Creating an Inciting Incident Worthy of Praise

I’m working through some of the awesome information provided in the book Writing a Killer Thriller by Jodie Renner. In chapter 4, she discusses how to create fabulous opening scenes. Today’s discussion is the all-important Inciting Incident.

First off, you need one. An inciting incident, that is. Preferably within the first chapter or two. Wiki Answers says the inciting incident is “the conflict that begins the action of the story and causes the protagonist to act.” Renner advises not beginning the story with the inciting incident, though. She says let the reader get to know the hero and get emotionally invested in him so they care what happens to him. Whatever he’s doing in that first scene, make it applicable to the rest of the book, but also use it to lead up to the inciting incident. “Think of a gripping, stressful opening situation for your protagonist that creates empathy and identification for him and raises intriguing story questions.”

This inciting incident is not the Doorway to Act II or the First Plot Point, that moment when the hero cannot possibly turn back from his mission. The inciting incident leads toward that point, though. It propels the hero to action, but he’s still got a chance of getting out of the mess. In Star Wars IV: A New Hope, Luke is offered the opportunity to fight in the resistance. That’s the inciting incident. He can follow his dream to become a fighter pilot, or he can return to the farm and help his Aunt and Uncle. We know his choice. Later, when the storm troopers barbecue his relatives, THAT’S the point of no return, the walk through the doorway into Act II, the First Plot Point, or Crossing the First Threshold. (By the way, I found “Doorway to Act II” in James Scott Bell‘s book Plot & Structure. I don’t know if it’s his terminology or if he got it from somewhere else. The First Plot Point is from Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Crossing the First Threshold is from The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. They’re all awesome books, but they all have different terms for the same basic idea: a point where the hero has made his decision and can’t go back to the way things were before.)

Here are some things to avoid in your inciting incident:
  • boring paragraphs of scenery and weather
  • opening with a POV other than the hero
  • any backstory longer than a single sentence
  • information dumps (where you’re explaining stuff to the reader) – if it’s interesting to them, they’ll stick around to get the explanation later
  • omniscient POV, where the author is narrating directly to the reader
  • head-hopping: jumping from one POV to another within the scene
  • lack of tension=boring
My next post will deal with conflict in scenes. Stay tuned.

3 thoughts on “Creating an Inciting Incident Worthy of Praise

  1. Pingback: Writing Your Inciting Incident | Seventeen 20

  2. Pingback: First month of novel; a look back | The parasite guy

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