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The Inciting Incident Thread (1 Viewer)

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TheMightyAz

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I was browsing the forum trying to figure out where I'd ask this question and rapidly realised there wasn't really a place for it. Then I thought, wouldn't it be lovely and fluffy to have such a place ... and here it is. The forum was the inciting incident that caused the creation of this thread!

We all get stuck from time to time on that moment, when everything kicks off in a novel, when our ordinary or ignorant protagonist is going about their life as per usual and something happens to change their life forever. That is the inciting incident. All stories have them. But what if you can't quite think of an inciting incident or think the inciting incident you've plumped for isn't quite working? You ask here!

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In my novel The Sixth Chapter, the protagonist 'Yarrod' is caught in a loop. He isn't aware of it yet. All he knows is he's got an in built need to hunt and a gun 'Sorrow' to hunt with. The sixth chamber of that gun is always empty until a specific target is nearby. These targets are a race of people that break the laws of the Riftshifters, a race of people that can travel freely between space and time. Sorrow will tremble by his side when a target is near. Yarrod will spin the cylinder and a bullet will appear in the sixth chamber with the name of the target written upon it. This is the life he's lead so far.

He has a companion called Stitch (a crow) and a red handkerchief he has always carried. The red handkerchief is going to be the catalyst for the inciting incident and the name 'Isabel' will whisper on the winds. Yarrod has been in this loop forever and has walked many varieties of earth. In this particular cycle, he's walking an earth similar to the wild west with Gothic horror overtones.

So ... what could it be that suddenly makes him realise the red hankerchief is of significance? Considering he's walked many earths, what is it about this particular cycle that makes him realise something more is going on? There is a storm that pursues him and until now he's always outrun it. While walking across the desert he gets stung by a scorpion and blacks out. He awakes in the tent of another kind of human, a Boneman. They live in the desert, are painfully thin and can survive on little to drink or eat. Now, I could have that storm catch him and THAT could be the catalyst for the inciting incident, but that's right at the start of the novel and it worries me it's too early.

I could expand the desert walk a little, add in a scene or two of conversation with the Boneman. So, what do you think? Too early? Or should I think of something else? What 'something else' could it be?
 

JBF

Staff member
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Were it me...

I'd give him a duplicate of something that was supposed to be one of a kind. Take the handkerchief, for instance. There's only one extant (we assume) so imagine his surprise when he's walking a dry gully and finds a bleached skeleton with its exact twin tucked into one of the coat pockets and a lump of rust in the familiar shape of the gun nearby. As he ponders this impossibility, the scorpion comes out from the skull and stings him. He staggers a short distance away, carrying both cloths, and wakes up later in the Boneman's hut/tent/adobe during a thunderstorm. He only has one handkerchief on hand but knows for absolute certain there were two.

Incidentally, should he decide to return and search for the remains and any nearby answers, he can find instead that the storm surge swept the arroyo clean.

But he'd have the inkling that something was amiss. No proof, of course, save what he knows he saw.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Were it me...

I'd give him a duplicate of something that was supposed to be one of a kind. Take the handkerchief, for instance. There's only one extant (we assume) so imagine his surprise when he's walking a dry gully and finds a bleached skeleton with its exact twin tucked into one of the coat pockets and a lump of rust in the familiar shape of the gun nearby. As he ponders this impossibility, the scorpion comes out from the skull and stings him. He staggers a short distance away, carrying both cloths, and wakes up later in the Boneman's hut/tent/adobe during a thunderstorm. He only has one handkerchief on hand but knows for absolute certain there were two.

Incidentally, should he decide to return and search for the remains and any nearby answers, he can find instead that the storm surge swept the arroyo clean.

But he'd have the inkling that something was amiss. No proof, of course, save what he knows he saw.
The implication being that it could be him from another cycle? I like it. It means changing my lore slightly but nothing is set in concrete yet. It would give me a reason to draw him to the cow bones where the scorpion is hiding. A sting from the past! A jolt to his subconscious. I wouldn't want to complicate it by having him pick it up. He could simply put it down to the heat playing tricks ... but it would still set his mind thinking. I could drip feed him the inciting incident and make it a slower process, giving me the opportunity to take the real revelation into town, where perhaps he meets a woman called Isabel.

I love this. Between you and Phil, I've got a much deeper and broader idea for my first chapter. Thank you both very much.
 
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JBF

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The implication being that it could be him from another cycle?

Something like that. Even if not, consider the patent weirdness - like going around town one day and seeing your same model/color/year car on the road. As you pass, you realize the driver is your same build, wearing the same clothes, and listening to one of your favorite bands. Sort of like a prompt idea I had once (what would you do when you met you).

I like it. It means changing my lore slightly but nothing is set in concrete yet. It would give me a reason to draw him to the cow bones where the scorpion is hiding. A sting from the past! A jolt to his subconscious. I wouldn't want to complicate it by having him pick it up.

He probably wouldn't have to. Crouching to get a better look would suffice, I think. Plus, there's the possibilities of what kind of rips he might make in the universal fabric if he did pick it up.

I love this. Between you and Phil, I've got a much deeper and broader idea for my first chapter. Thank you both very much.

Wait'll you see the bill. :p
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Something like that. Even if not, consider the patent weirdness - like going around town one day and seeing your same model/color/year car on the road. As you pass, you realize the driver is your same build, wearing the same clothes, and listening to one of your favorite bands. Sort of like a prompt idea I had once (what would you do when you met you).



He probably wouldn't have to. Crouching to get a better look would suffice, I think. Plus, there's the possibilities of what kind of rips he might make in the universal fabric if he did pick it up.



Wait'll you see the bill. :(
The storm that pursues him is the very thing that moves him on to another cycle. Although he doesn't know that, he just instinctively tries to outrun it.
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
Interesting ideas for your inciting incident! I don't think it's a problem if it was a earlier. But it depends on how you feel about it, I can see it being a little farther out too, so we can get more of a feel for his character and surroundings before things start going awry.
Now of course I am questioning everything and everything about my story. I know the pacing is off and i'm thinking that I dont know what my inciting incident is. or i need to pump it up. Is the suicides at the beginning of chapter one the inciting incident? or another plot point i have way later? its the other plot point then i got some serious issues lol this forum really having me question everything. I am printing out the first few chapters and working on editing again (cuz my printer is arriving todayy)
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Interesting ideas for your inciting incident! I don't think it's a problem if it was a earlier. But it depends on how you feel about it, I can see it being a little farther out too, so we can get more of a feel for his character and surroundings before things start going awry.
Now of course I am questioning everything and everything about my story. I know the pacing is off and i'm thinking that I dont know what my inciting incident is. or i need to pump it up. Is the suicides at the beginning of chapter one the inciting incident? or another plot point i have way later? its the other plot point then i got some serious issues lol this forum really having me question everything. I am printing out the first few chapters and working on editing again (cuz my printer is arriving todayy)
The inciting incident is when something happens to change the course of the protagonist's life. If the suicides impact the main protagonist and nudge him/her on a different trajectory, then that's the inciting incident.
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
The inciting incident is when something happens to change the course of the protagonist's life. If the suicides impact the main protagonist and nudge him/her on a different trajectory, then that's the inciting incident.
I'd say so but not in a way that may be "traditional" to an inciting incident. its not until later he actually sees a suicide-which I am working on my pacing to make it more sooner in the story but it wont be until several chapters in. so i'm kind of like mmmh.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I'd say so but not in a way that may be "traditional" to an inciting incident. its not until later he actually sees a suicide-which I am working on my pacing to make it more sooner in the story but it wont be until several chapters in. so i'm kind of like mmmh.
Then that's the inciting incident. Any situation has to effect the protag(s) in order for it to be an inciting incident. You can have murders aplenty, torture, suicides, plane crashes, bullets spraying ... but until any of those things change the protagonists life, they're not the inciting incident, they're the background to the world you're creating that the protag will eventual become tied up in. The moment he's dragged into that world, is the inciting incident.

Harry Potter was living in a cupboard and was treated badly. That was his life. Until the inciting incident happened: Owls and an invitation.
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
Then that's the inciting incident. Any situation has to effect the protag(s) in order for it to be an inciting incident. You can have murders aplenty, torture, suicides, plane crashes, bullets spraying ... but until any of those things change the protagonists life, they're not the inciting incident, they're the background to the world you're creating that the protag will eventual become tied up in. The moment he's dragged into that world, is the inciting incident.

Harry Potter was living in a cupboard and was treated badly. That was his life. Until the inciting incident happened: Owls and an invitation.
Okay...how do you know when it takes to long for the inciting incident. I am kinda looking for a "slow burn" when until the inciting incident. I want the reader to get attached to the character before things start to happen. I will be cleaning up and editing a lot do the beginning before I can move forward I think. I'm still trying to zero in my ideas and works best. It's just word vomit right now
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Okay...how do you know when it takes to long for the inciting incident. I am kinda looking for a "slow burn" when until the inciting incident. I want the reader to get attached to the character before things start to happen. I will be cleaning up and editing a lot do the beginning before I can move forward I think. I'm still trying to zero in my ideas and works best. It's just word vomit right now
It's one of the biggest reasons your writing has to be tight and interesting. Until the inciting incident, the plot/story/character development doesn't start. Most inciting incidents happen very early in the story in the first act or chapter. They can be later but you'd risk losing the reader, even if your writing is remarkable. It's the hook you catch the fish with. Until then you've been tickling the trout ...
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
It's one of the biggest reasons your writing has to be tight and interesting. Until the inciting incident, the plot/story/character development doesn't start. Most inciting incidents happen very early in the story in the first act or chapter. They can be later but you'd risk losing the reader, even if your writing is remarkable. It's the hook you catch the fish with. Until then you've been tickling the trout ...
Alright. I got some things to consider. Quit a lot. I think I will be almost starting completely over .oop. I guess that's what I get for being a pantser with no concept of story structure.🤣 I might turn into a plotter after all!
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Alright. I got some things to consider. Quit a lot. I think I will be almost starting completely over .oop. I guess that's what I get for being a pantser with no concept of story structure.🤣 I might turn into a plotter after all!
Bare in mind that an 'act' can be 20,000 words. That's around 40 pages (double spaced 80 pages). So ... don't go panicking too much :) See it as the first quarter of your story. But, it's not uncommon for it to be a lot earlier.

Generally, I believe the consensus is in the first 20 - 30 pages.
 
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KeganThompson

Senior Member
Well as I've been writing, Ive been brain storming and now I've been thinking about things a lot I changed a big plot point and it's knocking on things I've written but thats not necessarily a bad thing. I will be printing what I got and figure out what I want and what I don't. Time to get serious 😬
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Well as I've been writing, Ive been brain storming and now I've been thinking about things a lot I changed a big plot point and it's knocking on things I've written but thats not necessarily a bad thing. I will be printing what I got and figure out what I want and what I don't. Time to get serious 😬
To be honest, I don't take any notice of all the 'metrics' going around. I just know a story needs an inciting incident. As far as overall structure is concerned, I'll be going off the reservation and doing my own thing.
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
To be honest, I don't take any notice of all the 'metrics' going around. I just know a story needs an inciting incident. As far as overall structure is concerned, I'll be going off the reservation and doing my own thing.
I wasn't really taught much about inciting incident just about the foundation then rising action, climax then resolution. So it was something but wasn't thinking to much about. I think once I figure out the pacing of main incidents the rest should (hopefully) fall in place
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
Okay...how do you know when it takes to long for the inciting incident.

This feeds into the perfect storm that is the opening of a new story; you can't throw the reader directly into chaos because they don't have a character to use as a frame of reference, but you can't drag too long introducing the players. Both are rookie mistakes (that all of us have made) that will cost you, albeit in different ways.

One example I'd use that pretty universal is Luke Skywalker in A New Hope. When we first meet him he's a whiny farm kid in the middle of nowhere. Nothing he does moves the story forward. Up to a point he's completely reactive. The world, his family, and his circumstances push him around because he hasn't really learned to stand up and move against the tide yet. Even after he goes to visit Kenobi he's still on the fence. What forces his hand - what incites the plot to advance - are the deaths of his aunt and uncle. Doesn't matter where he stands because the bridge he was standing on has burned. His only choice is to move in the only direction left to him, which entails leaving his home and the only world he's ever known.

Mechanically this was a pretty good setup; we see the character, we see his circumstance, but we don't wallow in the fact that his life is kind of crap. We have a thumbnail sketch of the character that we can fill out later, but for now it's enough.

Now imagine two possibilities:

1) We watch him slog through the entirety of his daily routine. This might allow us to go into greater detail as to why he's dissatisfied, but it's not necessary. We know he's not happy. We can see why. A chapter-and-verse listing of the Moisture Farmboy Blues would only bog things down.

Or...

2) The opening scene has him visiting Kenobi, and within five minutes of the scroll his relatives are dead and the farm burned down. This gets us into the action faster, but it loses punch because so far we've only seen a doofy looking kid with a bad haircut talking to an old guy in a monk robe. Who's the main character? Judging by their interactions, Obi Wan seems to have more stories, better abilities, and calls more of the shots, so...probably not Luke. This gets us to the massacre sooner, and in doing so it robs the scene of any narrative weight.

Both would cripple the story early on. Whether it could recover later on...who knows? As it is, you have a relatable character in a circumstance familiar to most everybody. And he's not even looking for the adventure - he's out roaming the desert looking for droids because they cost money and both are needed for his day-to-day work. However weird things get as a result (and however uneven the sequels turn out) events going forward grow naturally from this scene.


I am kinda looking for a "slow burn" when until the inciting incident. I want the reader to get attached to the character before things start to happen. I will be cleaning up and editing a lot do the beginning before I can move forward I think. I'm still trying to zero in my ideas and works best. It's just word vomit right now

Ah. The crux of the matter. The crucial trick.

Remember that thumbnail thing a couple of lines up? This is where you need that. There's no magic formula I've found yet, but what I do know is that you'll need two crucial pieces. Quick as you can, you have to establish the broad strokes of your protagonist and the world in which they live. You have to do this without infodumping their entire life story in the second paragraph or giving so little environmental detail that your opening actions take place against a greenscreen.

If you're so inclined, I can show you how I worked this for a project once and incidentally how it panned out (moreso by chance rather than any particular ability on my part).
 

KeganThompson

Senior Member
I'm going to explain where i'm at right now currently. I had several ideas in my head and the different layers of my story floating about. so I started throwing it on the page but then new ideas would come and others would change but I kept throwing my ideas onto the draft. I got to the point where I wasn't happy with a main plot point. Wasnt working and I didn't care about it to be honest. So I decided I was gonna change it during editing. I was told "hey don edit until ur down with the first draft" so I forced myself to keep going but wasn't having a lot of fun because nothing felt right. I decided to go back and edit and get a feel for my first couple of chapters. Then I started thinking about my inciting incident once that was explained to me and I was like oh shit I need really fix it. I knew my pacing was off but I am coming to a realization of how much off. I have scenes play in my head and I put them down on the page. The tricky part is where do they fit in the story and why? what is relevant to the story and what is not and what have I decided to change. does this plot point happen before this one or after? and why would it be better one way vs the other? I am now rearranging certain points in the story to make it work and more impactful and not drag. but since the story has changed so much from what the original idea was. I gotta lot of reworking to do. I'm using my idea vomit as a guide to figure out what idea I wanna keep, what to throw out. what I need to add and why etc. so many ways to go about it...
this forum has helped me a lot. I'm constantly blown away at how ignorant I am. "the more I see, the less I know" thing.
and yes, I am ever so inclined :)
 
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