The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 5: Inciting Event and Key Event

The first quarter of your story hinges upon two important and irreversible moments: the inciting event and the key event. I’ve saved our discussion of inciting and key events until this late into the series because these events can take place at any number of the structure points we’ve already discussed. Now that we’ve got a sense of the hook, the first act, and the first major plot point, we can see more clearly how and where the inciting and key events affect these moments.

Sometimes the key and inciting events are the same event (the Great Sebastian’s arrival in The Greatest Show on Earth); sometimes they happen one right after the other (the children arriving in Narnia through the painting and their subsequent joining up with Caspian in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader); sometimes the entirety of the first act separates them (the arrival of the prisoners in the camp and the digging of the first tunnel in The Great Escape), and sometimes one or the other occurs before the story proper even begins (the war in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood). Most authors are familiar with the idea of the inciting event as being the moment when the story “officially” begins and the character’s life is forever changed. However, we find a lot of misconceptions floating around about the inciting event, and many of them result from the simple fact that the “key event” is often forgotten altogether.

What are the key and inciting events?

In the words of Syd Field in his legendary book Screenplay, “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.” If we were to envision our story as a row of dominos, the inciting event would be the first domino. When we tip over this particular domino, we set the whole line in motion. Generally, the inciting event isn’t difficult to find. It’s the moment that changes everything for the main character and puts him on the path he will tread for the rest of the story. No need to get too specific about this. Obviously, every event in life is connected to an event that preceded it. If the character hadn’t been born (and if his parents hadn’t met, and if their parents hadn’t met), he would most certainly not be going on his current adventure. But unless you’re writing the next David Copperfield, his birth or his grandparents’ marriage isn’t likely to be your inciting event. Look nearer to home for the event that directly influences the plot.

Although the inciting event and the key event can sometimes be the same thing, they’re usually distinct. The key event is the moment when the character becomes engaged by the inciting event. For example, in most detective stories, the inciting event (the crime) takes place apart from the main character, who doesn’t become involved with it until the key event,
when he takes on the case. The key event is the glue that sticks the character to the impetus of the inciting event.

Spotting Inciting and Key Events Infographic

(Featured in the Structuring Your Novel Workbook.)

Where do the key and inciting events belong?

Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story

Structuring Your Novel (affiliate link)

Generally, we find two schools of thought on the proper location for the inciting event. Either it’s supposed to be found in the hook in the first chapter, no exceptions, or it’s supposed to be the first plot point at the 25% mark, no exceptions. I’ve subscribed to both these philosophies at one point or another in my career, and now believe them both to be far too dogmatic. The hook and the first plot point belong at their given spots, no matter where the inciting event ends up. Often the inciting event is the hook; often it’s the first plot point; and often it’s somewhere in between. 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 the reader right away, and sometimes that means holding off to give them the biggest bang for their buck at the quarter mark.

The key event almost always takes place after the inciting event, since its job is to build upon the inciting event and make it impossible for the main character to turn away from it. The earlier in the story you place your inciting event, the more time you’ll have to work in your key event. But if the inciting event doesn’t occur until the latest point (the first major plot point at the quarter mark), then the key event needs to occur promptly afterwards.

Examples from film and literature

The best way to get a sense for the differences between the inciting event and key event, as well as the proper placement of both in relation to each other, is to study them in action in the works of the pros. Let’s examine our chosen books and films.

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813): The arrival of the Bingleys and Darcy in Meryton is the inciting event that starts the chain of events moving irreversibly. But the main character, Lizzy, doesn’t become involved with the inciting event until she meets and is rejected by Darcy at the Meryton assembly dance. This is the key event.

It’s a Wonderful Life directed by Frank Capra (1947): This classic movie uses the entirety of its first act to leisurely introduce and build its characters. Its inciting event doesn’t occur until the first major plot point when George’s father dies of a stroke. This is the moment that forever changes George’s life and sets the subsequent plot points in motion. But until George made the decision to take his father’s place as Executive Secretary of the Bailey Brothers’ Building and Loan, he could have walked away at any point. His decision to stay in Bedford Falls constitutes the key event because it officially engages him in the plot.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1977): The inciting event that starts the plot rolling in this science fiction classic is the invasion of the Formic aliens eighty years earlier. Without this invasion, Ender (as a third child) would never even have been allowed to have been born. This event takes place long before the beginning of the book and is discussed only in retrospect. The key event that draws Ender irrevocably into the battle is his brutally efficient response to the bully Stilson, which prompts Col. Graff and the International Fleet Selective Service to requisition Ender as a Battle School student.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World directed by Peter Weir (2004): Again, here we find the inciting event taking place before the film opens. After the opening credits, the viewers are informed that the British Admiralty has instructed Captain Jack Aubrey to intercept the “French privateer Acheron en route to Pacific intent on carrying the war into those waters… Sink, burn, or take her as a prize.” But not until the key event when the Acheron attacks the HMS Surprise during the opening sequence do the characters become inextricably entangled in the events of the plot.

Takeaway value

In studying the placement, use, and relation of the inciting and key events in our examples, what can we learn about integrating these important story moments into our own books?

1. The inciting and key events need to take place within the first quarter of the book, probably either in the beginning chapter or at the first major plot point, but we’re free to choose the moment best suited to our stories.

2. The inciting event sets the line of plot dominoes in motion.

3. The key event pulls the main character into that plot.

4. The key event almost always follows the inciting event.

5. Sometimes the inciting event can take place prior to the beginning chapter, but, for maximum effect, the key event should take place within the story proper, so the reader can experience it.

The integral relationship between the inciting event and the key event will power your entire story. Don’t settle for anything less than the most powerful and memorable combination you can come up with. Place them strategically within the first quarter of the story and use them to engage your reader just as irretrievably as you do your main character.

Stay tuned: Next week, we’ll talk about the First Half of the Second Act.

Tell me your opinion: Can you pick out the inciting and key events in your work-in-progress?

Related Posts: The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 1: Why Should Authors Care?
The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 2: The Hook
The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 3: The First Act
The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 4: The First Plot Point

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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. Interesting. I’ve never been able to dissect the stories I write to determine what’s what or where things occur. I don’t plan them…I just write them as they come to me.

  2. The great thing about instinctive storytelling is that it’s often spot on. We instinctively realize the elements required in a great story. Learning to recognize them consciously is just taking our gut instinct a step further.

  3. This is awesome. I love your examples. I’m sort of in the middle of creating this in my story. My inciting incident happened in chapter one and the key event will be coming by about page 35-40. I’m almost there. That’s less than 1/4 into the story but works for my manuscript. This is a great series on plotting. thanks so much.

  4. Less than a quarter of the way works just fine for the key event, so long as you give readers a major plot point at the quarter mark. Glad you’re enjoying the series!

  5. Great post, and I love the examples. In the first draft of my WIP, both the inciting event and the key event happen in chapter 1.

  6. You’re in good company with the likes of C.S. Lewis and Peter Weir!

  7. This was a very interesting post and it´s actually very helpful to build the full structure of the story!


    Have a great day!



  8. Thanks for reading! Understanding story structure gives us the tools to not only craft stronger stories, but also to diagnose story problems along the way.

  9. Yes, a story is very likely doomed when we forget how important structure really is.


  10. My inciting even and first plot point are (probably) the same thing. The key even could be considered when my protagonist’s mentor makes her focus on dealing with the aftermath of the inciting event, or one of two violent events before the inciting event. But my protagonist only reluctantly joins the action, so it’s possible to say the key even doesn’t happen until the final quarter. At some point, I’ll have to have somebody who thinks in term of structure to look at my synapsis and tell me 🙂

  11. @Meryl: Many authors write (and write well) without a thorough knowledge of structure. That’s why I’m always recommending authors to trust their guts! But the more we understand consciously, the more deliberately and efficiently we can put it into practice.

    @London: Chances are good that your key event is so closely related to your inciting event that it’s difficult to tell the difference. If it doesn’t happen until the final quarter, then your character wouldn’t be involved in the plot until then. If she is involved earlier (and she undoubtedly is), then you know your key event took place earlier.

  12. Katie, this is so apropos for me right now – feels planned! The story I’m working on is so complex that it was really begging for a guide more refined than my instincts. Thank you so much for posting these! I’m enjoying and gleaning from all them immensely.

  13. If we’re writing stories that are too complicated for us (so to speak), it means we’re pushing ourselves. And if we’re pushing ourselves, we have to be growing! Kudos to you for stretching yourself to your limits. I’m so glad you’re finding the posts useful!

  14. Katie, thank you for this post. As an aspiring (sometimes feels like expiring – that sound is my head banging on the keyboard) writer, I’ve struggled with determining where my inciting event occurs in my WIP. While reading your post, I realized the event occurred before my first chapter. Throughout the first quarter of the WIP, my characters refer to the “fire on Sunday” and “the fiasco of a festival.” Hints are sprinkled here and there, but they don’t divulge all that took place that day until later in the book. But that precipitating event set the stage for my protagonist. Thanks to you, what I thought was my inciting event (around the quarter mark) is actually my key event (That sound is me, breathing a sigh of relief!) where my protagonist accepts the challenge of saving her town.

  15. By Jove! I think I’ve got it! In my MS, the inciting event is when she meets ‘him’ for the first time, and it completely throws her, because at first blush he’s not the guy you’d want anything to do with. And the key event – and it’s in the first quarter of the book, too – is when she opens her door and allows him into her home – her safe, sacred and private place. Thank you for these great tips. Lisa Pedersen, @UrbanMilkmaid

  16. Oh, yes! Just as many people can cook without a recipe. We´re not all that lucky 😛

    And in the other hand, it´s true we have to follow our guts. But if we want to write, we have to read. And I think there is where those guts come from. We can somehow get a grip on the subject 🙂



  17. I look forward to your posts each week on structure. I’ve read several books and everyone seems to interchange inciting incident with the first plot point or the point of no return. Separating the two helps. I’ve never heard of the key event.
    What your saying is the key event is the point of no return for the protagonist? Right?

  18. @Richard: We have all these names (and sometimes different names for the same things) for the parts of a story. Sometimes it can get ridiculously confusing. But, really, a story can’t exist without an inciting or key event. If you have a story, then you can rest assured you have both of these important events.

    @Lisa: Sounds like a spot-on analysis to me. Although every story has its own requirements, I’m personally very fond of lining up either or both of the events at the first major plot point. When we can do that successfully, we can really give readers a one-two punch at that all-important quarter mark.

    @Meryl: Absolutely agree. Reading widely and voraciously teaches us good story structure through sheer osmosis.

    @Alice: The key event isn’t necessarily the “point of no return” in the same way that the first major plot point is. The key event doesn’t have to be earth shattering, and, depending on the story, the character could conceivably still walk away *after* becoming engaged. The point of no return is when he makes a decision, following the first major plot point (more on that next week), from which there’s no turning back even if he wanted to.

  19. The way you describe the key event sounds exactly like I’ve come to understand the first plot point—it’s the event that engages the protagonist irreversibly with the plot. But if the key event happens before the first plot point, then what is the difference between the two? What’s left for the first plot point to achieve?

  20. Thanks, K.M.!! I hadn’t realized the key event and the inciting incident were separate things. I loved how you explained them.

  21. I’m not sure if I should be upset, or thank you ^_^ Obviously the latter, but my fiancee and I had a fairly arduous two hours after reading this post with attacking my plot, and I had to come to grips with my novel’s ugly birth and painful, deformed growth. See, I first wrote it with no conflict in mind, just plot; years later, now I’m trying to wrestle a conflict from the existing plot. But it’s all good: my “guts” didn’t lead me too far astray, and a unified conflict-driven plot is near with only a couple hours of revision needed and mostly near the end of the book. But yes, an identifiable inciting event and key event have risen from the muck: the former resides in the first few pages as the main character is dissatisfied with his position in life; the latter at the end/beginning of chapters 2/3 when he is thrust out of the castle, into the world, and has the ability to do something about his dissatisfaction.

    Great post, and thanks!

  22. Great explanation of the difference between the inciting incident and the key event, two things I’ve kind of lumped together in my mind. In my first novel and the sequel I am writing, the inciting event happens before the book starts, and the key event happens at the beginning of chapter one. In another WIP, the inciting incident is the hook, and the key event doesn’t happen until the end of chapter two.

    Thank you, too, for the reminder that this “rule,” like so many in writing, is really a guideline. But understanding the guideline and why our instincts are often right helps too. That’s why I greatly appreciate Articles like this.

  23. @Ben: Often, the key event *is* the first major plot point, but not necessarily. The key event is the moment when the character engages with the plot, and as we can see in the examples I’ve cited, this moment can take place anywhere in the first quarter of the book. The first major plot point, on the other hand, always occurs around the 25% mark and is marked not only by a dramatic moment in the plot but by a subsequent irreversible reaction by the protagonist. For example, in most cop and legal dramas, the key event occurs early, when the detective or lawyer takes the case. The first major plot is usually a different event entirely, one that escalates the stakes, and prevents the protagonist from being able to walk away. It’s usually the moment when the case becomes personal.

    @Traci: I didn’t realize it either for a long time, but once you can see the difference, you also see all the intricacies involved in the inciting event.

    @Daniel: As someone who has spent the last few years wrestling with a novel that suffered from lack of planning in the early stages, I feel your pain!

    @Suzanne: Thanks for stopping by, Suzanne! The moment I realized the inciting and key events were separate was a bit of an epiphany for me. Thank you, Syd Field!

  24. Yes! I just learned about this at a conference with Martha Alberson this weekend. She had us go through our beginning scenes to find the Key Event.

    I was just so grateful I had one! Thanks for these tips and examples.

  25. The best part about discovering story structure is being able to pick out the individual pieces from our works-in-progress. It’s always exciting!

  26. At first this post made me anxious. But then I realized that I had done just what you said in my WIP. I don’t know if you remember working on my regency months ago, but I completely rewrote it, because the inciting event was NOT the breaking of the engagement between my heroine and the character who becomes the bad guy. (This is now in the backstory) The inciting event was in the then second chapter: the bet made between the duke and his best friend re: seducing the heroine. The key event takes place several chapters later when the duke (the hero) realizes that the heroine’s first fiance was his adjutant and best friend during the Peninsular wars (before he was killed), and he therefore takes on the job as her protector from her violent second fiance. Am so glad I followed my instincts on this. I didn’t know why the other beginning was wrong for the story, I just knew it was. Thanks so much for this series.

  27. Actually, I have a question. The former post was about my WIP that is being beta read now. This is about my current WIP. Can you have two inciting events if you are telling the story from two points of view? In this RR, I have the hero being rejected by his childhood sweetheart when he needs to marry to claim his inheritance. So you know he needs to find a wife. The second chapter features the heroine railing against her dead father for tying her inheritance to her marriage. So you know she needs to find a husband. The key event is, of course, when they meet. Of course, endless complications arise. However, does it make sense that their marriage is not at the end of the book? The way I have it plotted now is that the marriage occurs in the first 1/3 of the book, but both think it is a marriage of convenience, while being secretly in love with one another. Thanks, Katie.

  28. @G.G.: Yes, it’s absolutely possible to have one or more inciting event, when the characters’ arcs are widely separated in the beginning. In such cases, the key event will usually unite the two, as you’ve done in your story. And, yes, I think it can work perfectly in a romance to have the leads marry early and then fall in love afterwards. In fact, I think those are often some of the most romantic stories.

  29. Great points to remember! Graduating with an MFA in Script & Screenwriting and moving to creative writing (novels), it’s easy to forget these things or classify them as only screenwriting tools. But story structure is story structure no matter the medium. (Of course, there are always exceptions).

  30. Novelists can learn a lot from screenwriting. Aside from the fact that we live in a society that thinks in terms of film (which means we first and foremost need to understand the differences between the two media), we can also find the concepts of structure much easier to grasp in film, since the two-hour format makes it possible to digest in one sitting.

  31. I love these posts. I always mentally review my WIP to make sure everything works with what you’re advising. It almost feels like the inciting incident is plotty and the key event is more character driven. The former makes us want to turn the page but the latter makes us invested in the character’s role in the plot. Would that seem on target?

  32. Excellent way to put it – and that’s why the inciting and key events must work hand in hand. Keeping plot and character connected is the name of the game.

  33. Well, I’m a newcomer in the field of writing a novel and thanks to all those who are sharing their knowledge, skill and creative wisdom for people like me as it is very rare in our society to find such practical and applicable guidelines.

    I find even the comments so much worthy of learning.

    Thanks and best wishes!

    Saalik Siddikki

  34. Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you’ve found the information useful in your writing journey.

  35. …feverishly taking notes…

  36. Very great stuff. K. M. Thanks.

    I’m currently watching Master and Commander to be able to catch up with the elements as it’s being discussed.

    If you’re a fan of kung-fu movies I would like to recommend IPMan starring Donnie Yen. I believe it’s a wonderfully made film with the elements of story structure properly placed.

    You’ll appreciate dissecting it. 🙂

    Thanks a lot.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks for the recommendation! I keep seeing that title round and about, but haven’t watched the movie yet.

  37. Thank you! This is really well explained. I have almost finished writing my story but studying this is giving me a lot more confidance and helping me to see problems and solutions. At this point in the process I don’t know what I would do without it! Thanks!

  38. Hannah Killian says

    Question: How many pages in is the Inciting Event supposed to be?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      No rule. It can be very short scene or encompass chapters. All that is important is that it is a significant and obvious turning point in the plot.

  39. Charlene Gibb says

    This is all very helpful, K.M. Thanks you so much for everything you do to help us aspiring writers!

    Plot – inciting incidents, events, plot points. I just can’t seem to wrap my head around it. I was wondering if you have read “The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. My WIP is the same type of contemporary fiction. If you have, is it possible for you to break that book down into these plot requirements? The only example above that I have seen is “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Or, perhaps “The Girls”?

    If not, that’s perfectly fine. I’m sure my brain will eventually get in tune with all these graphs I’m colouring.

    Have a great weekend!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m afraid I haven’t read either of them. But be sure to check the Story Structure Database. You can find a drop-down menu with various genres in the right-hand sidebar. You might find something you’re familiar with.

  40. Charlene Gibb says

    Wow! That was fast. Thanks for the link, K.M.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You bet! 🙂

      • Hi KM Weiland. According to your inciting incident and key incident theory, will you agree with me that in Stephen King’s Misery, the INCITING INCIDENT is -The snowstorm-blizzard while the KEY INCIDENT – is the accident.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I haven’t ready the book (or seen the movie), but from what I know about the plot, that sounds reasonable.

  41. Do you think the key event can be placed in the middle of two inciting events? For example, the character is left completely alone and abandoned (inciting event), then he decides to go away from his birthplace (key event), and he reaches unconsciously a different place where all his life will change (inciting event).

  42. Hello. I know this is an old post and you may not even see this, but I lose nothing with trying. First off, I wanted to say I love this series. It has helped me a lot to improve as a writer and it is just my favorite. I love you! But I actually came here asking for advice. You see, I’m writing a book about a boy who comes from a family that can see ghosts. One day, his sister is found dead, and he later learns from another spirit that 1. her ghost is nowhere to be found and 2. she was killed. From them, he decides to find the killer on his own. I can tell the moment when his sister is found dead is the inciting event, and when he decides to look for the killer is the key event, which would also be the first plot point. However, I don’t know how far apart the events should be. I know he would be in the “anger” stage of grief, so that could take some time. But I can do a timeskip if it takes way too long (though that may be disrespectful to people dealing with grief, and I don’t know what to do). He also has a very close friend who is the other perspective of the philosophy of the story, so he could have an impact in that event, although I don’t know how that would work, yet, or even if it is nessesary or good idea. If you’re still there, could you please help me? Since now, thank you a lot!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Glad you’re enjoying the series! I’ve done much more in-depth posts on the Inciting and Key Events since writing this post. Suffice it that the Hook or first domino should happen in the first chapter; the Inciting Event or Call to Adventure should happen halfway through the First Act at the 12%; the First Plot Point should happen at the end of the First Act at the 25% mark; and the Key Event can happen anywhere in between the Inciting Event and the First Plot Point, depending on the demands of the story.

  43. I am writing a story with an intersecting character structure, so there are multiple overlapping stories from the point of view of several people. I instinctively seem to have built inciting events and key events for the different characters in the story. I think I have stumbled upon something pretty innovative. I think if I knew what I was doing, I might not have come with this. I was just trying to do justice to all the characters. I think it’s kind of structured like the TV series Lost, except the characters are joined around an event more than a place, and the event and its impact is what the book is about. We’ll have to see if people like reading it as much as I have writing it, though.

  44. In my current book the inciting event connects my protagonist with the next most important character. Should I use the key event to establish anemotional bond between them or should it join the two of them to the the characters with whom they are going to engage in most of the major conflicts. I know how I would do it in either scenario but I’m just not fully sure about the first option because, while it connects the two primary characters and foreshadows some of the imminent plot twists, I feel that it might draw them ever so slightly off course and, as a first/time author, I’m hesitant to do so.
    Any thoughts?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Depends on the nature of the story. Ideally, all the major structural moments should relate directly to the main conflict with the primary antagonistic force. In a relationship story, this will usually have to do with the other relationship character. But in a story with a larger external conflict, the relationships may be more secondary.

  45. I outlined my plot from the inciting event onwards. But I’m rearranging the beginning of my novel and I’m doubtful.
    I know we are free to do whenever we want, but… what’s your opinion about it the following situation:
    “The inciting event sets the line of plot dominoes in motion.”
    But the things that happen before (the characters introduction, normal world, etc.) need to affect directly the inciting event? Or may it be a completely ‘random’ event? In the last case, I wonder if the readers will think that this event just needed to happen to move the plot forward.
    Thanks in advance!

  46. (Re-reading these articles too.) Okay I think i had things backwaters in my head from lack of understanding. So the inciting event is when she grabs the book, and the key event is when the city explodes and she’s chased buy the lead guard and his men.

    Once I’m done fixing the dialogue formatting I’m going to go though all my chapters (again) and make sure the chapters have a reason to be there.

    Is there an article with a check list to use and see if a character should be there? I’m thinking of cutting out another one. I love Han the cat-man (lol) but why is he there? He doesn’t really seem to do much besides heal on occasion and be snippy. So I’m thinking if he goes it’ll make things harder on Merryn. >:)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Check the Climax. If the character or his influence doesn’t figure there, he probably isn’t crucial to the story.

  47. Hi,

    I have relied heavily on your advice re structure and elements of the global story, including the chart you have (somewhere out there!) that lays out about where in a story the various features should be. I understand that each scene, etc. needs to have the various elements as well.

    I am now studying the storygrid process, but am having trouble translating some of the terminology in the Storygrid book to match what I learned from you – e.g., use of the terms inciting incident and key event vs complication or turning point. Would you consider doing a post on how these two processes mesh with each other?

    Also keep struggling with whether to start with the antagonist (thriller genre) which I see in alot of books I read or with the protagonist which is what is suggested the most. Any advice?

    Thanks much,

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I read Story Grid last year and thought it was great, but I don’t recall the specifics of his terminology.

      As for starting with an antagonist, this is, as you’ve noted, often a genre choice. However, my advice is to start with the protagonist whenever possible. It almost always provides the best hook.

  48. Hi K.M.,
    I purchased your Outlining app a couple of months ago and tried it. It’s massive and I didn’t have most of the answers to the questions there. It was a little intimidating and frustrating. I put it away to finish working on a short story.
    I’ve had this other story swirling around in my head and dreams for several months. After finishing the short story, I wrote down the plot and story line to that story stuck in my head. I worked on it for weeks but it just wasn’t working. I’d get to a part and feel like I was in the wrong place. I opened up your Outlining program again, and BAM! I started filling out the blocks, answered many of the questions (there are so many!!), and setting up scenes.
    The result is that the story became a completely different story based around the same conflict/premise/idea. The antagonist and protagonist switched places, the conflict became big, real, and something the protagonist will really have to fight to solve. I found so many things lacking in my haphazardly jotted down plot/premise that I know I would never have finished writing the story. 3-4 scenes in and I was already bored.
    Not any more! I’m so excited that the story has a clear path through all the important stages of your 3-act theory. And even though I prefer not to know how the story will end when I write, I will keep in mind, the ending might alway change by the time I get there.
    Thanks for putting this little app together. it’s already proven it”s value in just one story.

  49. Jimmy Greenwood says

    If in Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie the inciting incident is the moment Peter gets bitten by the spider and the first plot point is the murder of uncle Ben from the robber he avoided to stop, I was wondering which is the key event ?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Based on memory, I’d say it’s the moment when Peter lets the robber get away.

  50. Hi K. M.,
    First of all, I love your website. I use it in conjunction with Brandon Sanderson’s writing class to structure my stories, and the combination is dynamite.
    Second, I’m dealing with an inciting incident that happened before the beginning of my book – the protag’s father getting jailed. Only the protagonist doesn’t tell anyone about this. So I’m kind of trying to use the lack of an inciting incident as a hook for my story – WHY is this guy so obsessed with revenge? As a story structure device, do you think this makes sense?
    Also: my key event is when the protagonist finally overcomes his fear enough to take some decisive action on his father’s behalf. But, him trying to overcome the fear completely remains a strong driving tension through the rest of the book. Do you have any advice for pulling this off – making the key event the first step in a major character arc?
    Thanks! I appreciate your feedback!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      So glad you’re enjoying the site!

      The Inciting Event (as I use the term) is a fixed structural moment, which needs to happen around halfway through the First Act. It is what sets up the First Plot Point and the Second Act to follow. Even if you begin your story deeply in medias res (just posted about that earlier this month), the structural timeline needs to remain intact within the story itself. There needs to be a turning point, a Call to Adventure, halfway through the First Act; whatever that is in your story, that’s your Inciting Event.

      The motivating event in the backstory is not the structural Inciting Event; it is more properly “the Ghost,” which I talk about in my series on character arcs. In that series, I also talk about how the Key Event/First Plot Point functions within the character arc.

  51. Jimmy Greenwood says

    I have read the article about the two halves of the first plot point where the first half is the key event, something the protagonist causes with his actions. In the examples above the murder of Luke´s uncle and aunt is labeled as the key event although it´s something that happens to him and not caused by him. Could you elaborate on this a bit ?


  1. […] my soon to be released book, Dot and Scribble Fall into Adventure, the inciting incident involves a character named Hudson painting or drawing an adventure scene. Here’s an […]

  2. […] IV. Introduce The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 5: Inciting Event and Key Event  […]

  3. […] Your first act should probably hook us in, backfill to keep us engaged, have your first big plot point happen, and she argues, pivot on the inciting event and key event. If your character is a swinger, then your key event can actually be a key event. Hey. I had to click to find out what the heck that means (2). […]

  4. […] K.M. Weiland says the following: “The key event is the moment when the character becomes engaged by the inciting event. For example, in most detective stories, the inciting event (the crime) takes place apart from the main character, who doesn’t become involved with it until the key event, when he takes on the case. The key event is the glue that sticks the character to the impetus of the inciting event.” […]

  5. […] K.M. Weiland says the following: “The key event is the moment when the character becomes engaged by the inciting event. For example, in most detective stories, the inciting event (the crime) takes place apart from the main character, who doesn’t become involved with it until the key event, when he takes on the case. The key event is the glue that sticks the character to the impetus of the inciting event.” […]

  6. […] The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 5: Inciting Event and Key Event by K.M. Weiland published March 25, 2012 […]

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