How to Use Somebody Wanted But So Then

Learn how to use the Somebody Wanted But So Then for summarizing fiction and nonfiction, outlining plots, and for scene design!


Somebody Wanted But So Then is one of the easiest ways to summarize and outline both fiction and nonfiction narratives. Today we’re going to talk about using the Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then technique both for summarizing narratives and outlining plots in your writing. We’ll also look at an example of SWBST and some graphic organizers and anchor charts. 

What is Somebody Wanted But So Then?

Somebody Wanted But So Then, or SWBST, is a tool to summarize fiction and nonfiction texts. The SWBST technique maps a plot or events through character, motivation, conflict, and resolution. Using SWBST gives a brief overview of the plot of a story. Writers can use SWBST to outline their plots. 

How do you write a summary with Somebody Wanted But So Then?

The best way to write a summary using SWBST is by using a graphic organizer. If you’d like a free SWBST chart to download and print, you can get that here: 

Click here to download a free Somebody Wanted But So Then graphic organizer.

Somebody Wanted But So Then anchor chart

Or, you can create your own SWBST anchor chart by writing each letter vertically down a sheet of chart or regular paper. You’ll answer a question for each letter, and when you put all five of your responses together, you will have a paragraph summary of your story. 

Let’s review each part of the SWBST summary and then look at an example of a summary written using somebody, wanted, but, so, then. 

Somebody  WantedButSo Then
Who is the main character, or characters, of the story?What do the characters want?What is stopping them from getting what they want? (the problem)How do the characters overcome their problem?How does the story end? (resolution)

You will answer these questions to create a summary of your story. Let’s write a summary example using the classic fairy taile Cinderella. 

Somebody Wanted But So Then Examples

Somebody Wanted But So Then example Cinderella

Somebody Wanted But So Then fiction example: Cinderella. 

Somebody: Who is your main character?

  • In Cinderella, our main character is a young girl named Cinderella.  

Wanted– What does your main character want?

  • There is a royal ball that everyone in the court is attending. It is the event of the season, and Cinderella doesn’t want to miss it. 

But– What is the problem?

  • But Cinderella’s father has died, and she lives with her wicked stepmother and two wicked stepsisters. Cinderella’s family hates her and will not allow her to attend the royal ball. 

So– How does the main character overcome their problem?

  • Cinderella is visited by a magical godmother who gives her a dress and a carriage so she can travel to the ball alone. There she dances with the prince, and they fall in love. She loses a glass slipper as she leaves the ball. 

Then– What is the resolution?

  • The prince searches all the land for the owner of the missing glass slipper. He finds Cinderella, and they live happily ever after. 

Somebody Wanted But So Then nonfiction example: American Revolution

Somebody– King George

Wanted– To raise taxes on British Colonies to pay for the French and Indian War.

But– Colonists refused to pay taxes without having representation in Parliament and boycotted British goods.

So– King George sent troops to America to enforce British taxes and laws.

Then– War broke out between the American Colonists and the British Empire. 

Somebody Wanted But So Then Technique for Writing 

Somebody Wanted But So Then graphic organizer

While SWBST is primarily used for summarizing texts, writers can also use it to outline and organize the plot of their story. Let’s go through each section of Somebody Wanted But So Then and discuss how you can use it to create an outline for your fictional story. 

Step 1: Somebody

Somebody refers to the protagonists of your story. This “somebody” could be a character or characters. In this section of your outline, you’ll want to decide who your main character is and begin constructing the world they live in. 

This portion will serve as the exposition of your story, and in exposition, we introduce the setting and the characters.

  • Think about who your character is at the most fundamental level. Write down everything that comes to your mind about your character. 
  • Then, take one step back- who does your character interact with daily? Describe those people in detail, how they relate to your character and the nature of their relationship. 
  • Now, describe the world these characters inhabit- what about your world limits your character’s actions?

Step 2: Wanted 

What does the protagonist want? This section is the part of the story where you’re going to think about character motivation. All characters have goals, things they want to get, buy, achieve, or even steal. These motivations drive every action and decision a character makes throughout a narrative. 

Sometimes, a character’s motivation may change throughout a story. For example, a character who starts with the goal of surviving may eventually become motivated by the desire to thrive and gain mastery over their situation. Motivation is crucial to any story and can help create complex and believable characters.

  • What is the end goal of your character?
  • What does your character want, and how does this desire drive their decisions?
  • Does your character’s want change throughout the narrative?

Step 3: But

‘But’ represents the conflict of your story. Cinderella wants to go to the royal ball, BUT her wicked stepmother won’t let her leave the house. In the ‘but’ section of your story, you will introduce the element of the story that blocks your character from instantly getting the thing they want. 

In a way, the ‘but’ or conflict makes a story interesting to readers. You can certainly write a story without conflict, and I wrote about that in this article, but in most traditional stories, conflict is what forces a character to change and grow. Conflict also creates tension that keeps readers engaged as they want to know if the hero will overcome their challenges. 

‘But’ can also represent the antagonist of your story. An antagonist is a character or force that opposes the protagonist, the main character. The antagonist might be a person, an animal, or an inanimate object.

The antagonist might be aware of the protagonist’s goals and actively try to stop them, or they might simply be an obstacle the protagonist must overcome. In some stories, the antagonist is also the story’s villain. However, this is not always the case; sometimes, the antagonist is simply a rival or someone standing in the way of the protagonist’s goals. Ultimately, the role of the antagonist is to create conflict and obstacles for the protagonist to overcome.

  • What is getting in the way of your character getting the thing they want?

Step 4: So 

‘So’ is the portion of the story where your character overcomes their conflict. How does your protagonist overcome their antagonist and achieve the goal from the ‘wanted’ section? ‘So’ might be a single action or idea on the part of your hero or multiple actions they make during the story’s resolution.  

Aha Moments (or an epiphany) 

During this part of the story, your character might have an “aha moment.” An aha moment is when your character suddenly realizes how they can solve their problem. Aha moments are often flashbacks when a character remembers something they saw or heard earlier in the story. This memory is the key to a character overcoming their conflict. 

Step 5: Then 

How does your story end? The ‘Then’ portion of your story is a time for the writer to wrap up loose ends and show how each character’s fate after the conflict is resolved. This ending can be a quick epilog to the story showing how the character and world have changed. Check out this article if you want to learn more about how to end a story.

SWBST and Scene Design

SWBST isn’t just for summarizing and outlining. Use the SWBST model to create the back-and-forth of a scene. You can fit most scenes into the SWBST model. Let’s look at an iconic scene from 1998’s Mulan where the titular character prepares to take her father’s place in the army: 

Somebody: Fa Mulan, an adventurous young woman living in Imperial China

Wanted: To take her elderly father’s place after he is conscripted into the army. 

But: Women are not permitted to become warriors. 

So: Mulan cuts her hair with a sword and uses her father’s armor to disguise herself as a man. 

Then: Mulan takes her father’s place, saving him from the dangers of War. 

When writing a scene, use the SWBST model to create character motivations, conflict, and pacing. Read more about scene design here.

That’s all for SWBST, but don’t forget to grab the Somebody Wanted But So Then poster below before you go.

4 comments on “How to Use Somebody Wanted But So Then”

  1. Embarrassed to say I’ve never heard of this concept, but as usual, your post is so informative, John! Thank you for sharing this info. I will definitely be using this for future book planning.

    1. Thanks KM! I only heard about it through teaching. It’s good way to teach students how to summarize a text, but I’ve always thought it would be useful for writers. It’s just simple an intuitive. Thanks for the feedback! Always nice to hear your thoughts

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