The first time I was exposed to ‘the inciting incident’ was a movie by that title. I’ve been fascinated by it ever since. So what exactly is this ‘inciting incident’ and how does it affect a story?
Inciting comes from the Latin word incitare which means “to put into rapid motion, urge, encourage, and stimulate.” And that’s exactly what your inciting incident is; it’s an event that triggers your hero to “go into motion” and take action.
Here are other ways to conceptualize the inciting incident:
- it jolts your hero out of his everyday routine
- it is the event which sparks the fuse of your plot
- it’s something that MUST happen in order for your hook–your book’s special premise–to kick in
So if the inciting incident is the crucial event—the trouble—that sets the whole story in motion - when should it happen? Usually, your inciting incident occurs within the first ten pages of your book, after you’ve introduced the reader to your hero, shared what his everyday life is like, and a few important things in his life that need fixing.
Then the inciting incident occurs and it starts to change the dynamics of your hero’s life. He (or she) will react to the inciting incident, maybe even resist it. Your hook kicks in and your hero commits to taking the journey (either physical, emotional, psychological or a combination of these) sparked by the inciting incident.
With some genres, the inciting incident is almost always the same. For example, in a romantic comedy, the inciting incident is the “cute meet” where the two romantic leads meet each other for the first time. In a mystery, the inciting incident is when the first dead body is found.
Also keep in mind that each of the protagonist’s attempts to resolve the initial and subsequent inciting incidents must end in failure. There can be partial victories, but once an action ends in success, the story is effectively over. Success, in this case, means that all the problems are resolved. That cannot happen until the final scene of the story.