too, Shellie. It’s simple but brilliant.

    […] Rosalie Lario had a great post on turning points in the story. She gives a brief explanation at what point in a full length novel you should be hitting your points (and she reveals who she got the notion from!). […]

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