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Whereas the inciting incident kicks the story off that dominos scene after scene into a novel, the point of no return is the moment in the book in which the protagonist must embrace the journey he or she's about to take and move forward, knowing full well that they will never be able to return to their normal life.
Keeping with our examples from the last plot essentials post, here are the points of no return from a couple popular novels:
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J.K. Rowling): There seems to be some debate online on the PoNR, but I tend to agree with the most popular answer—when Harry boards the Hogwarts Express for the first time. Up until the point, he could have hypothetically returned to Privet Drive and continued to live as he did—but after boarding the Hogwarts Express, there's no turning back. He's on his way to wizarding school, where he'll start on a new phase of his life.
- City of Bones (Cassandra Clare): When Clary's mother is abducted and Clary herself is attacked by a demon, her life irrevocably changes. She can't go on as a normal teenager—her mother is missing, her life is in danger and she can no longer deny that the things she's been seeing (the demons and Shadowhunters) are indeed real.
- Divergent (Veronica Roth): When Tris chooses to become Dauntless, she can't go back. She's made a decision that has altered the course of her life—she can't change her mind and go back to Abnegation, and even if she fails Dauntless initiation, there's no returning home.
Similarly to the inciting incident, the PoNR isn't a plot point you should skip, either. Of course, I wouldn't list it as a plot essential if including it wasn't important. :)
Can you identify the point of no return in your WIP or favorite book?
Working on a plot for your WIP? Writer @Ava_Jae discusses the importance of the point of no return. (Click to tweet)
Do you know your WIP's point of no return? Writer @Ava_Jae talks identifying this plot point, with examples. (Click to tweet)