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:
- protagonist (strengths and flaws)
- the catch and point of no return
- set-up wants
- crisis and triumph
Today, we’ve reached the last of her concepts—the climactic choice and the final step.
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.