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  • Writer's pictureJenna Moreci

10 BEST TIPS FOR WRITING A CHARACTER'S BREAKING POINT

HelloOoOo everybody!


Today we're talking about one of the most important plot points in a vast majority of novels, and that is the breaking point. I talked about the breaking point roughly a million years ago, but you guys still had a lot of really good questions, and that's why we're talking about it again today! I'm answering your top 10 questions about writing breaking points so you can crush your readers into oblivion in the most effective way possible. Now, let's tackle your questions.


This video is sponsored by SKILLSHARE. As always, all opinions are my own.


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Number 1: What the Hell Is a Breaking Point?

The breaking point is the point in your novel where your main character breaks down. Something devastating happens. The MC is delivered a really hard blow, usually in relation to the goal they're trying to achieve, and they lose hope. A good breaking point is designed to upset the reader. They're either going to be angry and devastated alongside the MC, or they're going to be angry at the MC for giving up on their goal.


Number 2: How Come I’ve Never Heard of a Breaking Point?

If you’ve studied story structure, you probably have heard of the breaking point but just don't know it, because it's not always referred to as “the breaking point.” Sometimes it's called “the crisis,” “the black moment,” “all is lost,” and so on. Different structures like to call it different things, but ultimately it's basically the same shit, different name.


Number 3: What Types of Genres Feature the Breaking Point?

All of ’em! A lot of people assume breaking points are specific to adventure novels, especially if there is a hero involved, but breaking points are utilized across all fictional genres. In romance novels, the breaking point usually involves a breakup, a fight, or some type of estrangement. In crime fiction, the breaking point is usually when the lead detective is suspended or removed from a case. Remember, this is the lowest point for your character in that story. It doesn't have to be life or death if the stakes aren't that high. Basically, if your book is fiction, it can and probably should feature a breaking point.


Number 4: When Does the Breaking Point Occur?

The breaking point almost always occurs toward the end of the book before the climax. If you're using the three-act structure, the breaking point is often referred to as “the break into Act III.” The climax is usually the most adrenalized moment in the book, so having your character transition from being completely hopeless to working their ass off to achieve their goal is very appealing to the reader. Your character is at rock bottom and has to climb their way to the peak of that climax.


Number 5: Why Is the Breaking Point So Important?

The breaking point is often cited as one of the most important plot points because all that drama and emotion will make the main character’s inevitable triumph–aka the climax and resolution–all the more satisfying. Typically, as the story progresses, your character gets closer and closer to achieving their goal. If all they experience are wins along the way, it's not really emotionally impactful nor is it relatable. The breaking point gives your main character a massive fail right before they go up against their goal, in theory for the last time. This ups your stakes to the highest level, which is exactly what you want right before the climax. Additionally, if your character succeeds during the climax and achieves their goal, it will feel a lot more deserved thanks to the breaking point. We don't enjoy media where things come easily because again, we can't relate. Struggle, effort, and tenacity make a character's triumph feel earned. The breaking point does double duty for the author because it's both emotionally devastating for the reader as well as planting seeds toward an epic climax.


Number 6: How Do I Choose My Character’s Breaking Point?

Again, the breaking point is your character's lowest point within the story. So given everything you know about the plot and the character, ask yourself, “What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen to them?” This is why romances often feature a breakup or estrangement as the breaking point. The story revolves around a relationship, so taking that away is devastating. Looking at crime novels, if a detective is passionate about a case and so close to solving it and then is suddenly kicked off the case and fired, that's going to be a huge blow, not only to their career but also emotionally. Death is also a breaking point. For example, the main character's friend or family member dies, especially if it's partly their fault. Ultimately, the breaking point you choose is going to depend on the character in question, the plot you're writing, and the trajectory of your story.


Number 7: How Is My Character Supposed To React?

Well, they're supposed to break. Obviously. The reader needs to see the character at a new emotional low in the story. This could be sadness, anger, depression, even rage. How they initially react is going to depend on the context, but typically, the MC reacts poorly. For example, in hero stories, especially ones that involve a team, the MC often quits. “I don't wanna play anymore!” They lose hope and thus don't believe in the cause anymore, or don't believe that their goal is achievable. However, after a bit of time in their funk, another plot point happens that reminds them why they joined this cause in the first place or reignites their desire to achieve their goal. Using the hero example, it could be an attack from the enemy or seeing more innocent lives lost. They realize they can't abandon their goal and suit up yet again. Think of the breaking point as the ashes your phoenix character must rise from.


Number 8: What Makes a GOOD Breaking Point?

Usually, a good breaking point is linked to the plot or goal of the story. If your character is trying to solve a murder case and their breaking point is the death of their father from cancer, that's sad as hell but it has nothing to do with the plot. However, if their father is killed by the murderer in question, that's a lot more effective because it's directly related to the plot. Plus, it'll evoke a lot of guilt in the MC. They took the case, and thus they put their father at risk. And as we've covered, a good breaking point needs to be both emotional for the reader and the character. The MC needs to have some kind of emotional reaction that's both relevant to the situation as well as keeping within their character. That means if your character has been nothing but a soft, spongy cinnamon roll throughout the entire story and their breaking point throws them into a violent rage, that's gonna be a hard sell. But anger, tears, or angry tears could totally work depending on the context.


Number 9: “I’m Still Struggling To Understand Breaking Points. How Can I Fix This?”

The easiest way to understand how to write a good breaking point is to research breaking points. That means you gotta read some books and watch some movies with a writer's eye. If you need baby steps, start with Disney movies. There is a breaking point in literally every single Disney movie that I've seen, because again, they're very effective. In Aladdin, the breaking point is when Jafar exposes Aladdin as a liar and shoots him off into the desert. In Beauty and the Beast, it’s when Belle leaves the castle and the Beast falls into a depression. Watch these movies, then work your way up to more complex content and search for the breaking points. How are they written? What causes the breaking points? How are the characters reacting? And more specifically, which breaking points did you find most impactful and why?


Number 10: Do I HAVE To Write a Breaking Point?

You don't have to do anything. You can take a dump on a piece of paper and call it a manuscript for all I care. But the breaking point is a pivotal part of story structure, and more often than not, it plays a vital role in making the climax and resolution satisfying and effective. You may be able to name some older works that don't have breaking points but keep in mind storytelling expectations change over the years. It's never a good idea to compare yourself to an author from a hundred years ago. Outside of stories from yesteryear, I personally can't think of a fictional novel that I've read that didn't have a breaking point. I'm sure they exist somewhere, I just haven't found ’em yet.


So that's all I've got for you today!

Author Jenna Moreci.

Give your breaking point all you’ve got, so your character can rise to their full potential in your third act. You, your readers, and your characters will appreciate the journey.



 

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