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.
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.