turning point

by Barbara Bartocci
(Overland Park KS USA)

Question: I've written many published non-fiction narratives with a character turning point but I'm having trouble figuring out the t.pt. for my protagonist.

In part because her father deserted her, she needs a man in her life to feel worthwhile and loved; is married to a Navy pilot who goes M.I.A. in Vietnam conflict; is tempted to get involved with Latino activist lawyer.

I want her to come to a place where she sees that her ultimate security is not in a man but in accepting and loving herself. She has come to some consciousness raising meetings (the women's movement is just getting started) but I can't figure out a turning point for her.


Answer: I can't tell you what the turning point should be (it's your story) but here are some things to think about...

Have you provided your main character with an impact character -- a character who exemplifies an opposite approach to hers?

For instance, if the main character's approach is to seek a man to make her feel worthwhile, could you create woman in her life who perhaps...

* Avoids men, because she has had bad experiences with them.

* Finds greater happiness through self-validation.

* Finds fulfillment through validating others rather than worrying about getting validation from someone.

* Has a good relationship with a man that isn't based on neediness.

* Likes men as friends and women as lovers.

Or perhaps you create a new man in her life who won't fit into the stereotypical male role model, wants a relationship with an equally strong woman, and finds emotional dependency a turn-off.

An impact character can pressure the main character to examine her own approach, to doubt it, and perhaps ultimately change to adopt the impact character's approach.

The main character's personal crisis (or turning point) is the moment when she must ultimately choose whether to stick with her current approach, or take a leap of faith.

For instance, if a man proposed marriage to her, she might have to decide whether to stay the same (and say yes) or to follow the impact character's example and decide to be single and self-validating.

Or the choice could be between a man like her former husband, which would lead to a replay of her last relationship, or a guy who won't tolerate a relationship build on need. (What's this activist like?)

This is only one example. I'm not suggesting that your character's fate should hinge on a marriage proposal. If you sit down and brainstorm, I'm sure you could find any number of situations where she might have to make an irrevocable choice between who she has always been and who she could be.

Many years ago, I heard Jack Canfield tell a parable about "Weevily Peanuts."

Basically, if you were walking through a desert and starving, and you came across a pile of weevilly peanuts (peanuts with weevils in them) you would be overjoyed, because at least you wouldn't starve.

However, a little later you come across a fantastic restaurant with a sign outside that says "Free Banquet." Inside is a mountain of gourmet delights.

You're about to go in, when the doorman stops you and says, "Sorry, we don't allow weevily peanuts inside. You're welcome to the banquet, but you'll have to leave those peanuts outside."

Your inner conflict in this situation is whether you can let go of the peanuts, which you have a powerful emotional attachment to because they symbolize survival.

Of course, in this story the right choice is obvious to the listener (if not the character). Your main character should not find the right choice so obvious (except in hindsight). Going into the decision, she should be able to make a strong case for either option, which forces her to make a genuine leap of faith.

Moreover, you want the pressure of the impact character's example to grow over the course of the story, so that she has enough doubt to consider changing.

Hope that helps.

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