The Point When Everything Changes

Recently, I was obsessing over critically watching the fabulous TV show, Sherlock, and in the episode called “The Hounds of Baskerville”, Sherlock says this to his client:

And what happened when you went back to Dewer’s Hollow last night, Henry? You went there on the advice of your therapist, and now you’re consulting a detective. What did you see that changed everything?

And that simple exchange set me to thinking. In a novel, there is always That Point—the point when everything changes for your main character. The point when he/she can no longer go back. The pivotal moment (or change) that spurs the MC to take the next step forward.

In this episode of Sherlock, that special point is when Sherlock hears Henry’s story—specifically when he hears Henry say the word “hound” instead of “dog”. This changes everything for our master detective (for no one modern uses such an antiquated word, and that word choice makes this case quite appealing), so Sherlock agrees to take the case.

Quite simply, the Point When Everything Changes is the same thing as the inciting incident—it’s just another way of looking at it (and the way I prefer to look at it, actually). It’s that critical shove that gets the character through the door and rolling down the path toward THE GREAT STORY (insert echo on “STORY, story, story”).

Think about it. In Star Wars: A New Hope, the point when everything changes is when Luke’s sweet ol’ uncle and auntie get slaughtered. There’s nothing for Luke to go home to—nothing to keep him on Tatooine a moment longer. Everything has changed.

In The Hunger Games, it’s when Prim is called for the Reaping, forcing Katniss to volunteer in Prim’s place.

In Howl’s Moving Castle, Sophie is turned into a crone by the Witch of the Waste.

In The Wizard of Oz, it’s when Dorothy gets caught up in the tornado and dropped into Oz.

It’s such a simple concept—so inherent to storytelling that most of us include it naturally. I mean, in my novel, Something Strange & Deadly, my MC goes to the train to meet her brother…but her brother is a no-show. And worse, in his place, a walking corpse shows up with a hostage note. YEP, everything has definitely just changed.

And think about it: even when you start telling your friends a story, you start it something like this:

So last night, I was pumping gas at my car when this enormous–I’m talking elephant-sized, gargantuan dog came loping into the station. I kid you not, it was like a mastiff on steroids, and I just left the nozzle pumping and got in my car as fast I could.

What was the Point When Everything Changed? It was when that big dog came into the parking lot.

But in most stories, there isn’t simple one Point When Everything Changes. In fact, I usually think of a story as having two points—the inciting incident and then the midpoint (or, as I prefer to call it, the Point When Everything Really Changes). This comes near the end of the book—right before the black moment and climax. It’s when the MC experiences something that…well…really changes things, and once he’s over the emotional baggage associated with that change, then he’s ready to kick some tail.

In Star Wars, this second point of change is when Luke sees Obi-Wan Kenobi die at Darth Vader’s light saber.  He’s just rescued Leia from the clutches of Empire, and at Obi-Wan’s death, everything really changes. He’d just made all these plans to learn the Force and battle the Empire with Obi-Wan at his side…except now Obi-wan is dead. Everything has changed—his emotions (he has some serious revenge on the brain now) and his actual, physical position (he’s a fighter pilot for the Rebel Alliance now, yo!).

You can, of course, have more Points of Change in your story, but I think those two BIG ONES are the most important–without them, you really don’t have a complete story.

Or, maybe I’m wrong about that. What do you think? Do your stories or the books you’ve read follow this pattern?

                             

25 Responses to The Point When Everything Changes

  1. Julie
    Julie Mar 13 2012 at 6:52 am #

    Sooz!!!!!!! Amazing post! This is such GREAT writing advice, and I LOVE your examples! 🙂

    • Sooz Mar 13 2012 at 4:42 pm #

      Thanks, Julie!! 😀

  2. Adriana Mar 13 2012 at 8:47 am #

    This is SO true, Sooz. You’ve always got up have that point because, if nothing changes, if everything stays EXACTLY as it’s always been, why tell this story at all? 🙂 it’s like in plays, how they tell you up divide your story in Acts, so that the end of Act 1 will usually be that first turning point, and then the end of Act 2 us when things really change 😀

    • Sooz Mar 13 2012 at 4:43 pm #

      It’s exactly like play acts or story turning points–I just gave it my own snazzy name. 😉 Plus, if you think of it as a POINT OF BIG CHANGE, then you know exactly what your story needs! 😀

  3. Holly Mar 13 2012 at 9:07 am #

    You know, I think you’re absolutely right about the two moments of change. In fact, the more I read and thought about my own stories, the more I nodded along. That’s really an excellent point, and not one I had really considered before. But it sure will help me outline more effectively being conscious of it! lol Great post, Sooz!

    • Sooz Mar 13 2012 at 4:45 pm #

      There can–of course–be more moments of change, but I think that in a typical story arc, we see two big ones. 🙂 And I can definitely think of some in your stories!!

  4. Kaye M. Mar 13 2012 at 9:09 am #

    YES. I constantly rely on the Point of Change (well, I call it The Point of No Return, because that sounds all dramatic and wandering into a desert with no water-ish). I’m still working on the first draft – SLOWEST WRITER EVER – but I can already feel how the point of no return has changed for my character, and how it will differ in the second draft.

    Also, yay for referencing Howl’s Moving Castle. Sophie + Howl FTW!

    Ahem.

    Examples of books I’ve seen with a really good point of no return? Hmm…

    Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, but I tend to reference that A LOT to people recently. >< Cinder by Marissa Meyer – after Cinder's sister dies, there's really no one else who cares if she lives or dies, really. In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo is forced to take on the responsibility of the Ring from his uncle, which means no more giant hobbit dinners and careless pipe smoking.

    • Sooz Mar 13 2012 at 4:47 pm #

      Point of No Return–I’ve heard that term too! Or “doorways”. Either way, the gist is the same: something big has changed, and there ain’t no going back for our characters!! 😀

      And great examples! I LOVE SHADOW & BONE as well as CINDER. And *of course* I love LOTR!!

  5. Temre Beltz Mar 13 2012 at 9:09 am #

    Thank you so much for this! I love your examples (so perfect!) and immediately I began trying to identify the turning points in my current WIP and whether they are really as big as I think they are (or at least as big as the MC is treating them). Such a great way for us writers to keep asking ourselves if the stakes are high enough and, if not, maybe it all comes back to the strength of our turning point(s).

    • Sooz Mar 13 2012 at 4:55 pm #

      You make an *excellent* point, Temre! If the point of change isn’t large enough, then our stakes may not be either–and if we concentrate on making sure the change IS big enough, then we can ensure our stakes are high enough. (Ha, that sounds way more confusing than it really is…)

  6. Erin Bowman
    Erin Bowman Mar 13 2012 at 9:25 am #

    Sooz, this post is brilliant and your examples are spot-on. Such a simple, simple concept, but such a crucial element in the overall arc of a story — I mean, who wants to read a story in which nothing changes, right? 😉

    I think the same can be said about series too…the Point When Everything Changes in book two is an even bigger emotional blow than the “moment of change” in book one, upping the stakes, and then the PWEC in book three blows 1+2 out of the water, upping the stakes even more. (And so on and so forth!) Really great post. I have to go poke around in book two now and make sure my Point When Everything Changes is coming at the right time 😉

    • Sooz Mar 13 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      So, so, SO true, Erin. I wanted to mention my own Points of Change for book 2…but it’d TOTALLY give the story away. Those turning points DO have to be bigger though–more emotionally powerful because by then, our characters are tougher. It takes more to get them to act and grow…

  7. Kat Zhang
    Kat Zhang Mar 13 2012 at 9:25 am #

    I love your two-point-change story structure! 😀 I’d hadn’t thought about it that way before. Great post!

    • Sooz Mar 13 2012 at 4:58 pm #

      Well, I think there are more turning points–depending on the story–but in general, 2 big ones seem to crop up in most stories. 🙂

  8. Kayla B. Mar 13 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    I was nodding in agreement with everything you said. I can’t think of a single story where your concept does not apply to it. This is definitely something writers should keep in mind. And, of course, I had a little nerdgasm when I saw the Star Wars reference. 🙂

    • Sooz Mar 13 2012 at 5:00 pm #

      OMG, “nerdgasm”–best word EVER. I am totally stealing it from you.

      And I can’t really think of any store that don’t have the two big changes either. Sometimes there’ll be more changes (particularly if it’s a complicated book with multiple POVs a là GAME OF THRONES or something), but in general, the two points of change apply pretty darn well…

  9. Sarah J. Maas
    Sarah J. Maas Mar 13 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    Um, I frakking LOVE this post. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!!! I’m totally going to refer people to this post if they ask me for writing advice. <3

    WHY ARE YOU SO SMART, SOOZ?!

    <3

    • Sooz Mar 13 2012 at 4:59 pm #

      Because I eat GENIUS for breakfast everyday. That’s why.

      • Amie
        Amie Mar 14 2012 at 7:32 am #

        Oh, j’adore. I totally quoted this at dinner tonight! So we ate some of YOUR genius for dinner!

      • Erin Bowman
        Erin Bowman Mar 14 2012 at 12:02 pm #

        Huh. My local grocery store doesn’t seem to stock any GENIUS. Bummer.

        • Sooz Mar 14 2012 at 6:07 pm #

          You need to fix that, Erin. GENIUS should be a staple in everyone’s diet. You can always try growing your own, but it’s really hard to tend. 😉

  10. Julie Mar 14 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    Great examples! You always give the best writing advice! I think all stories and screenplays follow this pattern. They have to or there’s no main goal for the character. The Point When Everything Changes moves the plot forward for the main character. As you’ve mentioned, in previous writing advice posts and your revising guide, this point needs to be really strong and important to the main character…otherwise the story will fall flat.

    • Sooz Mar 14 2012 at 6:08 pm #

      True, true! The turning point HAS to be something specific to the main character–if it doesn’t resonate enough with the MC, then you’re absolutely right: the story will fall flat because the MC will have no reason to act! Then it just feels forced, and forced plot ain’t a good one.

  11. Reflecting Bookworm Jul 6 2012 at 7:17 am #

    I love how you included Howl’s Moving Castle in your examples 😀 I completely agree with, especially on the Point Where Thing’s Really Change. It just grips you to the story!

  12. Alan Topping Jan 2 2015 at 4:29 pm #

    I really enjoyed your blog and the points you have mentioned. My favourite Pivotal Moment of any film is from ‘Taken’, when Liam Neeson makes the ‘call’. Second to that is ‘Knockaround Guys’ when Vin Diesel gives a killer speech before he batters someone. It’s not fun to hurt to anyone, or nor should it be condoned, but either way he gets his point across.

    I know the posts above are from 2012, but I came across your blog from searching the ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ tonight, as I am watching the episode right now :).

    Also, worthy of note, search Youtube for Benedict Cumberbatch’s ALS ‘Ice Bucket’ Challenge, it is one of the best I have seen!.

    Keep on writing Susan (or Sooz), I will look forward to hearing your musings.

    Alan

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