The Nutshell Set-Up Wants

Comedy Tragedy

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.


Staci Troilo Bio

49 thoughts on “The Nutshell Set-Up Wants

  1. Pingback: The Nutshell Climactic Choice and Final Step | Story Empire

  2. Pingback: The Nutshell Crisis and Triumph | Story Empire

  3. I now need to revisit the early chapters of my WIP and see if I’ve done this. It’s obviously crucial to have a protagonist that you’re rooting for, and I can see that knowing his/her want can play an important part in that. Thanks, Staci.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never been quite this intentional, either. But like you, I also love plot twists. I think I have quite a few in my Astral Conspiracy series, and I just wrote one yesterday in my WIP. They’re so much fun! Thanks for weighing in, Yvette.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    If you’ve been following along with Staci Troilo’s posts on the Nutshell Method of story development, you won’t want to miss her post today on Story Empire. This one really has me pondering. I love the idea of using the technique, and think you will, too. Be sure to check it out, and if you would, pass it along so others can learn, too. Thanks, and thanks to Staci for another great post in a fun and educational series. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Another new one for me, Staci. Very interesting. Now I’m trying to think if I’ve ever done this even unintentionally. Gonna have to keep it in mind for the next book, though, which I hope to start in a couple of weeks. (Unlike you many of you guys, I can’t write more than one thing at once, and I can’t STOP writing until I’ve finished the story I’m telling. Doh.) But I can see how this makes for a very interesting plot, and I’m going to see if I can make it work in Riverbend 4.

    Great post in a great series! Sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Can’t say I’ve ever thought about giving a character a want and then making it come with a catch. I’ve always done the book’s big problem and hurdles to solving it method. I’m going to have to think about the want/catch idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have never intentionally set out to write this way, but you’ve really got me thinking, Staci. I see this as a way to deepen the plot and now i”m thinking about the new WIP I’ve just started. 🙂 Great series! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t actually set out to write this way, but I do create wants for my characters early in my books.
    Loved your examples. In thinking about wants and the catch, my mind immediately went to King Midas and his golden touch.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a perfect example!

      Yeah, wants are important to set up early. They drive the action. If a character doesn’t want something, there’s no momentum. I love hearing everyone’s process. Thanks for sharing a bit about yours.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I stumbled on this method on YouTube when I was looking for a different writing tutorial. I have a lot of projects already roughed out, but I’m really looking forward to trying it in my planning stage at some point. Glad to hear you can recognize this in other works. Thanks, Dan.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Sometimes when I share a method, I struggle with the examples. They must be methods I don’t really connect with. This time, they popped right into my head. (I really like the working for the devil one, and no, not because I currently feel like I do.) Glad these examples sparked something for you.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Good post, Staci. I loved your examples and laughed when I thought about wanting a job and finding out it was for Satan. So many ideas and images came to mind thinking about that one. It wouldn’t be an interesting story if they easily got what they wanted and without a bit of sacrifice along the way in some form.

    Liked by 3 people

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