R is for Reversal

BLAST_ROne of the many things I’m learning from writing this blog is that people have different definitions for writing terms. When Robin first wrote a post on reversals, I thought to myself, “Oh, I call those Turning Points!” Perhaps that’s the screenwriting term. But both mean the same thing – a moment where the story takes a sharp turn, or in other words, reverses direction. The major Turning Points or Reversals happen at the end of each act, at the midpoint and in the finale. Minor ones can happen anywhere.

3 Tips for Writing Reversals

Reversal = an unexpected twist. Neither your characters nor your readers should see it coming. When the reversal happens, it should knock everyone for a loop.

Reversal = new information. In order to shake things up and send the story in a new direction, the character must encounter new information. For example, getting into a car crash is merely an obstacle and not a reversal unless the crash reveals that the hero’s girlfriend is trying to kill him!

Reversal = positive or negative change. If your character is in a good place emotionally and/or physically, a reversal will put him in a bad place. And vice versa. If the character is in a bad place and what happens keeps him in a bad place, that is an obstacle, not a reversal. Reversals change the situation.

Groundhog day clock
Bill Murray is NOT happy it’s 6am again.

2 Examples of Reversals

GROUNDHOG DAY. This is a classic film full of reversals, but let’s talk about that first time Bill Murray wakes up and it’s the same day. This is unexpected for both the character and the audience. It is new information – holy crap, repeating a day is possible?! Bill Murray did not know that! And it’s a change – he was happy to be going home after a terrible day reporting on a groundhog, so when he wakes up and has to do it all over again he is very unhappy.

I don’t want to give anything away so I won’t list titles, but there is a moment that happens in a lot of mysteries where a character is revealed to be not who we thought. This is a classic reversal and when used well, completely upends the hero’s world! Especially if an ally is revealed to be an enemy!

1 Link for more help

For more on reversals, check out Robin’s post on Reversals.

If you’re just joining us, here’s a list of more BLASTOFF to Stellar Writing posts from the last week:

L is for Laughs

M is for Midpoint

N is for Narrative

O is for Outlines

P is for Pinch Point

Q is for Questions

Coming up:

S is for Sins

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

10 thoughts on “R is for Reversal”

    1. Haha! Yes. A professor of mine doled out this advice in my first screenwriting class: “Make your characters suffer!” It’s posted on a sticky note above my desk. Reversals are a big part of that.

  1. I love turning points or reversals and in mysteries in particular adding twists and turns is a lot of fun! But you’ll know all about that as a screenwriter – those unexpected turns keep the viewers on the edge of their seats!

    1. Yep! I’ve had it drilled into my head that almost every scene in a TV ep should have at least a small reversal. And the reversals get bigger as you approach the crisis. Up the tension! Don’t let viewers turn the channel! 😉

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