The Nutshell Catch and the Point of No Return

Comedy Tragedy

Ciao, SEers. We’ve been talking about Jill Chamberlain’s Nutshell method of plotting as it relates to Aristotelian comedies and tragedies. Last time, we discussed the protagonist with respect to flaws and strengths. (You can find the introductory post here, and the protagonist post here.)

Today, we’re going to talk about the catch. But just as the protagonist can’t be discussed without defining the strength and the flaw, the catch can’t be discussed without defining the point of no return.

The Point of No Return

The point of no return occurs at or around the 25% mark of the story. It’s when the protagonist’s life changes. If you’re a student of other plotting methods, you might think this coincides with the inciting incident.

It is related, but it is NOT an interchangeable term.

The inciting incident takes place around the 10% part of the story. It is not part of the Nutshell method because there could be any number of inciting incidents that spur a protagonist toward the point of no return. But there can be only one point of no return.

More importantly, the point of no return is not in the protagonist’s control. It is something that happens to the protagonist.

The point of no return marks the end of act one and the beginning of act two. It’s where we go from setup to story. It’s a marked change, propelling things forward and making it impossible to go back to the way things were before.

The Catch

Related to the point of no return is the catch. The point of no return is a change in the protagonist’s life, a change he or she thinks was wanted. But there’s a reason people say be careful what you wish for. The protagonist’s life is now altered, but not in the way he or she expected. The wish is fulfilled ironically. Oh, he or she got what was desired, but the fulfilled wish comes with something unwanted. Something that can’t be ignored.

When the point of no return occurs, the catch should be obvious. And the catch should be designed to give your protagonist an immediate problem to work on in act two. “Catch” is synonymous with “conflict,” and you can’t have a story without conflict.

Also worth noting, the catch makes the protagonist blind to his or her flaw and helps define the his or her strength.

The flaw and catch propel most of the action throughout the story. If there’s no flaw or catch, there’s no conflict. And without conflict, the story is over.

We’ve defined the point of no return as an incident that forever alters the course of events, and the catch—which goes hand-in-hand with the point of no return—as the undesirable consequence of the protagonist getting what was desired. But we didn’t yet talk about the desires themselves. So, next time, we’ll talk about the protagonist’s wants.

Fun fact: The point of no return is such a seminal moment in a manuscript, many stories are actually named for them. I’ll give you one—The Bourne Identity. At the 25% point, Jason opens his safe deposit box and finds all his identities (and a bunch of other stuff). What about you? Can you think of any? Or have you ever titled any of your works based on the point of no return? Let’s talk about it.


Staci Troilo Bio

51 thoughts on “The Nutshell Catch and the Point of No Return

  1. Another great post! My first book was named for the Point-of-no-return moment, but my next two weren’t. Book 3, which I’m drafting right now, lines up perfectly with this definition. I’m excited to be on the right track!

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  6. This is where I’m struggling with my current WIP. I wrote it a decade ago and never published it, so now I’m revisiting it because I know the story is a good one. The issue is that the main problem doesn’t present itself until probably halfway into the story. There is a minor problem that the reader believes IS the problem, but I need to work on the Point of No Return moment. This gave me food for thought. Thanks, Staci. 🙂

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  7. A really informative post, Staci. I’m so bad at this stuff. You know I’m a wretched plotter (trying to get better). For the most part I just sit down and write and never stop to consider the structure of my chapters, scenes, or novel.

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  8. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    Staci Troilo’s back on Story Empire today explaining the next part of The Nutshell Theory. This is great stuff, and something we can all learn from, so I hope you’ll stop by and check it out. As usual, please consider sharing on your favorite social media sites so others can learn as well. Thanks, and thanks to Staci for giving me a whole new batch of things to consider before I start my next book. Great job! 🙂

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  9. Absolutely fascinating stuff, Staci. I’m going to have to take some time to study this in more detail, but I can see there’s a lot to think about here. Saving this one for additional perusal, too, along with the rest of this series. Thanks! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You did a great job explaining The Catch. In my trilogy, I named the first book after a boat, My GRL. Then the second title was inspired by the catch which was revenge. The twist here is it was the antagonist’s turn for revenge hence the title His Revenge. Finally the third, Our Justice followed the convention My, His, Our, and became the conclusion where the protagonist got justice. No catch in that one. Circumstances of Childhood was indeed titled after the catch as is Eternal Road – The final stop. You are beginning to convince a long time panster that there may be some fun in tose plotting hills. Excellent post, Staci.

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  11. This is the first time I’ve heard of the Nutshell Method of writing, so your posts are really interesting. Do you sit down and use these to plot your books? I use the plot point method–4 major points in each book, so this seems more complicated to me.

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    • I only found this method recently, and my current series is already plotted. But the next time I’m drafting, I’m definitely going to try it. I was a bit overwhelmed when I saw her on YouTube being interviewed about her method. But I was interested enough to get the book and sit with the information for a bit. Now, I don’t find it complicated at all. And I’m convinced if I nail the concepts she defines (I think there are eight, which is no more effort than the 8-step method I usually use of plot points and pinch points), I’ll have an even stronger outline than usual.

      I’m delivering this information in small chunks so it’s easier to digest. But I really do think it’s simple (once you get past new terminology and understand how it all relates).

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  12. I call The Point of No Return the 1st Plot Point, the most pivotal scene in the whole manuscript and what I base my titles on in my Grafton County Series. Seemed like a good idea when I wrote the first book, but the subsequent titles drove me insane. Especially since I was bound to one-word titles after Book 1. sigh Live and learn. 😉

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  13. I am really enjoying this series, Staci! Every method of plotting is similar, as you pointed out the difference between the “catch” and the inciting moment. In my new book, which I originally entitled, “When Two Worlds Collide,” the protagonist almost collides with a motorcycle in an intersection. Spurred by his desire to keep his karma straight, he goes to find the rider and apologize. The rider is a girl. His life is never the same after that moment. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge! It’s very helpful!

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  14. I’m really enjoying this series, Staci. Lots of new things to learn. The Bourne Identity example was perfect. I thought of The Fugitive when Richard Kimble makes the decision to escape after the train wreck. It was do or die from that point on.

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  15. What a great post, Staci. There’s so much to learn about the art of writing, and I’m just a novice. Consider me a student in the back row, wildly taking notes. 🙂

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    • Even when we have years under our belts, there’s always something to learn. I’ve published several books and have several more in the production calendar at work, and I’m still studying and learning every single day. It keeps things interesting, doesn’t it?

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