Ciao, SEers. We’ve been talking about Jill Chamberlain’s Nutshell method of story development. If you missed earlier posts, you can find them by clicking these links:
Last time, we ended by mentioning the catch is related to the desires of the protagonist. Today, we’re continuing this series by discussing the set-up want.
Honestly, the term is pretty much self-explanatory. A “set-up want” is something the protagonist desires that sets up the next part of the story.
Yes, that was obvious. I apologize. But this next part might not be. A set-up want is one thing the protagonist wants. And your protagonist may—and probably does—want a lot of things. So, whatever you choose, you need to be sure the set-up want leads to the catch. It doesn’t need to be the most-desired thing. It doesn’t need to be the biggest thing. It doesn’t even have to be the thing that best defines a character’s motivations.
It does, however, need to be the desire that, when granted, can be granted ironically. Here are a few examples:
- Set-Up Want: Your protagonist wishes his wife wasn’t always around.
Catch When the Wish is Granted: His wife disappears.
- Set-Up Want: Your protagonist needs a job.
Catch When the Wish is Granted: He discovers he works for Satan.
- Set-Up Want: Your single protagonist wants money.
Catch When the Wish is Granted: He inherits a fortune but must marry to claim it.
The list goes on and on. You’ve seen these countless times, and you can come up with dozens on your own.
In the Nutshell method, the set-up want comes very early in the story. The sooner the better, so readers know where the story is going. When we get to the point of no return, the wish is granted, but at a cost (the catch). Then we’re propelled into the second act.
In an Aristotelian comedy, the set-up want must be the antithesis of the crisis.
In an Aristotelian tragedy, the set-up want should come to fruition in the triumph.
And, as you’ve probably guessed, we’ll discuss those terms next time.
Until then, have you ever intentionally planned for your protagonist’s ironic wish fulfillment? Are you interested in trying now? Can you think of ways this occurs in other stories? Let’s talk about it.