Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Inciting Incidents {WriterlyWednesday}


Quite a bit of time has passed since my last WriterlyWednesday post, right? *Sighs guiltily*  My apologies...I know you've probably heard that from me a gazillion times now, but hopefully I will be able to win back your favors with a post today on something very vital to story creation and screenwriting. 

Inciting Incidents.  

Have you ever heard of that term before?

Yes? No? Well, assuming you haven't, that's what the topic of discussion is today.

What exactly is an Inciting Incident? 

In story structure, it is the event from which the entire story stems from. The main event which throws your entire plot into existence. Without an Inciting Incident, a plot is lacking and dead. 

Inciting incidents, in film, can occur as late as 30 minutes into the film, or as early as the very second the screen lights up. In the screenplay I am currently working on, the I.I. is the very first scene, about a minute into the film. However, in my novel the Rebels of Florida, the I.I. is half-way into the book. 

The Inciting Incident is what happens when a character's life suddenly takes a change affecting him or her in a way which changes them positively or negatively from that moment on. An event occurs, which changes that person's life in some way which is irreversible. 

An example: In my screenplay, the Inciting Incident is when the MC's parents are arrested by the government for their beliefs., and the children must flee into the wilderness, hoping to find temporary refuge from the same capture their parents faced. This event, their parents' capture, forever changes their lives and opens a gap wherein the whole story of the film emerges from. If this event didn't occur, 80% of the film's story would be lost.

Whether the Inciting Incident is a father losing his job, or, a young man getting a job, it must be an event which propels change in either the character's environment, internal character, or the people around him. 

Things must not continue on the same way as they did before. If they do, you have no story.

It doesn't really matter when your I.I. happens, as long as it does not occur too late into the plot. If this happens, then you will have created a gulf requiring something to fill the gap, and chances are this will be a very boring, drab sequence without some sort of set-up in the plot. And, of course, the Inciting Incident is the ultimate set-up. However, if you throw in your I.I. too early, then the audience/reader may be left confused or disoriented about what is happening, and you'll have to go out of your way explaining what in the world is going on. 

Not all stories are the same, obviously. Some films and books have I.I.'s which emerge early, some late. Some right in between. But no matter where the Inciting Incident comes in on the film or book, it must be the propelling rift of initial conflict which pushes the entire plot forward and gives the story the energy it contains. 

It must literally change your character's life, so that there's no going back. 

What is your Inciting Incident? When does it occur in your story? Do you have any thoughts on Inciting Incidents? I'd love to hear about them! 

Happy Wednesday!

P.S. Help me get to 50 subscribers on Apassionata and maaaaaaaaybe I'll have a giveaway! *big grin* 


  1. Great post! I've heard this term before but I don't use it as often as I should. My inciting incident occurs in the 1st chapter of my novel (around page 14), and is my MC being told she has been raised to do something very important in an entirely different world...and that certain memories have been hidden from her.

    Again, awesome post! :)

    Sierra @ Yearning to Read

  2. Hmmmm. My inciting incident isn't perhaps as drastic as it should be, but it does strongly propel my character into the plot. :) I'm not making chapter breaks yet, but it happens about 5,500 words maybe around chapter 3? And I do think I've done a decent job of making sure everything before that point is setup and necessary setup at that.

    My inciting incident may need to be altered some to make it a little more...forceful or something in revisions. :)