Plot Part 8 – The Point of No Return

It’s a weird world right now. How about we do something with some normalcy? Like work on your story outline.

You’ve been working on your manuscript outline draft and we’ve covered the first few of story blocks in your outline to help you get on your path to writing: the opening scene, the climax, the ending, and some additional complications to make it difficult for your character to get to the end of the story.

Now we want to make it so incredibly hard for your protagonist that they can’t turn back. They can’t give up the quest, or battle the demon, or whatever it is that the marketing category and genre requirements of your novel are.

This week let’s talk about the point of no return.

The point of no return is the moment in your book where your character takes the plunge and can never go back to their normal life. It is the precise moment where your character must go in a new and unplanned direction that will forever alter them as a person. Your character must do something they can’t undo, and this decision will plunge them into the nightmare that will become the story.

Sometimes the point of no return moment is obvious. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone it’s where Harry gets on the train. In Star Wars it’s when Luke finds his family dead and tells Ben that there is nothing for him on this planet now, and he wants to go to Alderaan and learn the ways of the force so he can become a Jedi like his father. In The Hobbit, it is when Bilbo decides that he can’t sit around Bag End while the dwarfs go off on an adventure without him. He runs through town and tells everyone he is going on an adventure, even though that is something that a hobbit would never do. Once Bilbo joins the adventure he is forever changed.

The point of no return evokes a maximum risk for the character. They will make a decision that will propel them into their new life. There is no safety net. Your character has absolutely no choice. now They must go forward.

The point of no return is a story complication like the earlier complications we’ve outlined, but it is a significant one and must work with the beginning, climax, and ending of the story. Every story has a point of no return to some degree and this relates to either a real physical death (Luke) or a symbolic death (Harry and Bilbo) of the earlier way of life.

The point of no return also opens up options for you as the writer if you think about how your character now has to react to the emotional toil of the point of no return moment. Now think about what additional complication arise regarding both the point of no return, and your character’s emotional reaction. The possibilities are endless.

Your character has had (on some level) a life or death moment and they want to survive to complete the quest, or get revenge, or whatever your storyline is. But make it complicated. Make each complication more difficult than the last so that it will seem to the reader that your character will fail. Make the stakes bigger and bigger.

Next time we will talk about some additional complications.

Keep writing.


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