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Turning points are events that spin (or turn) the story in a new direction. They are the major twists or surprises that keep audiences glued to their seats. It takes a minimum of three turning points—one at the end of each act—to keep the audience involved through a three-act, feature-length film. Turning points are also called plot points, major reversals, or act climaxes.
At the Act I turning point, the protagonist has experienced a major change in his life and has made an initial decision about how he will respond. At the Act II turning point, the protagonist realizes his strategy isn't working and he needs to change course. The Act III turning point is the movie's climax, the final show-down between protagonist and antagonist. It's here that we discover whether the hero wins or loses.
Many writers add a mid-act climax halfway through Act II, called the midpoint. Essentially, this is a fourth turning point, but smaller in scope than the turning point at the end of Act II. It gives the screenwriter one more destination to work toward, ensures that the conflict will build continuously, and helps keep the screenplay on track.
We expect good stories to have turning points and are disappointed when they don't. If you want to keep your audience involved, it's crucial to understand turning points.