The Nutshell Climactic Choice and Final Step

Comedy Tragedy

Ciao, SEers. If you’ve been following along when it’s my turn to chat with you, you’ll remember we’re discussing Jill Chamberlain’s Nutshell method. If you’ve missed one or more of the installments or need a refresher on any of them, you can find the other posts here:

Today, we’ve reached the last of her concepts—the climactic choice and the final step.

Climactic Choice

The climactic choice is the crux of the climax itself.

In an Aristotelean comedy, this occurs when the protagonist is at his or her lowest (in crisis) and is faced with that between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place decision. Here, he or she chooses to move away from his or her flaw and toward the opposite strength.

In an Aristotelean tragedy, this occurs when the protagonist believes he or she is at the pinnacle of success (the triumph) and it seems the set-up want has been obtained. His or her next step is a willful choice to refuse the strength and stay rooted in actions that embrace his or her flaw.

Note that the term is called climactic choice. That means the protagonist has to make a decision and embrace either the strength (comedy) or the flaw (tragedy). The course of action can’t be an outward force but rather must be prompted by an inner motivation.

Aristotle said the best climaxes are both inevitable and unexpected. This is difficult to do, but it’s also ideal. If you find yourself at the climactic choice where one decision is clearly the obvious path, you may not have set up the situation properly. Alternatively, you may only need to add a third option. Chamberlain calls this the banana. The protagonist doesn’t choose the rock or the hard place; he or she chooses a banana (which isn’t even in the same category as a rock or hard place, so it’s a total surprise).

The Final Step

After the climactic choice, the trajectory propels us to the final step. It occurs in the last scene of any consequence in the story. On the story’s timeline, it can happen right after the climax or it can happen significantly later. It’s the denouement, or resolution. In an Aristotelean comedy, it’s another step away from the flaw where the protagonist more fully embraces his or her new strength. In an Aristotelean tragedy, it’s the opposite. The protagonist is more entrenched in his or her flaw and doesn’t recognize the rejected strength because he or she is mired in the suffering his or her choices have wrought.

That’s it. All of Chamberlain’s Nutshell terminology is now defined. I can’t wait to use this method in my own planning because it guarantees a story rather than a situation, but it still leaves me the freedom to let the characters grow.

If you’d like more information about her process, you can find her videos on YouTube here. You can also visit her website, where she has links to her book. In it, she goes into these terms in more detail and also shows how dozens of stories fit this form. She even lets you download templates to write your own Aristotelean comedies and tragedies using her method. (Downloads are in exchange for your email address. I gave my address a long time ago, and other than the email with the download link, I haven’t heard from her once, so you don’t have to worry about her overloading your inbox.)

You’ve now had an overview of the whole process. Are you tempted to try it? Let’s talk about it.


Staci Troilo Bio

44 thoughts on “The Nutshell Climactic Choice and Final Step

  1. Pingback: Story Development and Execution Part 5: Plot Development | Story Empire

  2. Sorry, I’m late. It’s been a crazy weekend, but one in which I also set time aside to write (yay, me!)
    Staci, this is another great post in a great series. I’m not sure I could write this way, but there are certainly nuggets I’ve gleaned from all of the posts. They’ve been most informative. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So informative and clearly explained, Staci. This has been an interesting series. I think broadening our knowledge as writers helps us to make conscious choices even if we don’t choose to follow a particular method. 🙂 I definitely learned a few new ways to looks at this craft.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks. I’m glad you got something out of this. I think that’s the most important thing—always looking for other ways to look at things and seeing if there’s a nugget to be mined here or there. This was a fresh take for me, and I’m happy I got to share it with people.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This is a very interesting method. I might give it a try for a short story at some point. I am a fan of being surprised so I liked the term banana. Thanks, Staci.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This method has been really interesting. I’m not sure I’ll use it. If I wrote standalone novels, I might give it a try, but I write ongoing series with no overall story arc, so my characters grow a little in each book but don’t have a complete character arc. I can see this being really good for standalones or series with an over-arcing plot and character line, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been saying I want to try it for a tragedy, which I’d do as a standalone. I can see your point. Although, I tend to plot my series at one time, so I can see the full arc. It might be fun to see how that would play out…

      Now YOU’VE given ME something to think about, Judi. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This has been a great series. Will I use it? I’m not sure, but it gives me some things to think about. I tried to write a tragedy, and it became one. Then I went back and fixed it for a more digestible resolution. I love your comment to Robbie. We make suggestions for people to ponder. Take what they want and leave the rest. It seems the best way to handle writing tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    Today, Staci Troilo is posting her last entry in her excellent series analyzing the Nutshell Technique as created by Jill Chamberlain. This has been quite an eye opener for me, and I plan to study it in more detail, thanks to Staci’s careful explanations. You can even download a PDF template to help you implement the techniques in your next book. I highly recommend you stop by to check out the conclusion to the series, and would ask that you share the post far and wide so others can learn more about the technique as well. Thanks, and thanks to Staci for a very interesting and informative series. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s an extremely interesting concept from beginning to end, Staci, and I’ve enjoyed your posts greatly. I’ve already visited the link and downloaded the PDF file, though I’m not sure if I’ll use it or not. Still, I think it’s worth consideration, and I appreciate having learned about it. And who knows? Maybe it’s not too late to teach an old dog a new trick or two. 😀

    Thanks so much for this series. Sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re right, Jill. That’s what I’ve done over the years. I do want to write a bona fide tragedy, though, and I’d like to try her method for doing it. It’s so far down on my wish list, though. Thanks, and happy weekend to you, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve just read all the posts on this method. I’m going to try it. I’m naturally a pantster, but this will help somewhat. I’m currently in the rewrite stage of my latest wip and will use this to check on all the points.
    Also, my next book will benefit from this method, too. I have the premise in my head at the moment.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you, Staci. I was unfamiliar with this approach until your series. It would be fun to take a class from Jill or you. Who knows, it just might sink in and help my character-driven and somewhat haphazard approach. ☺

    Liked by 2 people

    • I haven’t taught since I was a professor (clears throat) years ago. Jill’s the expert, and she does teach seminars. I have no idea what her rate is. I am happy to answer questions (if I have the answers). This method was a new approach to me, but once I sat with it and unpacked it, it does kind of line up with many of the elements we all know and love (or maybe hate; I won’t judge). I haven’t yet tried to plot this way, but I do understand the method now, and I’d really love to try to plot a tragedy this way. I hope to get the time to try one soon. But seriously, you know where I am. If you’ve got any questions, let me know.


    • And that’s exactly the point of the Story Empire blog, Robbie. We show you things we know or find or ponder, and we hope you think about them and maybe try them, find a few you like, and maybe one or two will resonate with you on some level to a point that you can take an element of them and make it your own. Writing methods (to me) are a lot like recipes (cooking a lot more than baking). The first time I try a recipe, I pretty much follow it as-it. But once I see the way it’s done, I know how I want to tailor it to my needs. Then I tinker. It won’t taste like the original, but my family and I will like it better because it’s suited to our tastes. That’s what we hope our SE readers do with the stuff we show them. I hope you do find something in Chamberlain’s Nutshell Method that you can absorb into your writing cookbook. Wishing you a wonderful weekend, too.

      Liked by 1 person

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