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The First Turning Point in a Romantic Suspense

Fair warning: Because I write romantic suspense I structure the Turning Points slightly differently to the accepted “romance” format. If you have a process that works for you, go for it. I will still be your friend. :-)

While the Inciting Incident happens around the ten percent mark, the First Turning Point comes about twenty-five percent of the way into the story at the end of Act One. As with all Turning Points, it’s in two parts: a Problem and a Decision.

The role of this particular Problem/Decision is to catapult the hero out of the everyday by forcing her to make a decision that will burn any bridge back to her normal life. There’s already been lots of action up to this point—building from the Inciting Incident—but this First Turning Point is the first major pivotal moment on which the direction of the story balances. It screws normal, and is the catalyst for tossing the hero out of his comfort zone and into the first half of the Second Act.

It’s the hero’s point-of-no-return.
Up to the First Turning Point, the hero can—at any point—decide what the hell and just continue on with his normal life. However, the problem of the First Turning Point is something so out of left field that it tosses the hero into the equivalent of an emotional blender. He’s faced with a life-changing problem. He has to make a life-altering decision. Even if his decision is to ignore the life-changing problem—which must  happen in genre fiction—he ain’t ever getting “normal” back, baby.

In DEADLY REUNION, the First Turning Point for my hero Jake Granville is when he discovers the child in danger is his daughter. Up to this point, Jake had excellent reasons for keeping his distance from Ellie Holt, the heroine. But learning he’s a father and that there’s a hit out on his four-month-old turns Jake’s life-plan timeline to custard. He decides to get involved with Ellie again in order to protect her and his child. He’s not committing to the relationship/romance yet. That comes later. He’s committing to the action/suspense.

It’s an obstacle to the hero’s goal.
In HEART OF SHADOWS, my heroine is an ex-assassin now in hiding for the protection of her two psychic daughters. Her goal is to keep them all under the radar until the girls have grown up and can look after themselves. Then she’ll hunt down the group who targeted them in the first place.

The First Turning Point’s life-changing problem comes when she learns that the man who trained her as an assassin is heading her way. She can’t ignore the danger he presents. Her choices are to take the girls and run again, or to stand her ground and face him. Her resulting decision—to face him—puts her on a collision course with her goal of staying out of sight.

It’s the place by which the villain should have been introduced to the story.
Generally, the First Act comprises the first quarter of the book, introduces the characters, establishes the setting, and defines what’s at stake as a result of the conflict. This means the villain has to have been introduced to the reader (if not in person to the hero) by the end of the First Turning Point. The villain, his machinations, the potential disasters the reader can see being foreshadowed … all these things are the hooks you’re setting up in the first twenty-five percent of the book. If the villain is still unknown to the reader as you’re going into the Second Act, then you’re dragging the story out unnecessarily and setting yourself up for the dreaded “sagging middle” in your second and third quarters.

The function of the First Turning Point in a suspense is to initiate a Problem/Decision that produces a point-of-no-return for the hero. It forces her into a journey she would not willingly take if left to her own devices. The Problem is an obstacle to her story goal. Her Decision how to deal with the problem ratchets up the tension and potential conflict. That increase in tension and conflict kicks the story into high gear as the reader starts to imagine everything that’s going to rip her life apart. This anticipation means the reader is hooked for the next three hundred pages until the hero gets her happy ending.


Reprint Rights: Permission is granted to use this article in your own e-zine or website, as long as you include the following two-paragraph blurb with it:

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Gracie O’Neil writes Romantic Suspense and lives with her husband in a renovated Leyland Leopard bus in small-town New Zealand. She loves really hot cappuccino, loathes Brussels Sprouts, and will talk about her heroes and heroines—plus their secrets and lies—till the cows come home. She wants to write on a cruise ship one day. Right now, however, she’s happy spinning dreams with the earth under her feet. You can contact Gracie at

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