The Crucial Link Between Your Story’s Inciting Event and Climactic Moment

We talk about story being an arc, but in many ways it is more of a circle. A well-constructed story is a seamless whole in which its two halves reflect each other. We see this clearly in classic story structure, and perhaps nowhere more crucially than in the link between a story’s Inciting Event and Climactic Moment.

I often talk about how the Inciting Event in the First Act and the Climactic Moment in the Third Act must bookend each other—or how the Inciting Event must ask a question that the Climactic Moment answers. A few weeks ago in a comment on the post “7 Considerations for Your Antagonist’s Motivations,” Leto asked:

Can you explain a bit more on how the Inciting Event asks a question that the Climactic Moment should be answering in the result of the battle/choice the protagonist makes in the Climax? I still have some issues picturing how the antagonistic force will be the glue that joins the Inciting Incident and the Climactic Moment together and I’d love to read more about this from you.

Structurally speaking, the Inciting Event is what fully initiates the story’s conflict, while the Climactic Moment is what fully resolves it. As such, they frame and define the entire story. Together, they create one of many resonant pairings within a story’s structure, in which the first half sets up and/or foreshadows what is then paid off in the second half.

When viewed like this, you can see how all the major beats are joined in important pairings. Not only do individual beats in the first half set up the beats directly following (e.g., the Inciting Event sets up the First Plot Point), they also set up their mate in the second half (e.g., the Inciting Event sets up the Climactic Moment and the First Plot Point sets up the Third Plot Point). This is also true on a thematic level, in which beats in the first half may symbolically foreshadow images and ideas that are echoed by their second-half partners.

If this sounds daunting or over-complicated, don’t worry. If you understand the function of each of the major structural beats, you’re probably already instinctively pairing them. But if you find your story’s structure isn’t working, it may be because the two halves of your story aren’t offering enough cohesion and resonance.

In future posts, we may look more deeply into all the pairings, but for today let’s examine the link between your story’s Inciting Event and Climactic Moment—and how these two important beats frame your story’s entire conflict.

Structurally Speaking: What Is the Inciting Event?

First, a quick refresher. What is the Inciting Event? Different authors and instructors use the term “Inciting Event” (or “Inciting Incident”) to refer to different things. But structurally speaking, the Inciting Event is the Call to Adventure—the moment when your protagonist is first asked to engage with the conflict in a definite way.

This Call will be resisted in some way:

  • The protagonist’s initial refusal to engage.
  • The protagonist’s attempts to negotiate a different type of engagement.
  • Someone else’s refusal on the protagonist’s behalf.
  • Someone else’s advice as to why the protagonist’s acceptance of the Call is unwise.

The idea is to reverse the beat, to create conflict, and to raise the stakes. The Inciting Event is the First Act’s turning point, which means it will usually happen around 12% of the way into the book.

There is some fluidity to this, in that occasionally stories will start deeply in medias res with the Call to Adventure. However, for the sake of pacing, the story will still require a definite turning point halfway through the First Act, which more fully engages the protagonist with the conflict and, eventually, pairs with the Climactic Moment.

Usually, it is not recommended to open your first chapter with the Inciting Event/Call to Adventure since this robs you of the ability to use the first half of the First Act to strongly set up your characters, their Normal World, and the situation that is about to engender the story’s main conflict. The purpose of the first few scenes is to dramatize the character’s Normal World problems, including the Lie She Believes. This is the reason she will engage with the conflict throughout the rest of the story.

First Act Timeline

Structurally Speaking: What Is the Climactic Moment?

Just as the Inciting Event marks the turning point halfway through the First Act, the Climax marks the turning point halfway through the Third Act. Whatever conflict was introduced in the Inciting Event will be resolved in the Climax, culminating in the Climactic Moment when the final confrontation between the protagonist and the antagonistic force decides whether or not the protagonist will reach his plot goal and in what state he will end the story.

Although the story will likely feature a few “clean-up” scenes in a subsequent Resolution, the Climactic Moment is the story’s true end.

Third Act Timeline

(And for those of you who are already wondering, here’s the link to the Second Act Timeline graphic.)

Recognizing the Causal Link Between Your Inciting Event and Your Climactic Moment

You can think of the link between your story’s Inciting Event and Climactic Moment in a few different ways:

  • Bookends

The Inciting Event and the Climactic Moment are the first and last moments of significance within the main conflict (even though they are not likely to be the literal first and last moments within the story itself). As such, they bookend the entire conflict. For the story to work, they must be a matched set.

For Example: In Brooklyn, both the Inciting Event and the Climactic Moment involve the protagonist leaving Ireland for America. The Inciting Event kicks off her story of trying to make a new life as an immigrant in New York City, while the Climactic Moment finally resolves her inner conflict between her new life and her old life, as she chooses to leave Ireland behind for good and return once more to her new home in America.

Brooklyn (2015), Lionsgate.

  • Question/Answer

Another way of ensuring that the Inciting Event and Climactic Moment are cohesively paired is to think of the Inciting Event as a question that the Climactic Moment must answer. There doesn’t always have to be a literal question to be answered, but there will always be at least the implicit question of “how will this conflict resolve?” Whatever conflict is resolved in the Climactic Moment—with whatever antagonistic force—is the story’s conflict and must be set up at least by implication in the Inciting Event.

For Example: An explicit question/answer format is most obvious in mysteries, such as Gone Baby Gone, which brings its protagonist into the conflict via a case of a missing little girl and ends in the Climactic Moment with the discovery of what has really happened to her.

Gone Baby Gone (2007), Miramax Films.

  • Conflict Begins/Conflict Resolves

Although you can get a little more conscious and elaborate with your pairing of Inciting Event and Climactic Moment, their basic function in all stories must be to signal the beginning and ending of the conflict. In this way, the Inciting Event always asks the question, “Will the protagonist reach her goal?” and the Climactic Moment always provides the answer.

For Example: The Inciting Event in The Martian occurs when astronaut Mark Watney is left for dead on Mars. This kicks off his story-long goal of surviving long enough to be rescued. The conflict is resolved and this goal is reached in the Climactic Moment when Mark is finally retrieved by his team.

The Martian (2015), 20th Century Fox.

6 Questions to Help Set Up Your Inciting Event and Climactic Moment

1. What Question Is Implicit in Your Inciting Event?

You may identify an explicit question (e.g., whodunit?), or the question may be generally connected to the protagonist’s goal or desire, or it may have to do with whether or not the protagonist will overcome an antagonistic force that has already been introduced in the First Act. If the antagonistic force has not yet been introduced, the protagonist will meet the antagonist in the First Plot Point as a direct result of his emerging goal. Either way, the protagonist’s desire must prompt a goal that brings him into conflict with the antagonistic force, and this conflict must be cohesive throughout the story all the way to its conclusion in the Climactic Moment.

2. What Answer Is Explicit in Your Climactic Moment?

The Climactic Moment is always definitive—and therefore easy to spot. Sometimes, in fact, it is easier to spot than the Inciting Event. If you’re uncertain whether your Inciting Event and Climactic Moment are linked, consider what is actually decided in the Climactic Moment. Is this outcome set up in some way—even if just through foreshadowing (the weakest option, but still acceptable)—in the Inciting Event?

3. How Is the Antagonist Present in the Inciting Event?

The antagonistic force will always be explicitly present in the Climactic Moment (whether it is personified as a human character or not). However, the antagonistic force will not always be physically on the scene in the Inciting Event.

In some stories, the protagonist may not personally meet the antagonist until the end of the story (if at all), or the protagonist may not directly feel the impact of the antagonist’s opposition until the Doorway of No Return at the First Plot Point.

Regardless, it is still important to at least set up the antagonistic force, by implication, in the Inciting Event. The happenings of the Inciting Event are what will bring the protagonist into direct conflict with the antagonistic force.

4. How Does the Protagonist Come Face to Face With the Antagonist in the Climactic Moment?

The antagonistic force must be present in the Climactic Moment. This is most obviously true if the antagonist is a person. However, that person may also be represented by a proxy (e.g., a lawyer may represent an antagonistic corporation in a trial story, or an enemy army may oppose the protagonist without being personified as a specific human antagonist). In other stories, the antagonistic force will not be human but rather circumstantial (e.g., an uninhabitable planet) or even the protagonist’s own inner drama (as we see in Brooklyn with the protagonist’s inner conflict between her old life and the new—which is briefly personified by the toxic village lady who threatens to “expose” her marriage to an Italian boy in NYC).

5. How Does Conflict Link the Two?

What the Inciting Event sets up and the Climactic Moment resolves must be connected by a solid line of dominoes within the plot. Although your story may feature subplots and asides, the main structural throughline must solidly support the pairing of Inciting Event and Climactic Moment. At the least, you’ll want to double-check that all of your main structural beats (as shown at the beginning of the post) are links in the chain between Inciting Event and Climactic Moment. If you want to go a step further, you can continue to use this pairing as the litmus test for the necessity and effectiveness of every single scene in between.

6. How Does Theme Link the Two?

Finally, you can use the mirror-image resonance of your Inciting Event and Climactic Moment as a way to double-check and enhance your theme.

You can do this explicitly by introducing thematic arguments in the Inciting Event which reach some kind of resolution in the Climactic Moment. Most obviously, this can be done through the Lie Your Character Believes at the Inciting Event compared to the Truth found in the Climactic Moment.

You can also use subtler techniques of symbolism and imagery, which you can introduce in the Inciting Event and then hark back to in the Climactic Moment.


Trying to wrangle a lengthy story into making sense all the way through is one of a writer’s chief challenges. Recognizing the points of symmetry found in a story’s beginning and ending can provide one useful tool in making certain that everything is—quite literally—lining up in your story’s structure.

Go to previous chronological post in this series: The Link Between Your Story’s Hook and Resolution

Go to next chronological post in this series: The Link Between Your Story’s First Plot Point and Third Plot Point

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Can you identify a link between your story’s Inciting Event and Climactic Moment? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. In a sequel with the same main characters, could the Inciting Event be the Climactic Moment of the first book? My characters are being chased as a result of the previous book’s climax. They are on the run and tying up loose ends from book one. I feel like these two books’ Climactic Moments are related because in book one the human confronts his prejudice against the nonhumans and frees a group of them, and in book two actually chooses to enter their realm, knowing he can never return. So maybe the question is about levels of commitment? I think the Call to Action from book one’s Climactic Moment is to save the nonhumans he has freed. I don’t know about the reversal other than realizing the breakout has now become a chase where they are hunted.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Technically, no. Each book’s structure within a series must still be complete and cohesive unto itself. Otherwise, the pacing suffers–among other things.

      • Ah! Your answer wasn’t here when I wrote mine. Sorry for the redundancy, Sionnach.

      • Oh, okay. I thought it was like when the Inciting Event happens before the story begins.

      • I found the answer in your article on the Inciting Event not being where you think it is. I had it mislabeled as the Key Event. This makes more sense now. Thank you for your articles!!!!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Oh, just saw your response after I typed mine above. That’s great!

          • I got a chance to work with the whole circle today. It was almost chilling how the beats lined up (once I had them labeled correctly.) I absolutely love this concept! Please do more articles about the circle. I’m sure there’s stuff I’m missing. Thank you so much!

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Whoo, that gives *me* chills! Yay! 😀

      • Is this why Lord of the Rings doesn’t work? Because each of its individual books doesn’t have a climactic moment that answers that book’s inciting incident?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Lord of the Rings was written as a single volume and is structured as such.

        • But, realistically, how can you state that The Lord of the Rings “doesn’t work” when it one of the most read works in English literature? It is also one of highest selling fiction works of all time. (In both lists, the placement depends upon who is compiling the list.) If it “doesn’t work” (as literature) you would not expect either of these things to be true.

          • Sorry, I was being too snarky. Of course LOTR works. But it’s individual “books” don’t fit a some accepted story structure as stand-alone books. I think Ms. Weiland is right; you have to look at all them taken together to see the structure that “works.”

        • @Kevin Brown at 9.16.20 11:54 a.m. — Tolkien does fit the accepted structure; he simply uses an older, classic structure. You learned about it in school whenever Shakespeare came up: the Five Act Structure. It’s also referred to as Freytag’s pyramid.

          Note, I’m not the “Jamie” who posts in the comments at that link; the letter “W” does not exist in my surname (or middle name for that matter). Also, the link goes to the second of a two-part series; the first part is linked in the blogger’s sidebar, or just click the “jrrtolkien” tag beneath her post. The blogger reads *this* website, so she talks about the Tolkien’s use of Freytag’s pyramid in the context of the Four Act Structure structure explored here at KM’s place.

          I prefer the 4A structure myself, which is the one that comes most instinctively to me as a “plantser,” and is the one that KM discusses in detail here at this site. This is actually the Three Act Structure, just with an emphasis on the midpoint that divides Act 2.

          But the 5A / Freytag structure isn’t *wrong,* and it suits the type of story Tolkien was telling. It places the climax at the midpoint of the story, rather than the 75% mark. Each of the separate books — the Fellowship, the Two Towers, Return of the King, can be treated as “three acts,” but within them Tolkien uses the 5-act structure to juggle the different storylines.

          The trick is that Freytag can seem anti-climactic if you handle it wrong. It worked for Tolkien because he had multiple storylines from multiple characters, so the pacing didn’t drag after the midpoint climax. Just as KM said, Tolkien did not intend for the books to be split into three. He wrote them as one.

          The lesson to take from this is that the type of story you tell should dictate the structure you use. Most stories, particularly conflict-oriented stories, do well with the Four Act plot points.

          • Jamie, thanks for the link to Rountree’s analysis of LOTR; that’s really interesting.

            As she notes, some of the 6 books have “resolutions” that are more like cliffhangers or “impetus into the next book.” Sometimes it feels like a tight squeeze to fit them into the “resolution” box.

            Btw, I actually find LOTR’s ending climax (“the scouring of the Shire) anticlimatic, after the Mount Doom scene. Maybe I’m conditioned by Hollywood movies to expect a 3 act structure, and the big climax near the end.

            Rountree says Tolkien followed the 5 act structure used by Shakespeare. Curiously, I think some of Shakespeare’s plays have the big climactic scene in the fifth act (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet).

            Anyway, it’s a provocative analysis.

            Thanks again.

    • Thinking of trilogies and other connected stories, there is still a separate Inciting Event for each story. That is, if you saw “Avengers: Infinity War,” the climax creates fallout that is dealt with in the movie’s sequel, “Avengers: End Game.”

      Even so, “End Game” still has it’s own Inciting Event, in which a character from a different movie in the Infinity Saga shows up and says, “Hey, I have a solution to the problem caused by the climax of the the previous movie.”

      The plot revolves wholly around using that character’s solution to fix the fallout of “Infinity War.” And the climax of “End Game” is a bookend to its *own* IE. Its climax revolves wholly around dealing with the solution — and the stakes — that come from its own IE.

      Interconnected stories are allowed to impact each other, but they still have their own independent structures. Consider that the structure tent poles are also there for *pacing,* so that nothing is rushed, and nothing drags. Every moment happens when it’s most meaningful to the audience.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Great example, Jamie.

      • I haven’t seen those movies, but thank you! I thought I had a handle on this and I’m so lost now. Readers seemed to like the pacing in the first book, so I thought I knew how to do that. I’m going to hide under my blankets for a while.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          It could just be that you’re not using the same terms for the beats in your story. If each of your books begins with a strong Hook in the first chapter *and* features a strong turning point halfway through the First Act, you’re fine.

    • I have a similar question. Should the inciting incident of a trilogy have climatic moment ‘echoes’ in the first two books?

      This leads to the larger questions of fitting individual book story structures within an overarching multi-book structure (and visa versa).

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Thematically, yes. The Inciting Event in the first book will need to sow seeds for both the overarching conflict (which won’t be conclusively answered until the Climactic Moment in the third book) as well as its own individual conflict which will be resolved in some way in that same book’s Climactic Moment.

    • Thanks you Weiland,

      I thoroughly enjoyed your post! Thank you for the insight. And as you pointed out, if your structure is already sound then chances are you’ve already linked the two.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Story theory is kind of like philosophy. Everything it talks about is already *there.* It’s just that we start understanding *why* it’s there!

        • Seems like you are saying that story structure is implicit in what has made listeners / readers sit enthralled (by the campfires) as a story is spun out — as opposed to going “Muh” and simply walking away.

  2. This is really helpful, Thank you
    In the case the story I am working on, there is a main villain that revels the ‘truth’ to the heroes some point towards the third act. After learning the truth and the weight of taking the villain’s life on their conscience, our heroes fight among themselves with one of them changing from good to evil and defeating this character becomes the climax. Tying in with the theme of how to put things back together again after an overthrow and difficulties in establishing a new status quo.
    (I covered a bit of this in my comment your blog about Antagonist the week before last)
    What ways could I keep the reader hooked at the ‘second plot pinch’? if it seems when the climax has come, yet there is still a third of the book to go. Without seeming like two stories, of good vs evil then a fall from grace, crammed together. I would like my readers to sympathy for this character at the start not making it so obvious that he will be the villain at the end as he starts the story as the heroes friend
    As always another wonderful blog and I am really grateful for all your insight. Using this website has been amazingly helpful.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The key in creating convincing change without that change coming across as unbelievably abrupt is to make sure it is incorporated into a cohesive character-arc structure throughout the story. For example, if the character is on a Fall Arc then that needs to be reflected throughout the story. It rarely works to incorporate two complete character arcs, for the same character, within a single book.

  3. Amazingly helpful. And as you pointed out, if your structure is already sound then chances are you’ve already linked the two. I plan on tweaking this a bit on the next editing pass of my screenplay. Thanks!

  4. Where can I find the First Act Timeline graphic and the Third Act Timeline graphic?

    I want to print those out and place them on the right side of my story board!

    Thanks in advance…

  5. Hi! I read this post over a few times, and then had an epiphany for my WiP! The epiphany starts with my answering YES I do have a link between Inciting Incident and Climactic moment (assuming I am correct in identifying my Inciting Incident correctly. My PoV character is Rhea Silvia, mother of Romulus and Remus. While in the texts she does not appear much after the twins are born I have expanded her story to turn her into the Kingmaker of Romulus’ successor as Rome’s King.

    The story opens with an important treaty negotiation between Rome (represented by Rhea) and the Sabines (represented by Tatius). Rhea returns to Rome, convinced Rome has an excellent political/military alliance with Tatius, to whom she is also attracted.
    I cannot formulate a specific Inciting Incident question, but I see the connection this way.
    The alliance breaks down and Rhea blames herself bitterly. The Sabines invade Rome’s territory and battle with Romulus and Rome’s army. Rhea feels her trust betrayed and questions her political ability as she believed Tatius would have been a good ally. In eventual peace discussions Romulus and Tatius agree on joint-rule of Rome. Rhea feels further betrayed, now by her son, since she no longer trusts Tatius or his oaths. Worse, she is not confident enough to warn her son.

    Rome is eventually left in chaos, Tatius dead, Romulus gone, no royal heir, the senators unable to name a successor.

    They turn to Rhea for advice and counsel and guidance.

    Rhea has one final chance to settle the government of Rome-to make Rome’s King.

    I don’t know if I stated this correctly, and I apologize if I am too wordy. But I am sure this works.


  6. Les Edgerton of the book “Hooked,” says to start stories at the inciting incident. I can’t think of a better way to get the protagonist into terrible trouble than at the inciting incident. Does it really take 12% of a story to get the reader to pull for the protagonist or have empathy for him. Please believe me, I’m not questioning but it is a real question. I have rewritten my opening twice and I’ll do it again if you say so. This is my first attempt at q fiction project.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There is a lot of confusion around the term “Inciting Event/Incident.” Many authors use the term to refer to the Hook in the first chapter. Regardless the terminology, there needs to be a strong Hook in the first chapter *and* a strong turning point halfway through the First Act.

  7. I always find your posts to be insightful and this was no different. I did click somewhere in the post and was redirected your article “2 Different Types of the Lie Your Character Believes”. It is an issue I still struggle with as I keep trying to identify the lie he believes.
    What I saw in your article was the statement “Sometimes these Lies really are lies, as when a government hides truths from its citizens to maintain power,..” This was an aha! moment for me as this is exactly the situation in the novel.. I have been trying to identify the lie he believes that I thought needed to come from within himself, when in fact it is an external lie.
    However, now I’m not sure how to deal with this. In this case, is his character arc simply going to be an external arc ? – i.e. there is no internal character arc or change that takes place within the protagonist himself? Still seems like I’m missing something.

    Realize this is off-topic from the original article, but would love to hear your thoughts.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Usually, it’s best to pair an external Lie with an internal one (although not strictly necessary). Perhaps examine how the external Lie is creating personal problems for the specific protagonist.

  8. Denise Greene says

    What perfect timing! Today I embark on my journey of writing the second half of Act II. I’ve been wandering in the wilderness now for weeks, unable to get a word on paper. This gives me a sharp focus now, seeing the arc as a sphere, instead. My inciting incident was my MC deciding to leave his criminal life to seek redemption while helping himself to a large part of his partners’ booty. The climax, then, if going by your concept of the mirroring moments in each half of the book, will be when he’s caught with the goods and can be neither redeemed nor free until he has relinquished the wealth and agreed to the consequences. It may seem obvious—should have been obvious to me—but going back over the first half of the book and mirroring it in the second half, beyond just the “Mirror Moment,” is what will allow me now to sit down and get to work.

    Thank you so much!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is called chiastic structure. It fascinates me, especially when done over a longer series, such as J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter.

  9. I really liked this lesson. The circle image of the main plot points really helped me to see how the pairs are related. That was a neat revelation for me. Thanks!

  10. rnguyengloria says

    Super fun article; thank you! This ‘mirroring’ of structural beats reminds me a bit of chiastic structure in ancient Hebrew literature, where beats lead up to a focal point in the center, and then corresponding beats lead down.

    Of course there’s a difference of emphasis – in a chiasm the emphasis is on the Midpoint, whereas in 3-act structure the emphasis in on the Climactic Moment at the end – so perhaps chiastic structure is a bit more like 5-act structure in that way. (Maybe I’m getting out of my depth now. 😁)

    Anyhow, it seems that all 3 of these structures (3-act, 5-act, and chiastic) have some basic similarities, even though they arose out of three different cultures and times. Maybe it’s because we all instinctively know it works?

  11. Marilyn Carvin says

    Any considerations about lengthy historical novels? In my historical novel it seems the “inciting incidents” happened in my protagonists’ past. Deleted my first chapter and made a prequel novelette out of it. His “incident” is there. Now am wondering if it should be put back in as the first chapter, but considered over 100,000 words are too much for modern readers. The “incident” of the prequel haunts him, has left him feeling guilty, wondering what really happened, etc. It remains a mystery until the end when a new incident with the antagonist gives him his answers and frees him. Was thinking the novelette could lead readers to the novel, as this is my first publication, and killed several darlings, trying to keep it under 100,000.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Anything significant that happens prior to the actual narrative is likely the protagonist’s motivating Ghost/Wound. The story’s actual structure will still require a significant turning point halfway through the First Act in which the protagonist begins to engage with the story’s main conflict.

  12. Another great post! This is timely for me because I’ve just finished Act 1 of my second draft and I’m stopping for revisions and to review my structure and outline. I feel like something is off structurally and this will be helpful. I’m struggling with structure, mainly because I’m not sure I want it to follow the MC’s arc, my MC has a strong positive arc, and I think I want her to complete it before the climatic scene of the novel. In other words, I want her to have found her truth and live in it a while before the climax. My plan on starting the draft was to follow a more conventional arc/structure model, but a I’m writing, I’m questioning that because it feels like the MC should turn quicker. I also think Act III may work better if she’s found her truth and the power she gets from that truth.

    It seems like most of the examples marry the MC character’s arc to the overall story structure. Any good examples where this is not done?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The only time a character’s arc is not directly “married” to the plot is when the arc is subplot. This is sometimes evident in action stories (such as Jurassic Park), but usually won’t offer a particularly strong thematic presentation. That said, many stories will allow the protagonist to embrace her Truth directly before the Climax rather than during it.

  13. Abigail Welborn says

    I love the circle diagram. I think that will be useful in my future plotting!

  14. Thank you very much for this indepth explanation of how the Inciting Event (conflict starter) and Climactic Moment (conflict ending) are linked.
    I like the posibility of future posts on how the other points are linked.
    For example: I don’t see the connection yet between the First Plot Point (point of no return) and the third plot point (protagonist’s low point).
    Maybe the First Plot Point works as a warning?

    I love the six questions that you’ve added at the end to help set up both Inciting Event and Climactic Moment. It’s a good checklist for both when checking the outline as well as when checking the first draft.

    So, in short: the crucial link between the story’s Inciting Event and Climactic Moment is conflict? As in, the Inciting Event starts said conflict and the Climactic Moment ends it?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ll plan to do posts on the other pairings, as well as chiastic structure in general. The other pairings aren’t as catalytic as that of Inciting Event/Climactic Moment. Their relation is more of a foreshadowing and mirroring effect.

  15. Thanks so much for this! Do you have any advice on story world? How to construct a world that complements the MC’s character arc?

  16. Fascinating post, thank you! I’m writing a mystery and this triggered some concerns for me. Simplified plot: My inciting incident (I think) is when my lawyer protagonist realizes her twin brother was having a secret affair with the victim and will become a suspect in the murder investigation. That is really her call to action, not her discovery of the body. In the course of her sleuthing, the protagonist discovers a ring of gang-related activity she feels is related to the murder. Further investigations confirm the victim was aware of the activities and was actually being paid hush money in exchange for her silence. She feared for her life. The climactic scene is between the protagonist and a gang member who is involved in that activity. The protagonist prevails uncovering the crime ring of nastiness and exonerates her brother. The police (and hopefully the reader) believe the gang to be responsible for the murder. In a final twist, the protagonist figures out the significance of a piece of evidence she’d misconstrued and realizes the murderer is actually her twin’s wife. Now I’m worried that I haven’t linked the inciting incident and the climactic moment. HELP!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sounds good to me. The discovery about her brother is what makes the conflict personal and draws her into it.

  17. Rolena Hatfield says

    Really helpful article! I’ve never seen the circle diagram before, but I absolutely love that visual. Will definitely be using that during my rewrite.

  18. All your articles are helpful but this one, especially the circle diagram, was a lightbulb moment for me. I’ve realised that sub consciously I’ve made some of these pairings. Where I haven’t I’m now rereading my plot plan to reflect your diagram and already I’m starting to see where I can make my story more coherent. Many thanks.

  19. I really like this sphere graphic, and I look forward to your post on the chiastic structure. You said that the conflict must link the inciting event and the climax. But can the conflict start at the hook or prior to the inciting event?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      First of all, there should be “little c” conflict in every scene. The scenes prior to the Inciting Event will begin setting up the “big C” Conflict that will occupy the protagonist in his struggle to gain his goal against the antagonist in the Second Act. However, this “big C” Conflict–the plot conflict—will not come into focus until the Inciting Event and will not fully emerge until the First Plot Point. Prior to that, scene conflict will center around the protagonist’s Normal World problems, which in turn will prompt the need for his plot goal and its inherent conflict.

  20. David Snyder says


    A few insights on this and the overlap to your last column on antagonists.

    As I am wrapping up the finishing touches on my WIP, I am reflecting on things I have learned over the past year. This is the short version.

    Unless you are writing cartoon characters, I have found, two “dramatic truths” are helpful to keep in mind:

    1.) Almost all human beings have a near-desperate, overwhelming need to feel loved and accepted by someone or something.

    2.) Almost all human beings encounter moments where they feel a profound need to attack injustice and to fight for a world that feels fair—even if, in some cases, they have to go to war or get revenge on someone or something.

    The protagonist in my WIP (female) and antagonist (male) each feel both of these needs to a great degree.

    You could simply say the antagonist is just “going about it all the wrong way.”
    The differences in their approach to justice is foreshadowed in the inciting incident—and their parallel paths are thrown into a head-on collision in the climax.

    However, the head-scratching intrigue of the novel asks whether the antagonist is really going about it all wrong, after all, or in the world we live in today, are his darker methods justified.

    All roads lead here and this is the question the novel tries to answer. It is the moral dilemma at the core of it all. (You will notice here that I have been reading you carefully, Katie. You thought I wasn’t paying attention? 🙂 )

    Every step mirrors the topics you have discussed in this post and the last—well, all of your posts, really. So thanks a lot for this.

    I would be interested to know your thoughts on any works of fiction you have read or movies you have seen that incorporate the dichotomy I just outlined.

    Thanks again.


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “The differences in their approach to justice is foreshadowed in the inciting incident—and their parallel paths are thrown into a head-on collision in the climax.”

      Mmm, interesting! I’m actually going to have to ponder this in regard to my own WIP. Thanks!

      • Usvaldo de Leon says

        This mirrors something said by Chadwick Boseman about the conflict in Black Panther:

        “The only difference between a hero and the villain is that the villain chooses to use that power in a way that is selfish and hurts other people.”

  21. Throne Warden of E. says

    I loved this article!
    In my trilogy, I have two MCs, and the inciting incident asks a different question for each of them. The one MC’s question gets answered in the climactic moment of the first book, but the other’s doesn’t get answered until the climax of the third book. Is this a problem? Is it bad to have two plot questions (and thus two character arcs that are related) in a book, even if one is for the whole series and the other is for that separate book of the series?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Not necessarily a problem at all. The overarching arc would seem to be the more important one. If not, you might want to investigate that. Also, the other character will probably have some sort of arc in each book if he is present in all three.

  22. Thanks so much. I’ve come back to this post after reading its sequel and this method of looking at the structure as a circle makes so much sense to me. Today I begin my second manuscript so I found this just in time. Your posts are always so enlightening and informative and this is one of the best.
    Many thanks,

  23. I figured my inciting incident had concluded with chapter 2’s close (it just has to be it), but the Nadine Avola calculator places it around 8%… doesn’t even feel close to 12%. After 12 or so pages, I felt there was no need for more set up and just wanted to kick things off. A stare-down with an antagonist (whom isn’t really the primary conflict) is a rather big thing to throw in so early, but I really needed him to offer the protagonist ‘ultimate powers’ if he were to switch sides (and some other important stuff he says). Could placing this at about 8% still work?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes. The timing doesn’t have to be perfect. I like to see it within about 4% one way or the other, so you’re within that range. Really, it always comes down to how well the pacing is working in the sections to either side of the structural beat.

  24. Found lots of useful information on this post, as always, Thank you! I wanted to know how all plot points, including your outlining process will work in a story that’s ‘literary’ or supposedly plotless. How does one go about handling a story premise, and structuring a story focused mainly on internal conflict? I think I’m still a bit confused there.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The foundational structure will still be present in most literary-type novels, just with a lighter touch. The pacing is slower, usually with more emphasis on the reaction half of the scene, and the major turning points may happen within the internal conflict rather than external.

  25. Hi, I am a little confused that the dramatic question is established in the inciting event since I have noticed that in some stories the question is clearer in the key event. For example: in the case of the movie “spirited away”, according to me the main conflict is to know if Chihiro will manage to save his parents, however, the inciting event is when they run into the tunnel that separates the human world from the spirit world. So I wonder why in some stories it seems to happen shortly after the inciting event and not precisely at that moment. Could you give me your opinion?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The Key Event can be pretty fluid, structurally speaking. Although more properly associated with the First Plot Point, it can sometimes take place nearer the Inciting Event.


  1. […] started this series because I was asked to elaborate on the link between the Inciting Event and the Climactic Moment. Since then, we’ve also talked about the link between the Hook and the Resolution and […]

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