I’m fascinated by life’s big turning points: moments that change everything forever, both in fiction and life.
Sometimes you’re aware they’re happening. Maybe they’re because of choices you’re making. You know them by the anxiety and anticipation you felt before you proposed marriage to your beloved, or opened what you hoped was an acceptance letter from your first choice of schools. In the center of that cloud of nervous energy is the pulsing knowledge that LIFE CHANGES NOW. Your existence will now be divided into “before-this-moment” and “after-this-moment”, for better or worse.
Other times, maybe most of the time, you recognize them in retrospect. Sometimes they’re small — if only you had made a left instead of a right at that intersection — and sometimes they’re enormous — What would have happened if Hitler had been accepted into art school? — but they’ve happened nonetheless, and nothing was ever the same: Fate was decided in the blink of a moment.
One of the coolest things about fiction is that much of it is based on these kinds of moments. Novels and short stories are safe and entertaining ways to play what-if, and when we’re done reading, we still get all the fun of wondering what might have happened had this or that plot twist had gone another way.
[Spoiler for George R. R. Martin’s novel A Game of Thrones following. Stop here if you’ve not read it. PS: You should’ve by now. Shame!]
George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones presents an amazing turning point (Well several, but this is the one we’re talking about here.) when Bran Stark is caught spying on Jaime and Cersei Lannister in flagrante delicto during Robert Baratheon’s royal visit to Winterfell. No one knows it then, but the very moment that the Lannisters sibs lock eyes with Bran Stark the kingdoms have been doomed to war. Probably.
If Bran had never climbed the castle that day then he might not have ever seen them, and the true lineage of the Baratheon children would have never been an issue. Had he still climbed, but not been caught, no one might have believed him, or if they did, they might have chosen to keep their mouths shut. Had he still been caught but died when he was tossed out of the window by Jaime, it would have just been another tragedy in a cruel and unsentimental world. But no, Bran climbed, he was caught, and he survived the attempt(s) on his life.
Sure, there were other schemes afoot in Houses Baratheon and Lannister, but Bran’s incident escalated them, to say the least. Might things have limped along in King’s Landing for a few more decades, otherwise? Robert Baratheon wasn’t exactly in the best of health, anyway. Had he not died hunting, heart disease might have taken him down sooner or later and offrey would’ve taken the throne presuming he was of age.
Bran and his accident are but only one of dozens — maybe hundreds — of examples of interesting what-if turning points from my favorite novels, but this isn’t a fun topic for me unless you’re involved, dear reader. I’m interested in your favorite turning points from fiction, and how you think things might have changed had they gone another way. Join the conversation in the comments section below.