The Inciting Incident Plunges Your Character Into His Journey

image by kboyd
image by kboyd

Definition

Inciting Incident. Incite: “to urged to action; instigate; stir up.” (Webster Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary)

The inciting incident is an event in which something happens to the protagonist that changes his everyday life. It creates an opportunity for him to begin a journey that drives the story and exposes his true underlying problem.

Purpose of the Inciting Incident

The solution to the protagonist’s underlying problem starts with the inciting incident. This event hints at what the story is about. The heroine may have only an inkling of her underlying problem, but the event begins her transformation. The incident impels the heroine to make choices and drives her future actions. If this particular event hadn’t occurred, the story would relate a different journey.

image by werner22brigitte
image by werner22brigitte

The inciting incident:

• bumps the protagonist out of her everyday life and introduces imbalance.
• urges the protagonist to take action and eventually change.
• triggers the story’s plot, setting off the story’s main conflict that drives the novel.

Note: The character doesn’t suddenly decide to set out on this physical, emotional, or psychological journey. The decision needs an inciting incident.

And, the incident has more impact on the reader if it’s not summarized as backstory. It works best if the reader goes through the event with the character.

Where the Inciting Incident Belongs

The inciting incident can occur before the story starts (rare), in the opening scene after showing what the protagonist’s normal life looks like (most common), or later during act one.

The Protagonist’s Reaction to the Inciting Incident

Often the protagonist is reluctant to answer the call of the inciting incident and resists it. But, he must eventually accept the call or no story exists. His acceptance may be his own choice or the result of outside forces.

Example:

 

image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

In the movie The Cutting Edge, Doug is a star hockey player. Opposing-team players crush him against the ice rink wall, and he no longer has peripheral vision in one eye. This causes professional teams to reject Doug. The macho guy’s dream of playing professional hockey is over.

The injury is the inciting incident that sets Doug on a new journey.

A figure-skating coach offers Doug a tryout with figure skater, Kate, who’s hard to get along with and forces all her partners to quit.

The hockey jock resists the sissy sport, until the figure-skating coach says he’s Doug’s last chance to stay on the ice. So, Doug goes to the tryout and, after Kate tries to get rid of him, convinces Kate’s father he’s the “go-to” guy to get Kate and him to the Olympics.

Doug fears losing the esteem of his brother and his fans back home, so he tells them he’s joined the merchant marines. We watch Doug go from feeling humiliated to being proud of his figure-skating abilities. Besides falling for Kate, he realizes what he does isn’t as important as striving for excellence in whatever he does. This is the underlying problem.

Understand what the inciting incident does for your story. Click to tweet.

What’s the inciting incident in your manuscript or the novel you’re reading?

A 50-Item Checklist You Won’t Want to Leave Your Scene Without

“Scenes are capsules in which compelling characters undertake significant actions in a vivid and memorable way that allows the events to feel as though they are happening in real time.”

—Jordan E. Rosenfeld (Make a Scene)

checklist  

Scene Checklist

Purpose

[  ] Has 3 reasons the scene should exist. Possibilities:

  • Progresses or changes character’s goal
  • Moves plot forward
  • Adds conflict between opposing characters
  • Introduces a character
  • Develops a character
  • Foreshadows
  • Raises stakes

Structure

[  ] Clear beginning, middle, climax (disaster), and end. 

[  ] Opening hook – lines that grab reader.

[  ] Opens mid action – not description or explanation.

[  ] Action scenes – goal->conflict->disaster. 1

[  ] Reaction scene – response->dilemma->decision. 1

[  ] Point of view (POV) character – character with the most to lose in the scene – reveal immediately.

[  ] Reader immediately grounded in who, what, where, when, why.

[  ] Setting – revealed through what POV character reacts to, sees, hears, does.

[  ] Something’s at stake, or story stakes are raised or reinforced – make situation worse, or stakes matter more.

[  ] Fear hovers – character might not meet her scene goal.

[  ] Actions –interesting; advance plot or exhibit character; performed in real time. 

[  ] Pace – appropriate for what’s happening.

[  ] Mood, tone, or author’s voice – realistic for scene, and the book’s genre.

[  ] Obstacles – people, events, emotions, secrets get in the way of characters meeting their goals.

[  ] Climax (disaster) – relevant to the plot or characterization.

[  ] Element of suspense, surprise, twist, or foreshadowing – creates anticipation; delivers a worthy payoff relevant to plot or characterization.

[  ] Metaphor or symbol.

[  ] Ending hook – transitions to next scene; entices reader to read on.

Hero/Heroine

[  ] Clear wants, emotional and physical – drive actions, dialogue, thoughts.

[  ] Pushes away from something negative; pulls toward something positive (emotional or physical). 1

[  ] A hint of victory; two hints of failure. 1

[  ] Conflicting values.

[  ] Reader can identify or empathize; knows whom to root for.

[  ] Secondary characters – clear purpose for being in scene.

[  ] Hints of wounds, fears. Or competencies.

[  ] Reactions shown – to stimuli that affect feelings.

[  ] Balanced emotion, dialogue, internalization (considering scene type).

[  ] 5 senses included – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.

Dialogue

[  ] Tight, every word needed.

[  ] Interesting; moves scene forward.

[  ] Natural – leaves out boring parts of actual dialogue.

[  ] Characters’ voices – distinctive; could know speaker by his word choices.

[  ] Reveals or hints at emotions, undercurrents, or secrets.

[  ] Reveals character, plot, conflicts, or bits of important information.

[  ] Includes a zinger – jibe, bold truth, dry or humorous comment. 1

[  ] Action beats or simple speaker attributes (said) – identifies speaker.

Avoid

[  ] Clichés – in dialogue, characterization, plot.

[  ] Coincidences (something drops in to save the day).

[  ] Vagueness (it, that, pronouns that don’t tie, etc.).

[  ] Clever writing that adds nothing; confuses.

Remove

[  ] Boring, purposeless sentences and paragraphs.

[  ] Detailed body movement descriptions.

[  ] Unnecessary explanations.

[  ] Weasel words – except when they work in dialogue.

Style

[  ] Shows often; tells as needed.

[  ] Clear, concise, uncomplicated sentences.

[  ] Correct words (dictionary and thesaurus).

[  ] Power noun, verbs.

[  ] Short narratives when necessary (getting from one place to another).

[  ] Active voice – limit “was.”

[  ] Positive form used when possible.

[  ] Backload – ending words (sentence and paragraph) that tie to passage’s meaning.

Idea from Susan May Warren’s MBT Deep Thinkers Retreat manual.

Transform your scene with this comprehensive checklist. Click to tweet.

What would you add to this checklist?

3 Steps to Find a Romantic Idea for Your Creative Activity

“Opposites attract. If two people just alike get married, one of you is unnecessary.” —Larry Burkett

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You’re preparing a talk to a women’s group. Or writing a romantic scene. Or composing a song. Where will you find a romantic idea to entice your female audiences?

Here are 3 Steps to come up with a romantic idea for your creative work.

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Step 1. Write What You Know

Who do you know better than your spouse? You don’t have to go back to those budding-romance days. Look at why you love your spouse now.

Step 2. Use Opposites Attract

People love stories about how men differ from women. It’s romantic. So, list ways you’re different from your spouse. When you get about fifty…just kidding…ten, stop. Here’s mine:

1. He enjoys people. I’ve considered building a monument to the person who invented email.

2. He is a man of few words. That’s because I hog all the rest.

3. He finally comments on what I said five minutes ago. I’ve already forgotten what I said and moved on to my next idea.

4. He’s always right. I supply him with numerous opportunities, but I’ve reserved a billboard for the glorious day he’s WRONG.

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

5. He analyzes how to put gutters on our house. I analyze everything else.

6. He takes hot showers so long I can’t find my way out of the bathroom. To save on electrical costs, I freshen up in his steam wondering why my hair doesn’t hold a curl.

7. He leaves a mushy card on my favorite chair on Valentine’s Day. When I find it, I race upstairs, cut out two harts, glue them together, and slap a doily on it, tea stain down, and finish it off with, “I love you.”

8. He laughs at my humor. I force weak smiles while he over-explains the way things work.

9. He does the grocery shopping, if I make the list. I question why he didn’t know “romaine in a bag” meant the easy pre-cut version and not a humongous stalk of romaine that barely fits in the vegetable drawer and happens to be sold in a bag.

10. He never tells embarrassing stories on me. I use this godly man as fodder for my social media posts.

Step 3. Recall a story.

Image courtesy of xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For each difference, recall a story that proves you’re different in that area.

Here’s mine for number 5:

At our last house, John stood in the backyard, staring up at the roof for a lo-o-o-ng time. I couldn’t fathom what the man was doing. I asked. The expert who configures the gutters for houses was coming the next day. Our roof had funky levels. John wanted to figure it out before the EXPERT came. Do you know what? When the EXPERT showed John his configuration, John suggested his own and the expert agreed it was better!

Now you see why I listed number 4. But I have to admit I my heart tingled that my man bested the gutter expert.

From this story, I can use a similar situation for my fictional hero. Because I know my feelings from my scoffing in the beginning to my tingles at the end, I can give my heroine those feelings.

What’s a story you could use for a creative activity?