Your Book’s Inciting Event: It’s Not What You Think It Is

Your Book’s Inciting Event: It’s Not What You Think It Is

What the heck is the Inciting Event? That’s a question just about any writer can answer. The trouble is that sometimes we all have a different answer.

  • Is the Inciting Event the first thing that happens in the story?
  • Is it the moment that kicks off the plot and the conflict?
  • Is it the First Plot Point at the end of the First Act?
  • Is it something in between?
  • Is it something that happens before the story ever starts?

The chief trouble with identifying the Inciting Event is that the term is used rather wildly to apply to just about any of the above. One writer calls the Hook the Inciting Event, another calls it the First Plot Point. Argh! No wonder we’re all so confused.

Structuring Your Novel IPPY Award 165The confusion has grabbed me in its claws as well. In Structuring Your Novel, I wrote the following about the Inciting Event:

What’s important isn’t so much nailing down your Inciting Event to a specific place in the story, as it is presenting the Inciting Event at the optimal moment. Sometimes that means throwing the Inciting Event at readers right away, and sometimes that means holding off a bit.

I admit it: that’s a little vague, isn’t it?

Since writing Structuring Your Novel, I’ve made some extremely interesting discoveries about the Inciting Event, which have helped me refine my own stories far more than did such vague notions. So let’s all advance our understanding of this frustratingly important moment in our stories, shall we?

First Act Timeline

The Single Most Important Thing to Understand About “The Inciting Event”

The most important thing you can take away from this post is this: There isn’t just one moment that can be called “the inciting event.” There are three.

The vast majority of confusion over this structural pillar is the fact that we find different writers referring to three very distinct moments in the story by the same name. I’ve been guilty of it too, if only because I hadn’t yet grasped the differences between the three. These three different story structure moments are completely different from one another and all equally necessary to your story.

The 3 Different “Inciting Events”

1. The First Moment in the Story

Probably the most common understanding of the Inciting Event is that it’s the first moment in your plot. This is the beginning of your story–possibly even the first sentence. This opening scene will introduce your main character and the main conflict. It’s the first domino in the line of dominos that forms your plot. It’s the beginning of your story. If you open before this moment, then you’ve opened too soon.

Why We Think This is the Inciting Event

It’s no wonder we think of this moment as the Inciting Event. “Incite” seems to indicate the match striking the tinder of our plot. Therefore, this moment necessarily has to be the starting point, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, this first moment in your plot is what starts the whole thing moving. But, no, this moment is more about introducing your story than inciting it.

What It Really Is

This first crucial moment in your story is more properly the Hook. There is, of course, more involved in the Hook than just this (namely, its responsibilities to grab your readers’ curiosity). But the Hook is the first structural moment in your story. It’s the first interesting moment, and, as such, it’s what flicks over that first domino and starts things rolling.

Where It Belongs

This opening moment–the Hook–belongs (surprise!) in the opening. It’s your opening scene–the first thing that happens in your story–possibly even the first line.

What We Should Really Call It

The Hook.

Examples

Bram Stoker’s Dracula opens with Jonathan Harker arriving in Budapest on his way to meet with his strange client, Count Dracula. This moment launches the plot (after all, prior to Harker’s meeting with Dracula, there is no story) and grabs reader curiosity.

Your Book’s Inciting Event: It’s Not What You Think It Is

Stephen Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark opens with the famous sequence in which Indy–dogged by his nemesis Belloq–infiltrates the South American temple and steals the golden idol. The sequence itself has nothing to do with the main conflict, but it brilliantly introduces the protagonist, grabs the viewer, and kicks off the rivalry between Indy and Belloq.

Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha’s Ice Age kicks off with the subplot character Scrat, whose single-minded pursuit of his acorn causes the Ice Age.

2. The First Plot Point

Okay, so if the Hook is something different from the Inciting Event, then perhaps the Inciting Event is the all-important big moment that happens at the end of the First Act: the First Plot Point. The First Plot Point is where your story gets going in earnest. Something dynamic and irreversible happens at this moment. It kicks your character forever out of the passivity of his Normal World and launches him into a desperate series of reactions as he scrambles to gain some control over the conflict.

Why We Think This is the Inciting Event

Like I said, this is the moment where your story really begins. This is the moment that fully engages your character in the conflict. He couldn’t walk away now, even if he really wanted to. It’s definitely a moment that incites your character. But if this is the first incendiary moment in your story, then your pacing is likely to be pretty dull. Remember, the First Plot Point is going to take place around the 25% mark in your story. Something had to happen in between the Hook and the 25% mark, right?

What It Really Is

The First Plot Point is just that–the First Plot Point. It’s the doorway between the end of the First Act and the beginning of the Second. It’s also very likely to be the Key Event (which I’ll get into below).

Where It Belongs

The First Plot Point always ends the First Act. Optimally, it should be placed at the 25% mark.

What We Should Really Call It

The First Plot Point.

Examples

In Dracula, the First Plot Point is the moment when the dreaded Count arrives (via spooky shipwreck) in England. Lots happens prior to this scene, but this is the moment that irrevocably engages all of the main characters in their mortal struggle with the vampire.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the First Plot Point occurs when the Nazis burn down Marian’s bar, forcing her to escape with Indy to Cairo. Again, lots happened prior to this, but this moment irrevocably launches the main plot by bringing the two primary characters together and sending them to the primary setting.

Your Book’s Inciting Event: It’s Not What You Think It Is

In Ice Age, the First Plot Point happens when Manny and Sid rescue the human baby and meet Diego. This launches their main story goal (return the baby to his father) and the main conflict with the saber-tooth tigers.

3. The First Act’s Turning Point

And now, at last, we reach the secret member of our trio of “Inciting Events.” This is a vital structural moment–and yet most authors overlook it completely. Halfway through the First Act, something happens–a turning point. Usually, this is the Call to Adventure (which the hero starts out by rejecting). It’s the moment when his Normal World is significantly rocked by the conflict for the first time. His world won’t yet be upended by that conflict (not until the First Plot Point), but we might think of it as the moment when the match is officially lit and held over the tinder of the conflict.

Why We Think This is the Inciting Event

Technically, most writers don’t think of this turning point as the Inciting Event for the simple reason that they really don’t think about it at all. But let’s think about it now, shall we? Aside from breaking up the potential monotony of the First Act and providing focus for the first quarter of the story, this turning point fulfills one of the most important roles in your story’s beginning.

The first eighth of the story (from the Hook to this turning point) is all set-up. Readers are familiarizing themselves with your characters, figuring out the characters’ goals, and learning the stakes. Readers need that time in order to get their bearings before the main conflict really starts heating up.

Then comes this all-important turning point at the 1/8th mark (around the 12% mark). It shakes everything up, redirects readers’ focus to the primary conflict, and sends the protagonist hurtling right for the deciding moment of the First Plot Point.

The next eighth of the story (from the turning point to the First Plot Point) is where you then start positioning the final pieces necessary for the main conflict, while ramping up the tension to lead right into the First Plot Point.

What It Really Is

This turning point doesn’t have a proper name other than the Inciting Event. It’s the moment that truly launches the main conflict. It’s inciting and (hopefully) exciting. When I talk about the Inciting Event (including in the Story Structure Database), this is the moment I’m referring to.

Where It Belongs

The Inciting Event–the turning point in the First Act–should optimally be placed at the 12% mark, halfway through the First Act. The timing is important because it gives you the space you need in the beginning of the book to get everything set up, and then provides the necessary space to build upon the Inciting Event before you reach the place of no return that is the First Plot Point.

What We Should Really Call It

The Inciting Event.

Examples

In Dracula, the Inciting Event is the moment (back in Budapest) when Harker first witness the Count’s unearthly powers when he sees Dracula crawling down the castle wall, upside-down.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Inciting Event occurs when Indy is summoned from his classroom and recruited by the U.S. government to track down the Ark of the Covenant.

In Ice Age, the Inciting Event occurs when Manny the mammoth and Sid the sloth meet for the first time.

Your Book’s Inciting Event: It’s Not What You Think It Is

How Does the Key Event Play In?

Screenplay Syd FieldThe final element in this intricate tapestry is the Key Event. What is the Key Event? Think of it as the missing half of the Inciting Event. The Inciting Event kicks off the plot; the Key Event is what then involves your character in the Inciting Event. In Screenplay, Syd Field describes it like this:

The Inciting incidentsets the story in motion … [while] the key incident [is] what the story is about, and draws the main character into the story line.

As such, the Key Event will always take place after the Inciting Event and within the First Act. Almost always, the Key Event will coincide with the First Plot Point.

The Inciting Event (remember: that’s the turning point halfway through the First Act) brings the conflict to the protagonist’s awareness. But the protagonist still won’t fully engaged with the conflict. He may make a half-hearted attempt to resolve it. Or he may try to walk away from it entirely. Until the Key Event.

The Key Event is what sucks him irrevocably into the conflict. Sounds an awful lot like the First Plot Point, doesn’t it?

  • Dracula‘s main conflict is that of his preying upon the Englishwomen Mina and Lucy. As such, the Key Event occurs at the First Plot Point when he is shipwrecked in England, bringing the conflict right to their doors.
  • Indy’s Key Event is also his movie’s First Plot Point, since it is both the first time Indy has engaged with his Nazi antagonists and also the moment when he becomes personally involved thanks to his relationship with Marian.
  • Same for Ice Age. Up until the Key Event at the First Plot Point, Sid and Manny didn’t even know about the human baby’s danger, much less have any stake in helping him.

If we recognize the Inciting Event as this oft-overlooked turning point in the First Act, the entire structure of our beginnings becomes much clearer, much tighter, and much more effective. Take a look at some of your favorite books and movies. How are they using the time before the turning point to set up their stories–and then utilizing the turning point to tighten the focus up until to the First Plot Point? Even more importantly, how can you do the same in your own stories?

Tell me your opinion: What is the Inciting Event–the turning point in the First Act–in your work-in-progress?

Your Book’s Inciting Event: It’s Not What You Think It Is

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K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Tom Adams says:

    I wonder if a lot of the discussion about hooks, inciting events and key events are just nebulous nomenclature trying to explain that we need to keep the reader engaged. One of the many plot structure approaches describes a try-fail cycle. This is often accompanied by the exhortation to put the protagonist(s) in ever increasing sticky situations. I prefer to use this flexible method as it prevents a formulaic approach. I do believe you need a significant point in the story where the stakes reach their highest. This could be a ‘big middle’ event or the climactic point. But Everything else is up for grabs.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I would argue that it isn’t nebulous at all. Each important structural moment has a very specific role to play in the story. Although on the most basic level they’re just a handful of spaced-out turning points, if we look closely, we can see how they are each uniquely identifiable.

  2. Scrutinizer says:

    I really like this scheme. For a while now, I have alternately been calling the 1/8 mark the “Inciting Incident” or “Pinch Point 0”. It’s kind of like the other two pinch points in that it comes halfway through a story quadrant, and though the main story antagonist may or may not rear his ugly head at this point, it should give a taste of the antagonistic conflict to come.

    Incidentally, I have also come to call the 7/8 mark “Pinch Point 3” (or sometimes the “Climactic Setup Point”). It seems like a good place to show one last time what the protagonist is up against before the climax in the final eighth of the story.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      “Pinch Point 0” – I like that a lot! That’s almost exactly what it is: a minor turning point that sets up the major action in the next plot point. Your “Pinch Point 3” is what I always refer to as the beginning of the Climax.

  3. I struggled through Structuring Your Novel and although I found it helpful I was still unsure which events in my story were which. This post, where you break it down into hook, line and sinker – no, sorry, hook, inciting event and first plot point, helps a lot. Thanks, I’m still not entirely convinced that ‘one size fits all’, but I’m beginning to see things a bit clearer.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      A lot of writers get stuck on the “one size fits all” idea. Obviously, there is some applicability since the three-act structure is found in almost every story. But it’s important to remember that proper structure is in no way formulaic. We find the same structure in wildly different stories, everything from The Godfather to David Copperfield to Singin’ in the rain to Sweeney Todd.

  4. Lorna G. Poston says:

    Figuring out inciting events, plot points, etc, has always confused me. I watched a movie recently that possibly had two mid-point scenes. They were both important to the story, and they happened about 4 1/2 minutes apart. The scenes came halfway into the movie, between what *I think* were the 1st and 2nd pitch points. I ended up calling the first scene mid-point and the second scene the 2nd pitch point, but then that messed up the rest of the story structure because one other important scene followed that I couldn’t place anywhere unless there were actually two climatic moments. Augh! *rips out hair*

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s important to remember that the timing of structural moments is just a very small part of identifying them. The timing (although important) just a guideline really. What *really* matters in identifying a structural moment is understanding the role each moment plays in the story.

      For example, the Midpoint must always be a major turning point that shifts the protagonist from reaction to action, via a sudden realization that allows him to see the conflict more clearly. The Pinch Points (which I plan to post about next week) are always scenes that emphasis the antagonistic force’s power and start setting up the confrontations that will take place (respectively) in the Midpoint and Third Plot Point.

      It’s also useful to realize that sometimes the various plot points will, essentially, occur more than once *if* you’ve got more than one major plotline. But that’s where it all gets really tricky.

      Plus, we just have to realize that some stories won’t be structured all that well. 😛

      • Lorna G. Poston says:

        Thanks! Then it was the second scene of the movie that was Midpoint. Now everything else falls into place. The first scene I had originally called Midpoint was important to the story, but not a major turning point for the protagonist.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          That’s another good thing to keep in mind: not every important event in the story will be a major plot point. There should be important stuff happening in *every* scene, but that doesn’t mean every scene will provide the sort of turning point necessary for a big plot point.

  5. This post came at the perfect time for me. I have been struggling with this exact topic for the past month and a half as I’m revising the first quarter of my dual timeline novel. Thank you so much for this thoughtful clarification and lifting an immense weight from this writer’s mind.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Ooh, double timelines make it all more complicated. 😛 Have fun! The extra trouble is worth it in the end.

      • It has been fun, and challenging, but I’ve learned that at least for this novel the key has been to have these structure points fall around the same time.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yes, very smart. The emotional timing is important, even when you’re essentially telling two different stories.

          • Michael Porter says:

            Do you think you can have the second act have within it a complete mini story with all the points? One character for me takes the story just before the halfway point and after till the end of act 2 while character 1 who was previously the focus sits a bit idle this time in prison. Any plot point ways around this, can I swap the Focal Character for each act? Thank you very much. The previous Pinch Point 0 idea sounds good

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            It would be tricky, but definitely not impossible.

  6. Super, super helpful – and man is this post ever timely. Just this morning I was wracking my brain, trying decide where to place my story’s emphasis. Thank you, thank you. More girl!

  7. Courtney says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I had given up trying to understand what the Inciting Event was and had assumed that it had happened before my story (an event in the past that the protagonist didn’t realize was still haunting her) as that officially started the conflict she ends up in the middle of. I’m very relieved to figure out that I actually had an Inciting Event where a lesser antagonist attacks her physically and she realizes she’s more involved than she thought.

    I’m still a little confused what the difference is between my First Plot Point (where she actually leaves to join the conflict) and the Key Event. A scene before the First Plot Point shows a minor character, who thought she had resolved the conflict, dying as a result of the misunderstood solution, and the protagonist feeling responsible for it so agrees to join. Would the death then be the Key Event? Or is it the scene where she decides to join and has to convince them to take her? Or is it the same as the First Plot Point where she actually crosses the door of no return?

    Anyway, thanks for this post! Every bit of mechanics I can learn means the more I can control, and I like being the helmsman of my own book. 🙂 Now if only I could learn how to lower the intensity at times. Sometimes I think I suffer from an ever increasing intensity to the point where readers might think my Third Act is just ridiculous.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I like to use this example to explain the differences between the Inciting and Key Events: The Inciting Event is the murder; the Key Event is when the detective is given the case. Or – the bombing of Pearl Harbor is the Inciting Event; the protagonist joining the Marines is the Key Event. The Key Event is inextricably linked with the First Plot Point, because the First Plot Point is always the moment when the character becomes *irreversibly* involved with the conflict. Sometimes the Key Event and the First Plot Point are exactly the same scene, but sometimes they’re a progression, with the Key Event leading directly into the First Plot Point.

      • Courtney says:

        Thanks, that helps. I remember re-reading that chapter in your book and eventually just hoping I had it in there even if I couldn’t exactly say where it was. It’s frustrating when you can’t understand something, but it’s nice when there’s a community to help you figure it out! I’m in the middle of following your Outlining workbook for my second WIP, so here goes take 2!

      • K.M., thank you for your assistance.
        I’ve found “Structuring…” very helpful. One example: p. 171 re: exceptions to cliches! A big concern of mine.

        I wonder if you might address Inciting Event. Key Event, Set Up, Build Up and Plot Points in the context of an “epic” (especially since you write them) when it covers hundreds of years and has different major characters during sequential periods.

        Does the same timing apply to the entire book OR does it apply to the various lifetimes of major characters, but with The Climax reserved for the final scenes of the entire epic?

        Also how does the use of flashbacks affect the various points?

        Thank you.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Ideally, the same timing applies in all types of stories–although it’s usually not quite that spot-on in actual practice (for example, my current WIP’s acts doesn’t divide into perfect fourths: the First Act is 30k words, the Second Act divides into 50k words on each half, and the Third Act is 30k again). However, it’s also going to depend how many plotlines you’re chasing and how closely related they are. If they’re diverse, they’re probably going to need to be plotted separately with separate plot points.

          It’s also possible, from the sounds of it, that you may be writing a more episodic story, in which case each character’s lifetime might end up being a completely structured mini-story unto itself.

          As for flashbacks, they only affect the structure insofar as they move the main plot. For example, a flashback cannot be a major plot point, but a character’s *reaction* to the memory in the flashback could possibly be part of a plot point.

  8. thomas h cullen says:

    Doing the SSD form, I faced an identical issue.. Is The Representative’s Inciting Event Mariel’s Arbitration set-up, or is it her and her father’s identity of life together, established just prior?

    In time, as of course you know, I picked the former.. In my heart, it was the latter (this is partly why after all The Representative’s general identity of fiction is so displaced, and ostracised from the rest of the literary world), however it was the force of conventional thought that proved to be stronger.

    I’m still querying The Representative, after all this time.. as I asserted in an email yesterday, to a publisher:

    The Representative’s a case of political commentary that’s surpassed all cases before it, and will never be exceeded by any case after it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s always instructive to figure out the structure on our stories, since we’re so intimate with them.

      • thomas h cullen says:

        Reality’s nature of repetition’s now become a horror to me.. You recall, in my personal email, how I spoke of its taken its toll on me is a good thing:

        That’s how I’m able to say things to do with political commentary.

  9. robert easterbrook says:

    Thought I’d be brave, go out on a limb, and share what the FIRST ACT TIMELINE looks like in my novel, Reciprocity. I hope it makes sense… the numbers represent chapters.

    RECIPROCITY
    FIRST ACT TIMELINE
    HOOK – 1%
    1. Drinns gets her dream job at CenBioTech
    Step-up – 1% to 12%
    2. Hranns & Traans go to the Emancipation Meeting
    3. Strinarr goes in search of Terfezia on Old Xinar
    4. Hranns & Traans negotiating for Emancipation from the Cuians
    5. Raxxman 10 years earlier as a Jannaxian Trade Negotiator
    6. Hranns fails to negotiate freedom @ the Emancipation meeting
    7. Rhizikh meets Drinns at her inauguration into CenBioTech
    8. Raxxman recruited into the Provincial Investigative Bureau – the PIB
    9. Rhizikh & the conspirators of the LFF
    INCITING EVENT – 12%
    10. Srinarr is murdered by Rhizikh’s agents
    Build-up – 12% to 25%
    11. Deevs goes to meet Traans @ the theatre to gauge his support for Rhizikh & the LFF
    12. Raxxman goes to the PIB on Janx
    13. Traans is opposed to murder for revenge
    14. Drinns goes to work on the ‘anonymous’ Terfezia gift
    15. Raxxman meets Traans on the Mensuria Glavia
    16. Drinns begins to understand Terfezia
    17. Raxxman is tasked to investigate Strinarr’s death
    18. Drinns gets support from her team to trial Terfezia on a person, Arlinneo
    19. Raxxman goes to Old Xinar to begin his investigation into Strinarr’s death
    1ST PLOT POINT – 25%
    20. Drinns discovers the horror of Terfezia with Arlinneo’s ‘death’

  10. Thinking about this post, I am struggling to find where my inciting event takes place in my latest book. I don’t think it’s the first bullying incident the protagonist suffers in the first few pages of the story. That leaves me with two other alternatives: one is a more severe bullying incident where the protagonist is beaten up and has his bike wrecked. The other is around the 40% mark when the protagonist learns how to shoot a gun. Could you help me figure this one out?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      If I remember correctly, your story is split into two parts, right? The first with a main protagonist, and the second from a group perspective? If that’s right, then it’s possible you may have a separate structure for each section. You might want to look at the 12% mark in the first half.

      That aside, you definitely want to see your inciting event early on, within the first few chapters. The 40% mark will be too far into the story to expect readers to hang with the setup that long.

  11. Fascinating post, and I’ve just looked at my WIP to see if the stages are there – in the right place. They are, without consciously plotting it that way. I vaguely recollect that Joseph Campbell, I think in Hero with a Thousand Faces, mentioned the ancient story/myth tellers and how their plots were structured. Is there something in a storyteller’s makeup that allows us to instinctively weave a plot that works? Perhaps the process matures over time, the more tales we read, watch or write. How did they achieve this without the guidance? Or is that where the Muses come in?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I would say there’s something in a human‘s makeup that instinctively understands the rhythm and pacing of a good story. This is why authors instinctively understand the basics of structure, and this is why that structure best resonates with readers. However, you’re absolutely right that the more stories we ingest, the stronger our subconscious (and, if we’re writers, hopefully conscious as well) understanding of structure becomes.

  12. Hello Katie,

    First I’d like to shout a huge thank you for “Outlining your Novel”. For an embarrassingly long time I’ve struggled with finding a novel planning concept that spoke to me and excited me about writing. Your book has helped me break free of the writing stagnation I’d been caught up in for a long time. Thank you for that!

    I haven’t bought your Structure book yet. Is the information in the Inciting Event article above contained in that book? The way you have laid out this information really resonated with me. I’d like to ensure I have it at my fingertips in the future!

    Again, many thanks,
    CJ

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s awesome to hear! So glad that Outlining was useful to you. 🙂

      This post is an update of material found in Structuring Your Novel, so, no, it’s not in the book, although I may look into putting into a second edition one of these days.

  13. Tee Walker says:

    Hi,

    I love this structure. I am beginning to structure stories I have written throughout several years into several books and haven’t heard of the inciting event until now. This gives me a great starting point.

    Thanks,

    Tee Walker

  14. 12%. This little piece of information is what I have been looking for.

    Now, is the Key Event more flexible in placement, or are we yet soon to discover it’s home?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The Key Event *is* more flexible, but, more often than not, it’s the same as the First Plot Point.

  15. Thank you for the inciteful (hurr hurr) post, as it has got me thinking… there is some space in my mind, to my surprise. Would you care to fill in the blanks for me?

    1% – The Hook
    1-12 – Set-Up
    12% – Inciting Event
    12-25 – Build-Up
    25% – 1st Major Plot Point
    …and tell me if this is ultimately correct, because this is where my mind has gone…
    25-37 – _____________
    37% – 1st Pinch Point
    37-50 – _____________
    50% – Midpoint (Mirror Moment, etc)
    50-62 – _____________
    62% – 2nd Pinch Point
    62-75 – _____________
    75% – 3rd Major Plot Point
    75-87 – _____________
    87% – Climax
    87-99 – _____________(basically all climax)
    100% – Resolution. The End.

    some two word name for these …phases?… in the structure that do well to describe their purpose would be, I think, very insightful towards a simplified blueprint of structure, available to be seen within a moment’s glance. Insightful enough to incite, dare I excite? I just might…

    Pardon the blight of my plight to make light of the fight to get it all right…

    …okay, sorry, I’ll stop, alright? It’s late… goodnight!

    …why did I do this?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m actually going to hit on those blanks in this coming Sunday’s post (about pinch points) and another one in a few more weeks (about the climactic moment). For now, how’s this?

      1% – The Hook
      1-12 – Set-Up
      12% – Inciting Event
      12-25 – Build-Up
      25% – 1st Major Plot Point
      25-37 – Reaction
      37% – 1st Pinch Point
      37-50 – Realization
      50% – Midpoint (Mirror Moment, etc)
      50-62 – Action
      62% – 2nd Pinch Point
      62-75 – Renewed Push
      75% – 3rd Major Plot Point
      75-87 – Recovery and Re-Commitment
      87% – Beginning of Climax
      87-99 – Climactic Confrontation
      100% – Resolution. The End.

  16. Inciting event, what a great phrase and one I’m determined to go into my newest or next novel. That was a good and insightful post, thanks.

  17. Tamara Ryder says:

    I’ve always thought of the inciting event as the moment when the hero chooses or is forced to stop refusing the Call to Adventure. In the Joseph Campbell hero’s journey structure, this would be the meeting with the mentor. The Call is an inciting event of a sort too, but the Refusal often delays the action. The acceptance of the adventure is where the story really gets rolling. Its sort of the point of no return.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The acceptance of the adventure occurs at the First Plot Point when the character either chooses to walk out of the Normal World of the First Act or is *forced* out and accepts simply because he has no choice. The Inciting Event needs to occur before this moment. It’s the moment when the character first becomes aware that there’s an adventure to be stepped into.

  18. Was interested to read this, but it makes my neck hurt. I’d read more of your posts if your content was centered. With a large monitor, left-aligned columns are a drag.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      So sorry you’re having trouble with the site. It’s aligned that way to optimize for mobile viewing. Perhaps you could try minimizing the browser and centering it on your screen.

  19. I have a question about the first moment (often the first sentence), which needs to be a conflict, and The Hook. What if…. you set a scene that looks nothing like conflict, but is idyllic instead, yet enticing. All just to set readers off on the wrong foot. Then slowly the mood and events change and a conflict begins to unravel. Is this a possibility too or will it never work as a hook?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This can definitely work. The important thing to remember about the Hook is that isn’t so much immediate *conflict* as it is immediately *disharmony* or dichotomy – in the sense that something is even slightly out of whack. It’s that out-of-whackness that piques readers’ curiosity and hooks them.

  20. This really cements my understanding of the first act. It’s all fitting together now.
    What’s even more exciting is that I can now see this in my most recent story. I had a space battle taking place mid act 1 but it isn’t until the first plot point, when the invaders take Earth that the characters are really pulled in to the problem.

    It’s great that you continue to learn and pass it on to us.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Cool beans! It’s always amazing to me how we so instinctively understand story structure, even when we’re still consciously unaware of it.

  21. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

    I have been trying to decide where my novel starts since I finished writing it in 2011. This post helped me nail it down. Finally!!! And it’s where I had it when I first started writing (with no plan whatsoever) in 2006.

    The other possibilities I considered are really the inciting event, key event, first plot point, and a lot of backstory – or as you put it, “clearing my throat…”

    Thanks again for the excellent explanations, K.M.
    Now I have no excuse for not doing THE final edit 😉

  22. This post is amazing! And the whole site, as well. Sorry for my English – it’s not my first language.
    While I wait for Amazon to deliver your book on structure, I actually have a question: the first chapter of my story, that I consider the hook, ticks almost all the boxes (character, main conflict, plot, a bit of setting, a big question – what happens next?). It misses on not being exactly a characteristic moment of the hero (like Luke Skywalker working on the farm, the Bennets discussing rich bachelors in their sitting room, etc).
    This is my problem: the hook is very powerful, and I’m sure it would work as a hook in capturing the reader’s curiosity, but it’s not “a day in the hero’s life BEFORE the inciting event”.
    It is some kind of an inciting event in itself, where another inciting event, what I consider the call to adventure, happens later on, arount the 12% mark.
    Is my hook still “the hook”, or should I add a different hook, like a day in the normal life of the hero?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sounds like you’re right on target. The Hook *is* the first domino in the line of dominoes that form your plot. You don’t want to start *before* the story, but it’s important to see the difference between that first domino and the actual encounter/rejection of the main conflict that occurs with the Call to Adventure/Inciting Event at the 12% mark.

  23. Becky Fettig says:

    I have participated in some Twitter contests recently where you submit 1-5 first pages of your MS along with your query. I’ve noticed that most editors or agents say the inciting incident needs to happen early, at least within the five pages ,or better yet, on the first page. Do you think they’re saying this due to the small sample submitted for the contest and they want to see a big bang? Or do you think stories have changed nowadays for readers who like each story to start with a high action event and never let go, therefore…..inciting incidents are happening earlier? Or are they using the term wrong, and mean the hook? Lol. It’s all so confusing but wanted your thoughts. Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It all comes down to *which* inciting event is being referred to. What they’re talking about is indubitably the Hook, or the first domino in the plot. As I talk about in this article, the Hook/first domino is not the same as the Call to Adventure that happens at the turning point in the First Act at the 12% mark, when the protagonist gets his/her first serious brush with the main conflict.

      • Becky Fettig says:

        Thanks. I’m having a hard time I think because as you said in this wonderful article people use these terms loosely and interchangeabley

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yep, it can definitely get confusing. But once you have a clear understanding, in your own mind, of the structural principles of each, it makes it easier to figure out which one any given person is talking about.

  24. I was wondering, does this structure work for negative arcs?

  25. Thanks

  26. Hi! First of all. I love this site. So very helpful!

    But I’m still a bit thrown by the idea of the inciting incident being at the 12% mark. I feel like it’s very difficult to save it for that long when writing a novel.

    I wonder, if I may, give a very simple example of how I’m outlining act one of my novel to see if I’m playing too loose with the rules… I’ll spare most of details to be concise.

    1%- Protagonist is approached by a character he’s never met and given a proposition to help track down a character from his past (the antagonist). He refuses.

    1-12%- Deeper character intros. Protagonist agrees to help for superficial reasons (money that he desperately needs)

    12%- Protagonist finds out that the person he is tracking is a wanted fugitive. This mirrors the protagonist’s life in a very specific way and drastically alters his view of what he’s become involved in.

    25%- Protagonist locates the person but realizes that (for several reasons) he must confront him himself. He then leaves his “world” on a mission to find him.

    Now. I feel like I’ve played the rules too loosely because the “hook” could very well be the inciting incident as the protagonist essentially starts his quest there. But, even so, there is a distinct turning point at the 12% mark where he realizes precisely what he is doing and the first hint of the nature of the antagonist is presented.

    I wonder if this still works as a properly structured act one or if I should rework it. I just really struggle with creating a hook that doesn’t feel like an inciting incident.

    Thanks for your help! And keep up the great work! You rock!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Looks good to me. The Inciting Event at the 12% mark is, first and foremost, a turning point. It is the moment that turns the protagonist deeper into the conflict. Some stories *will* start very deep into the conflict with the Hook. This isn’t necessarily a problem as long as the timing still allows for the setup period in the first half of the First Act.

      • Thanks for the quick response! Your site has been so helpful! I graduated from the university of Washington with a degree in creative writing two years ago and have been desperately trying to master the art of structuring a story ever since. The pacing of act one is perhaps my biggest struggle and your guidelines have really helped me realize precisely why my opening chapters feel so off. I always have a turning point (which amazingly comes quite naturally) but I have a habit of diving right into the conflict too soon in order to provide a good hook.

  27. So in my story, the inciting event presents the protagonist with the option to investigate the place where he suspects his father is being held prisoner since he was kidnapped. Instead of going with one of his friends to investigate, he decides it would be safer to let the authorities handle it. Is this a suitable inciting event?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, excellent–and you’ve neatly included the refusal to the Call to Adventure, with your protagonist not wanting to investigate it himself.

  28. Tanya Grout says:

    Hi Katie,

    I just bought another of your books: Structuring Your Novel Workbook and… I am wondering what on earth I thought I was doing before! lol. Yikes!

    This has opened up so much more creativity for me. I am amazed. I am also really enjoying the process. I never thought that would happen.

    I wrote an outline for my last novel, but I had no guidelines so it was gruelling and I only followed it a bit. I basically knew my ending.

    The two novels I wrote before that I wrote “into the dark” on. I learned a lot but I really can’t put them out there. The first one took forever and I spent a long time revising it. It was exhausting.

    But your book really makes me hash it out so that I don’t leave anything unfinished or put little gems in that are going nowhere. It has really helped me deepen my plot and my characters and their relationships.

    After using this workbook I have to say that I truly do think writing novels is a craft and that there is a certain amount that I can learn about that craft. The rest is up to me. But I don’t have to figure it all out by myself.

    I also have been excited as of late to see both you and Steven Pressfield use similar terminology to the late Syd Field, and a similar structure as that used to create great screenplays. I studied his book Screenplay like a maniac and used it until I could relax a little. But I still always had my PP1 my PP2 my midpoint and crisis and inciting event.

    Now I feel like I can write “into the dark” within the context of a structure. This is more exciting because I feel that my next book will have a better chance at being pretty good. So much to learn. Exciting!

    So thank you 🙂

  29. Scott Herford says:

    Hi K.M,

    Not to be pedantic – Indiana Jones is a sort of protagonist but I asset that Marion Ravenswood is the movie’s ultimate ‘hero’ – while Indy doesn’t get what he wants “They don’t know what they’ve got.” – Marion gets Indy and they go for a drink ‘You know, a drink.” – the two things she’s always wanted.

    Best regards,
    Scott

  30. I like to think of the FPP as the “fall from grace”. For example, behind closed doors, the hero’s new bride kills a well-liked minister in a small town (Inciting Incident). The hero walks in immediately after, sees the dead body and his bride says it was self-defense. The hero realizes his bride won’t get a fair trial. So, the hero sends his bride away to develop her cover story while the hero tries to hide the body (key event). In the middle of disposing the body, the hero is discovered carrying the corpse and he goes on the run (first plot point).

  31. Bethany Terry says:

    JUST started writing my first novel (really anything besides self-development) last May and have been researching articles on better writing, when I found your blog and have fallen in love! Especially the Marvel examples!

    All of the lingo is difficult for me to grasp. I’m understanding protagonist and antagonist better, but trying to apply it to my story is confusing as there are multiple minor characters that shape and challenge my main character, as well as a villain to the love interest of the main character; so my love interest is also a main character in a way (or at least he is in my mind/heart).

    Plot, subplot, pinch points and plot points are so hard for me to understand. I aced Ancient Greek in college, but deciphering technical lingo makes me feel like I need examples a 5 year old would understand. 🙂

    PS – Thank you for sharing all your wisdom and knowledge!!!!

  32. Kerry Bowering says:

    What do you think about starting a novel after the inciting event? Or does this not work? Can you think of an example?

    I want to start my novel this way by using a hook so the reader is left wondering why she feels the way she does and slowly feed the information as to why my MC finds herself in the predicament.

    Many thanks.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This can technically work in only two ways:

      1. If the story opens with a flashfoward and then returns to play out the timeline chronologically (Iron Man is a good example: it opens with a flashforward of the Inciting Event).

      2. You start deeply in medias res but still include a major turning point at the 12% mark, halfway through the First Act, that narrows the conflict and sets up the First Plot Point at the 25% mark.

Trackbacks

  1. […] When I began this project, I was determined to try some of that plotting thing people are always talking about. I have already designed a pretty good story arc for both main characters, but there were some things plaguing about the story itself, so I set about to do some research.  I came across this article on K.M Weiland’s site http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/your-books-inciting-event-its-not-what-you-think-it-is/  […]

  2. […] the all-important “inciting incident” for our story structure. But as K.M. Weiland explains, the inciting incident may not be what you think it is. James Scott Bell answers how to write Act II, and Jennifer Wilck shows how making lists can help […]

  3. […] Your book’s inciting incident may not be what you think it is. Nice nod to The Princess Bride, K.M. Weiland 🙂 […]

  4. […] K.M. Weiland, author of the book, “Structuring Your Novel,” helps us understand the confusion in and around an inciting event in a story in “Your Book’s Inciting Event: It’s Not What You Think It Is” on Helping Writers Become Autho…. […]

  5. […] Your Book’s Inciting Event: It’s Not What You Think It Is and How to Study Plot and Character in Your Favorite Stories: 5 Easy Steps by K.M. Weiland […]

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