Remember the part in the movie, Thelma and Louise, when Thelma (Geena Davis) tosses her empty tube of lipstick over her shoulder? These two desperate women had just reached "the point of no return," a place in the story when a character or characters still have a minuscule chance to return to their old lives if all the cards fell in their favor. After they robbed a convenience store, Thelma wasn't sure what was ahead; but she knew lipstick would no longer do her any good where they were going.
The point of no return usually appears about halfway into a story. For example, when the characters are on a journey, involving survival (whether one of choice or one imposed) the first half of the story leaves room for hope that things can return to safer times before everything goes to hell. As readers, we want everything to work out because we feel empathy for the characters.
For Thelma and Louise, trouble starts soon after they leave for a fishing trip. They are both ready to get away for some fun and relaxation. Thelma needs time away from her controlling husband and Louise (Susan Sarandon) from her hectic job as a waitress. They stop at a roadside bar and Thelma has a bit too much to drink and is led to the parking lot by a not-so-nice man. Louise becomes concerned and goes after her friend only to find she is being sexually assaulted. Louise pulls a gun on the guy and threatens to shoot him. He walks away but turns around and says he should have continued with his intention to rape Thelma. Louise goes ballistic and kills the guy.
Their survival journey begins when they flee the scene. They check into a motel and discuss the situation. Thelma wants to go to the police, but Louise fears no one will believe she killed the guy defending Thelma's honor. They decide to flee to Mexico, but Louise refuses to drive through Texas because of a past incident (which had contributed to the shooting). At each turn of events, things get worse, but at this point they can still turn themselves in and throw themselves to the mercy of the court. Then a drifter (Brad Pitt) steals all their money. Out of desperation, Thelma robs a convenience store. Now they are wanted for two felonies. Turning back is out of the question. They've reached the point of no return.
If you haven't seen the movie, I won't spoil the ending.
So if you're writing a suspense novel or a thriller, give some thought to the "point of no return." It's an important part of the story and a powerful tool for the remainder.
Thelma and Louise was nominated for six Academy Awards and won Best Original Screenplay. Now go check out the "points of no return" in Bonnie and Clyde, winner of two Academy Awards; and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, winner of four.