Been thinking about dramatic moments, and here's one-- it can be deceptively low-key, actually, and might be revealed as essential only when the events of the last act play out. I find it a fascinating turning point because, unlike most turning points, it often doesn't seem like a turning point-- and that "sneaking up on" aspect adds to the fun.
The point of no return is another Act 2 turning point, and usually comes pretty hard on the heels of the reversal. This is an action taken by the protagonist or an event that happens that means there’s no turning back, that the story is going to hurtle towards the climax, that the crisis can’t be avoided, that the protagonist has taken a fatal step into the inevitable.
This can be a clearly dramatic event (in a fast-paced story) or a seemingly trivial one, but no matter what, it’s important, essential, as it forces the protagonist and the plot into the final act (and actions).
I actually like to end Act 2 on the point of no return or have a scene or two of reaction/response/further action after that, more down-peltering to the crisis (when the worst that can happen happens). But I notice that in longer works
Hmm. Let’s speculate about why you would have an event happening to the protagonist or a protagonist taking an action, and which would be better for which kind of story. Why?
In Casablanca, as I said, the point of no return is when Rick nods—that’s all— to tell the band to play La Marseillaise, and thus he incurs the wrath of Major Strasser. But he’s also choosing a side, the side of the Resistance (as the US chose to join the Allies), while he’s spent the first part of the story avoiding just that. “I stick my neck out for no man,” remember. That nod seems trivial, but it brings on the closing of his café, the fury of Strasser, and leads to Ilsa re-committing to Laslo and the cause, and also makes it imperative for Laslo to leave Casablanca (and Rick eventually to help).
In The Godfather, the point of no return for Michael is when he chooses to shoot the police captain, thereby making himself an outlaw, choosing to join the family business, and estranging himself from “the straight world” embodied in Kay, the WASP fiancée who he leaves behind. (Notice how this happens nearer the middle than the end. The final act in this film --- and book—have always seemed very long to me, and for some reason, this really heightens the excitement.)
What’s the point of no return for Scarlett? Is it marrying Frank (her sister’s beau) or marrying Rhett? And why—in this most active and purposeful of heroines—do I think marriage is her important action? Maybe it’s definitely an action—she’s never swept away and marries due to love or impetuosity. She always has a reason.
Can you think of PNRs which happen to the protagonist, rather than actions of the protagonist? What about Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz?
I wonder if there’s usually (or always, if only in retrospect?) some moral or values component in this moment. Rick, whether he understands it or not, has chosen his side. Michael has chosen family loyalty over conventional morality. Is this a redefining of what’s important to the New Person? In light of the New Reality revealed in the reversal?