Maximize Your Story’s Inciting Event

5 Ways to Maximize Your Story’s Inciting Event

Maximize Your Story’s Inciting EventThe Inciting Event is the moment your character’s world is forever changed. It knocks over the first domino in the line of dominoes that forms your plot. It sets off an irrevocable chain reaction that will eventually lead your character to the maelstrom of your Climax.

So how do you go about creating an Inciting Event that will fuel your plot and drive your characters forward? Let’s start by answering four important questions.

What Is an Inciting Event?

The Inciting Event is the first major turning point in your story, halfway through the First Act. It is the “Call to Adventure,” in which your protagonist has his first brush with the main conflict—and either refuses to take part (either momentarily in a short experience of doubt, or adamantly all the way to the First Plot Point, when he will no longer have a choice) or has the choice taken away from him via someone else’s refusal.

Either way, his encounter with the Inciting Event will set him on a path toward his irrevocable involvement with the main conflict at the First Plot Point at the end of the First Act.

First Act Timeline

What Isn’t an Inciting Event?

Your story will almost certainly include several important moments in your story before you get to the Inciting Event.

For example, in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, the Inciting Event—Emperor Aurelius’ invitation for protagonist Maximus to become the Lord Protector of Rome—doesn’t occur until after several important scenes, including a huge battle and the introduction of all the important characters. Even though the preceding scenes are important, they do not turn the plot and impact the character’s world by introducing him to the main conflict.

Gladiator Maximus and Aurelius Russell Crowe Richard Harris

The Inciting Event in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator is the quiet scene, halfway through the First Act, in which Aurelius invites Maximus to rule Rome.

>>Click to read the full Story Structure Database analysis of Gladiator.

The Inciting Event is not your opening scene. The opening scene is your Hook, which draws readers into the story and sets up the first domino that will lead to the Inciting Event, halfway through the First Act.

Where Should the Inciting Event Occur?

The Inciting Event should take place halfway through the First Act, around the 12% mark. Setting it at this point in the story allows you to appropriately pace the introduction of your characters, their personal problems, and their Normal World, so readers will sympathize with the characters and understand the stakes when the Inciting Event turns the story irrevocably into the straightaway of the main conflict.

For example, the Inciting Event in Gladiator takes place after Maximus’s Normal World has been established via the opening battle and his interactions with the emperor and other important characters.

Russell Crowe Richard Harris Joaquin Phoenix Gladiator

The Inciting Event shouldn’t take place until you’ve had time to set up the story, including most of the important characters and settings.

What Constitutes a Powerful Inciting Event?

Inciting Events are as widely varied as their stories. A good Inciting Event might be any one of the following:

  • A request for help from a friend, as in Ben-Hur.

Ben Hur Stephen Boyd Charlton Heston Horse

Arsenic and Old Lace Cary Grant Window Seat

Driving Miss Daisy Morgan Freeman

What all these Inciting Events have in common is that:

1. The Inciting Event Includes Movement

The Inciting Event is, first and foremost, a turning point within the story. A turning point requires movement, both within the plot and, usually, within the scene itself. Characters are always either doing something or being asked to do something.

2. The Inciting Event Directly Influences the Story to Follow

Robbing a bank may change the character’s life, but it’s not an Inciting Event unless the story that follows couldn’t have happened without that particular robbery.

3. The Inciting Event Creates Conflict

Because change is difficult for and even resisted by most humans, it almost always creates an atmosphere of conflict. The more change an Inciting Event creates or threatens to create, the deeper the conflict and the more intriguing the story will be.

4. The Inciting Event Grabs Readers’ Attention

Your entire premise turns around the Inciting Event, so go for something special. This is one of your earliest opportunities to create something truly special within the world of your story. Don’t settle for the mundane.

5. The Inciting Event Builds Up to the First Plot Point

Even if the Inciting Event doesn’t yet completely change your protagonist’s Normal World, it hints at the changes to come. Even as the character resists or outright refuses the Inciting Event’s Call to Adventure, from that point on, the story will be steadily and irrevocably building up to the “doorway of no return” at the First Plot Point (which takes place at the end of the First Act, at approximately the 25% mark).

***

The Inciting Event is a crucial part of your story’s early structure. Plan it carefully, set it up in the first eighth of your story, execute it with gusto, and then use it to build up to an unforgettable First Plot Point. Do all that, and you’ll have written the kind of beginning that irresistibly hooks readers!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What happens in your story’s Inciting Event? Tell me in the comments!

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s monthly e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

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.

Comments

  1. Tony Findora says:

    Great post! It really helped me understand some things about the beginning of my WIP that really needed changed. Thanks! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You’re welcome! A correct understanding of the Inciting Event was really revolutionary for me too.

  2. Mauricio Luna says:

    Does the Protagonist have to refuse the inciting event (call to adventure) every time?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      What’s important is that you get a beat of resistance in order to complete the scene arc. That beat can be momentary, or it can span all the way to the end of the First Act. However, the protagonist himself does not always have to be the one refusing the Call. He can have it, in essence, refused for him by other characters who prevent him from accepting and/or provide good reasons for why he should reject it himself.

  3. Mauricio says:

    Can the protagonist meet the antagonistic force in the hook? Does the inciting event always have to be where the protagonist first meets the antagonistic force or the conflict? Is the antagonistic force and conflict different?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Certainly, but the story’s main conflict won’t be narrowed down into a specific introduction until the Inciting Event and won’t be completely kicked off until the First Plot Point.

  4. DirectorNoah says:

    Hi Katie,
    I’d like to ask you a few questions about my story structure.

    I’m a little unsure about the Inciting Event here. It takes place at the 12% mark, to allow time to introduce the protagonist, the Normal World and their key traits and problems, before it ushers in the main conflict.
    But can the Inciting Event happen almost at the beginning of the story, and can I still continue to set up the characters *after* this event happens, right until the First Plot Point?
    (The lead up to the First Plot Point is focused mainly on character building, suspense and tension in my story)

    Also, does the character’s Lie *have* to be shaken at the First Plot Point, or can it be challenged shortly afterwards in the next scene?
    Many thanks! ?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The timing of the Inciting Event is important because it breaks up the First Act by providing that turning point halfway through. If there is no turning point halfway through the First Act, the pacing will be off and the First Act will likely seem overlong.

      However, don’t forget that the Hook in the first chapter *is* the first domino in the story. As long as you’ve still got that turning point at the 12% mark, you’re fine.

      The First Plot Point isn’t so much about directly challenging the protagonist’s Lie as it is moving him into an “Adventure World” where the Lie will no longer prove effective in helping him reach his plot goal (something he only slowly discovers over the course of the Second Act).

      • DirectorNoah says:

        Ah, it makes more sense now, thank you!
        I think I’m getting the hang of story structure, but I’m finding the beginning is the most difficult to plan, as you’ve gotta set up the world and its characters without it dragging on, as well as keeping the readers hooked and interested with conflict at the same time.
        Thank you so much again for your invaluable assistance! ?

Trackbacks

  1. […] 5 Ways to Maximize Your Story’s Inciting Event The Inciting Incident: 7 Tips For Starting Your Story With a Bang Demystifying Plot Points and the Inciting Incident (2018) […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.