The Two Halves of the Inciting Event

Stories are made of scenes. By one of their simplest definitions, scenes are transitions. They signify a change of some sort—an arc. They start in one place (whether a physical place or an abstract “place”), and they end in another. This is how we determine whether something happens in a scene and whether it “moves the plot.” Therefore, by definition, we can see how scenes may be viewed as essentially a whole of two halves.

This is nowhere more important or true than of major structural moments. The major turning points of the plot are the scenes that must dynamically change the conditions of the story and the characters in it. If these structural scenes fail to change or move the plot, then the entire story’s structure weakens and, eventually, crumbles.

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Today, I want to start a short unofficial series that examines the two “halves” implicit in the following major structural beats:

(The two Pinch Points are interesting in that I don’t see them as offering the same intrinsic halves or “doorway” of the other major structural beats. Rather, they can be seen to function more as each other’s halves—with the First Pinch Point in the first half of the story foreshadowing the payoff of the Second Pinch Point in the second half of the story.)

This series was inspired by the following reader question, which I received in an email from Wordplayer John White last year after my series on the inherent chiastic links between the structural beats in the first half of the story and the beats in the second half:

If the Key Event and First Plot Point are the two sides to Plot Point 1, are the Dark Night of the Soul and Third Plot Point also two sides to that door? It seems like it.

The most important thing to understand about the specific halves that make up the major structural beats is that they mimic the structure of any good scene by presenting an arc. This arc can be viewed through any number of structural theories, but perhaps the most useful for this discussion is simply that of acknowledging that a scene will begin with one emotional value (e.g., hope) and end in another (e.g., despair).

Together, this is what the two halves of the structural beats naturally create. We see this clearly in the Inciting Event, which we will be examining today. Classically, the Inciting Event begins with the Call to Adventure (which is usually viewed as having a “positive” or forward-moving value, which can be equated with the scene’s structural “goal”) and swings into the Refusal of the Call (which can be seen to have a “negative” value equated with the scene’s structural “disaster”).

Although not always as obvious as the Inciting Event, all of the major structural beats can be broken down into similarly helpful guides for creating structural solid scene arcs in these most important of all beats. We will discuss the others in future posts.

What Is the Inciting Event?

The Inciting Event is the first major structural moment in a story. It occurs not at the very beginning of the story as is sometimes (confusingly) thought. Rather, it is the major turning point in the middle of the First Act, taking place approximately 12% of the way into the story.

As already noted, the Inciting Event initiates the plot by directly inviting the protagonist’s involvement in some way.

A common question writers have about the Inciting Event is whether it can happen without the protagonist’s knowledge. The short answer is “no.” While the external plot events that will eventually impact the protagonist are likely already in play, the structural plot does not begin until the protagonist is impacted.

The Inciting Event can be a big or small event. However, it is distinct from the subsequent First Plot Point in that it is does not yet irretrievably involve the protagonist in the conflict. The Inciting Event is something that can be walked away from if the protagonist so chooses. However, the First Plot Point, when it comes later around the 25% mark, is a “Doorway of No Return.”

For reference, here is a quick overview of all the major structural beats and their recommended timing:

The First Act (1%–25%)

The Hook – 1%

The Inciting Event – 12%

The First Plot Point – 25%

The Second Act (25%–75%)

The First Pinch Point – 37%

The Midpoint (Second Plot Point) – 50%

The Second Pinch Point – 62%

The Third Plot Point – 75%

The Third Act (75%–100%)

The Climax – 88%

The Resolution – 99%

This series will be discussing the intrinsic structural halves of the italicized beats.

Recognizing the Arc Created by the Two Halves of the Inciting Event

We often talk about the major structural beats as the “major turning points.” These structural beats are where things happen. Of course, things are always happening in a story (or should be); every scene should advance the plot. But the major structural beats are where things get real for the characters.

The Inciting Event, halfway through the First Act at the 12% mark, is the first of these major turning points. Prior to this, the character’s Normal World will already have been established, along with the foundational problems and mindsets that create the need for something to change, either in the protagonist or in the supporting world.

Either directly by the protagonist’s own doing or as the result of external influences, these circumstances reach a crossroads. The protagonist is given at least something of a choice. Which road to take? Will the character advance according to the options life is providing—or try to remain passive and unchanging?

Either way, the character must confront the first half of the Inciting Event—the Call to Adventure.

The Call to Adventure

This phrase is explicitly a reference to the Hero’s Journey, as codified by Joseph Campbell in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. As we’ve discussed recently in the series on archetypal character arcs, there are many different types of journeys, not all of them as explicitly “adventurous” as the Hero Arc. What is important in this beat is not so much that the protagonist is called to an adventure or a quest, but that he or she is called to something (e.g., an initiation, a battle, a pilgrimage, etc.).

Regardless the type of story, I still like the well-used term of “Call to Adventure” to evoke this important aspect of the Inciting Event. In many ways, the entire first half of the story is the something that happens to the protagonist, but it is not something to which the protagonist is in any way passive. One way or another, what is being offered in the Call to Adventure is a choice. The protagonist must choose whether or not to accept the challenge and answer the Call.

The Call to Adventure can arrive in many ways. It could be something positive—an opportunity the protagonist was hoping for, such as a new job or a college application acceptance. Often, in a romance, the Inciting Event is where the two love interests meet for the first time. In this instance, the “Call” isn’t likely to be an explicit challenge (“Go forth and date this person!)—although of course it can be—but rather simply the dawning of an opportunity. An interesting and attractive person enters the protagonist’s life. Even if the two don’t immediately like each other, there are sparks. Something has changed—in the scene, in the story, and in the protagonist.

In truth, people encounter potential Calls to Adventure all the time in real life. You very likely walked past one in the last five minutes! The reason we choose to tell stories only about certain Calls is that they are:

a) dramatic and potentially life-changing (versus the Call to go to Chipotle for lunch)

b) accepted by the protagonist.

After all, if the protagonist doesn’t accept the Call, there can be no Adventure.

But that acceptance can’t happen right away—not fully anyway. That’s too easy for everyone—you, the readers, and certainly the character. An immediate acceptance is also likely to be boring. If accepting the Call is as easy as that, then you’re probably looking at an Inciting Event that really isn’t going to change the protagonist’s life that much (Chipotle, anyone?).

The major structural beats are major for the very reason that they demand hard decisions from characters. The plot changes that occur here are hard-won, dramatic, and often difficult in some way.

And that is why any semi-smart protagonist needs to first experience some version of the Inciting Event’s second half: the Refusal of the Call.

The Refusal of the Call

The Refusal represents the importance found in all the second halves of the major structural beats. Put simply: it completes the scene arc by reversing the emotional and/or value polarity.

Your protagonist’s thought process might go like this: A Call to Adventure sounds great! Where do we sign up? But, whoa, wait a minute, I though we were talking about a fun trip to meet exotic new friends and maybe fall in love along the way. Nobody said anything about having to battle orcs and evil wizards to get to a horrible volcano in the worst place in the world. On second thought, I refuse.

For reasons both emotional and logical, it is important that the Call not be immediately accepted. After all, any good scene needs conflict. If there are no obstacles to the character accepting the Call, then the plot itself isn’t likely to be very interesting. And so the Call (which we all want the protagonist to accept) must be met with legitimate resistance.

Usually, this resistance/Refusal will originate with the protagonist. He or she will have to be convinced to accept the Call. Probably not until the irrevocable events of the First Plot Point (be they positive or negative) will the protagonist realize the Call must be accepted.

However, it is totally possible for the Refusal to be represented by a character other than the protagonist. In some stories, it makes the most sense for the protagonist to be an immediate “yes” to the Call. Perhaps the protagonist even initiated the Call (e.g., applied for a new job). In this case, the pacing and emotional flow of the story still requires some sort of Refusal to cap off the Inciting Event’s arc and provide the necessary conflict for the remainder of the First Act prior to the First Plot Point.

If your protagonist is not going to be the one to initially reject the Call to Adventure, then the Refusal can be offered by a supporting character. This could be someone who adamantly does not want the protagonist to go on the Adventure, or it could merely be someone who acts as the “voice of reason” in telling the protagonist all the reasons the Adventure is a bad idea.

Depending on the plot setup, it is possible this resisting character could be the antagonist or a representative of the antagonistic force—who, for obvious reasons, doesn’t want the protagonist getting in the way. But because the conflict between protagonist and antagonist hasn’t fully kicked off (that happens with the First Plot Point and its doorway into the Adventure World of the Second Act), the antagonist will probably not directly oppose the protagonist. For example, if the antagonist will later on use violence to try to stop the protagonist, for now the antagonist might only try to persuade the protagonist not to move forward.

It’s also unlikely that the antagonist will fully voice opposition to the protagonist at this point. The full “antagonism” won’t be revealed until later, after the protagonist has already irrevocably stepped through the Door of No Return into the conflict of the Second Act.

The Refusal of the Call is just as important as the Call itself because it sets up the second half of the First Act. Without the Refusal, there would be little reason not to immediately skip ahead to the First Plot Point, in which the protagonist’s acceptance of the Call becomes a reality and requires action.

Indeed, some writers might ask, Why not just skip to the First Plot Point anyway, then? Why do we need the Inciting Event at all? The answer is primarily one of realism and pacing. Stories should unfold in a realistic manner—in which great risks are not undertaken without appropriate caution and preparation.

Even if the First Plot Point presents an event that seems entirely out of the protagonist’s control or choice (e.g., getting sent to a prison camp), the Call provides the set up for the character’s personal challenges, choices, and journeys.

Although the Inciting Event is absolutely intrinsic to creating the external conflict, it is in many ways an interior beat in which the protagonist’s personal motivations, stakes, and arc will be set up. As such, it needs time to be properly set up. In many ways the entire First Act is about setting up the Inciting Event—and then building upon it to reach the First Plot Point.


Stay Tuned: Next week, we will take a look at the two halves of the “Doorway of No Return”: the Key Event and the First Plot Point.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Can you identify both halves of the Inciting Event in your story? 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. I believe it is best to refuse the call to Chipotle and head over to Taco Cabana instead. This is the culinary adventure we should be having.

    That aside, it seems to me if we see this beat as a literal door hinge, the Call faces forward toward the Adventure World whereas the Refusal casts an eye backwards towards the Normal World.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good call about the door hinge. I definitely see the “threshold” beats at the First and Third Plot Points as exactly that, but I think it *is* mirrored in all of the major turning points.

  2. As always seems to happen, this is so well timed! I pantsed a new project and got stuck around the Inciting event Yesterday, I started plotting (from the beginning because I’m like that) and got stuck at the Inciting Event again. I realize now that the Refusal wasn’t big enough. I didn’t attach it to the MC’s Lie directly. (I don’t know anything about this guy vs. I’m not interested in dating anyone because I’m going to grieve my last relationship forever.) It felt sort of like a Chipotle Refusal than the second half of the Inciting Event. Thank you!

  3. Grace Dvorachek says

    Very intriguing! My Inciting Event for Orwyn, one of my MCs, is when he receives a threatening note and subsequently tries a servant for treason because of it. He is given the choice of letting the servant go free, but he gives into his hatred of all peasants, and executes her. Right alongside him is the antagonist, persuading him in the “right” direction.

    Meanwhile, my other MC, Eris, has sort of a double Inciting Event. While in town, she spots the very same mysterious woman she’s been trying to find… and realizes that the woman must have followed Eris back to the rebel peasants’ cottage. She follows the woman, only to be found out by several of the other rebels, who wonder what she’s doing. One of them, in particular, encourages her to think carefully before coming to conclusions about the woman, but Eris deems it unnecessary—a dismissal that, while seemingly small, will have grave consequences later.

    Eris’ other Inciting Event comes in a little more dramatic form. One of the rebels returns home from a scouting expedition with news that Eris’ friend, Shanna, has been executed for treason. While Eris is by now acquainted with tragedy, she’s still affected emotionally. Her Call to Adventure comes subtly in the form of her husband and conscience collectively trying to persuade her to forgive Orwyn (Adric’s brother) of his wrongdoings. However, she immediately refuses, choosing instead to fuel her inward fire of hatred and bitterness.

  4. Daniela Meduna says

    I’m about to write the IE in NaNoWriMo. This really will help. As I’m sure will the rest of this new series. Thanks.

  5. Ken Merrill says

    Thank you for this helpful essay regarding the inciting incident. As you know, many people regard Melville’s Moby Dick as one of the greatest of all time. I recently read Moby Dick again and would love to hear whether you think the two halves concept applies to that story if we assume Ahab is the protagonist.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Although Ahab is certainly the protagonist, Moby Dick is structure more around the narrator Ishmael. From a timing/pacing perspective, the Inciting Event is when Ishmael joins the crew of the Pequod. It’s been too long since I read it for me to remember what might have functioned as either the Call or the Refusal though.

  6. Miriam Harmon says

    Great timing and points! I have multiple projects in the making, two have great inciting incidents, but one of them’s a bit stuck. I have an idea for a great inciting incident, but I don’t know what should come before it. I know I’m supposed to introduce a normal world until the 12 percent mark, but my MC is supposed to live in a boringly normal world—and besides, I don’t want to wait that long for this particular plot event. If I did, I’d have to figure out how to introduce a certain character earlier without the meeting being the incident. Which is difficult, since they’re supposed to change the MC’s world. How do I make interesting plot events happen before the inciting incident without them becoming the incident?
    I read the first Keeper of the Lost Cities Book by Shannon Messenger recently, and she did exactly what you’re describing—except WAY earlier. The main character was introduced to the adventure world pretty quickly, but kept refusing to believe it was real and kept returning to her normal world, although the new world is everything she’s ever wanted. She keeps hopping back and forth from normal world to adventure world until the First Plot Point (I think) where her existence in the normal world is erased and she’s fully in the adventure world, never able to turn back again. It follows the right story structure, but the call to adventure comes so early, and it’s brilliantly done. Is this a “breaking the rules brilliantly” moment, or are you able to introduce the adventure world like this without actually “breaking” the rules of your three act structure?
    Thanks for reading! I’m a ginormous fan of your posts and advice 😁.
    Keep being awesome!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The most important thing about the role of any of the structural beats, in relation to their timing, is simply that they are creating events in which something happens, in order to keep the story moving forward. It’s also important to observe the basic “rules” of each beat (e.g., Call to Adventure at the Inciting Event) simply to make sure you’re creating a realistic evolution of events.

      That said, this doesn’t mean that you can’t necessarily start the story “in medias res.” You definitely don’t want to make readers wait too long before things get interesting; the story *should* be interesting from page one, even if it is in a comparatively low-key way.

      What immediately came to mind for me when reading your comment is that perhaps what you’re trying to make the Inciting Event might be a better Hook at the beginning of the story. This can work as long as you also have an appropriate turning point/acceleration of stakes around halfway through the First Act as the “official” Inciting Event.

      And, finally, it’s always good to keep in mind that the structural timing recommendations are just that: recommendations. They’re there to suggest the ideal pacing for a story’s structure. But they don’t have to be adhered to rigidly. Generally speaking, the longer a story, the more wiggle room you have. Just make sure that if you have a major turning point coming earlier than recommended that you’re not shortchanging a previous section of the story from being developed and/or dragging on the subsequent section too long.

      • Miriam Harmon says

        Ooh, that makes sense! I’ll try it and see how it goes. I’m pretty good at making inciting incidents, so I’m sure I can dream up another one to work later if I like using my current one as a Hook.
        Though, if I do this, I do have one question (sorry!). The Hook comes at the 1 percent point, which can be the first scene or even the first line of the book, but can I put the Hook in a later scene in the first chapter or would it be too late? I could put the incident-turned-Hook as the first scene, but it might be better to have at least one scene to show the MC’s norm world with mysterious hints at what’s to come and then the following scene have the first bang. Do you think this might work?
        Thank you for taking the time to help me 😄
        I love your advice and am extremely excited to get to ask you questions like this. Thank you for reading!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Structurally, the “Hook” functions as the first domino/turning point in the plot. But more practically, it is also just the “hook” that grabs readers. So as long as you have something that grabs readers right in the first scene, I see no major issues with postponing the structural Hook until later in the first chapter.

  7. In my novel draft that’s cooling on the ice (i.e. I’m not looking at that novel for a while so that I can see it with fresh eyes when I revise it again) it’s easy for me to identify both the call and the refusal of the call. In fact, the protagonist throws the ‘call’ into the ocean (doesn’t work, the ‘call’ comes back).

    I was trying to write the craptastic first draft of another novel, then realized that I got ‘writer’s block’ because my outline has some problems which I had ignored until I tried to actually write the craptastic first draft. Though it’s not the only problem, one problem is that I need to make up my mind what the actually call to adventure (and, by extension, refusal of the call) is rather than have a vague notion of a few potential calls without doubling down on a specific call and de-emphasizing or even deleting the other potential calls.

  8. I write and edit crime novels and I’m trying to think of a detective whose job it is (think Harry Bosch, John Rebus) to solve crime and pursue justice who refuses to do what they’re paid to do. If anything, these cops push their noses in where they’re not welcome. Therefore their refusal, if there is one, is to stay in their own corner. It’s a different form of refusal because it’s not related to the call to get justice (or any call I can see). What’s your take on that?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Usually, in such stories, the Refusal comes not so much from the protagonist as from the world around him. For example, he’s warned off the case or some such.

      • That’s a useful clarification/expansion of defining ‘the call’. Thank you. It works as a ‘complication’ of the call if we stay with the protagonist’s POV – perhaps akin to a personal or environmental threshold guardian.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Yes, especially in Flat-Arc stories (which mysteries often are), the protagonist is more likely to recognize and embrace the necessity of the Call (versus Change Arc stories in which the protagonist often has yet to earn that wisdom). The pacing of the story will still want that “polarized” response of a pushback, in order to create conflict and stakes. But sometimes the Refusal can be as “mild” as simply a secondary character cautioning the protagonist that the path ahead is likely to be fraught. Strong Refusals are more dramatic, of course, but it just depends on what you’re trying to do with the story.

          • This discussion is EXACTLY what I wanted to bring up. In my crime novel, the detective “gets the call” and can’t really refuse the assignment, but I have another cop who was first called to the scene (an abduction) but has a prepaid vacation starting the next day. I can use him to warn my main character about the emotional roller-coaster this case will likely be. (And this will nicely set up my MC for falling for the mother of the abducted boy, which is the main complication of the entire case.) This entire series of two-halves is perfect for turbocharging those turning points. I am using your series to guide what I hope will be the final revision of this novel of mine! So thank you for being such an amazing guide for us wannabe authors!!!

  9. One thing that struck me in this was your comment that adventures call us all the time, and that’s definitely true, though I’m not sure it always has been. We refuse almost all of them, and a good thing too, otherwise none of us would get a lick of writing done! But I also think that many of the best adventures we do choose are not ones we immediately sign up for, or where we have trouble figuring out how to sign up, or have other obstacles in our ways. So this approach makes perfect sense to me looking it at in that light. But none of that says that it’s an easy element to create.

    Regardless, I’m jacked to see this series, and I’m eagerly awaiting the opportunities for mental frustration and self questioning that will inevitably arise.

    May your writing bring you joy.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “I’m eagerly awaiting the opportunities for mental frustration and self questioning that will inevitably arise.”

      A Call to Adventure maybe? 😀

      • Indeed. I never answered the original question. My MC is a con artist who is caught by the law in a fairy brutal society and bound to a missionary dwarf, whose under a geas to promote peace and harmony. She wants nothing of that, so she, the dwarf and a local lawman are off on the proverbial long and winding road.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          That sounds fun. Sort of Pratchett-esque?

          • I wish. There is humor in it, but I do not have Pratchett’s genius, so the humor is a spice. The primary story arc is about the MC con artist coming to see the missionary dwarf as a friend and his mission as something she wants. The world itself present a lot of unique twists…
            Ok, I almost rattled off a few thousand words and ate your column. If you are interested, I would be flattered to send you a synopsis, once I get that written, and that will happen in the next month. If not, I totally understand and am not at all offended. You’re a busy young lady.

          • Or I could cut the drama and just drop in my current summary:

            Elexasha is a con artist, living in a jungle world of Mayan-style cities and where death is revolving door. After years of scheming, she’s moving toward her big score, confident she’ll soon be rich and free to live a life of ease.
            But when fate turns the tables on her, she finds herself enslaved to a crazy dwarf and a half-wit lawman on a mission of peace she couldn’t care less about. A mission that teaches her lessons, which she’d have never chosen.
            Now she must use her wits to turn back the world’s most powerful wizard, the dwarf’s ancient enemy and the hatred of nobles throughout the kingdom, or watch her mentor descend into an eternity of torment, likely taking her with him.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            I like it!

          • Thanks!

  10. ForeverFree says

    In my novel in progress, my protagonist follows a flat arc. Rob Riley’s call to adventure comes as an opportunity to board a smuggling ship. It’s a chance he would have quickly accepted normally. However, he refuses out of mistrust of the rascally person who offered it to him. It takes him the whole first act to accept the call, and he only does it when he knows there’s no other choice.

  11. michaelcapriola says

    Very useful information. In my current project, the protagonist is annoyed by the requirements of the task she is given to do, but doesn’t really hesitate to take up the challenge. I need to work on this! Thanks for the heads up. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is a great place to really start sowing the character’s capacity for inner conflict, which can deepen as the story progresses.

  12. While a story ending teaser is not present in every story, which I feel it could be either explicitly or implicitly, Is it possible that, coupled with the Hook, they make up another pairing, or a bookending chiastic structure that introduces a story, then ends with the continuation of life into the next (written or unwritten) story?

  13. Interesting! After reading this post, my first thought was: My protagonist does not refuse the call. He is forced to take it – bosses orders! But then I thought further: It is true he accepts the assignment, but in his mind he is still questioning it. He is not sure if he likes it or is plain scared about its implications. Only later, when he is already on his “mission” – and funnily, it is around the 25% mark you mentioned, without me planning it that way – an encounter makes him saying “yes!” internally. From that point on, it is not something he was made to do, but he really wants to do it. – So, I guess, you are right again! :-)) Thanks for providing food for thought! Looking forward to the next part of the series!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is a good distinction to bring up. If the character is “forced” to accept the Call, that still counts as a Refusal, since what the Refusal basically signifies is simply pushback of some kind.

  14. James Warren says

    Very good KM. Can’t wait till next week. Its late and I’ll listen to this ep. again tomorrow. I’m in that area ( i.i.) in my novel. Liked the refusal segment. I didn’t incorporate that in my story. Thanks. I’ll rectify that this week.

  15. Edward Denecke says

    Just when I think it is safe to get back in the water … 🙂 you amaze me with another incredibly beneficial insight of story structure!! My story is (hopefully) so much better because I listen to (and apply) your instruction. Is it wrong to enjoy the PROCESS of creating a story so much? 😉

  16. John Warfield says

    Excellent insight and presentation as always. Better understanding the importance of the Refusal opens all sorts of possibilities for deepening my POV character’s emotional and analytical processes. It will also require some First Act changes between the Hook and the IE, but all for the better. Am I the only one who sets up the First Act and then has to shuffle everything thereafter to maintain proper pace?

  17. I have a rather complicated question.
    In my story so far, character A is somewhat a ‘bad guy’ and then has a positive character arc. Character B is a ‘good guy’ and has a negative character arc, and this negative arc of character B ushers in the main antagonist full force into the story.

    Both character A and B have a point of view, as I feel they are both very interesting, and the story would be missing huge parts if I took either of their points of view out.

    Character B carries a bit more weight in the beginning of the story than character A, and after the midpoint, this switches, and then character A is most prominent, with B at the side.

    I am worried about the imbalance. I know that character A is the protagonist, but each character serves a vital part of the story with their points of view.

    I don’t want one character to carry more weight in the beginning and the readers to become more attached to her, and then it switches and they don’t care about the other.

    Do you think there is a way to pull all this off?

    Thank you, even if you don’t have the time to answer or anything. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s possible that these characters are “co-protagonists,” if they share equal weight in the story’s Climactic Moment. However, if this is not so and Character A is definitely your protagonist, then I would be cautious about overemphasizing Character B in the first half of the story.

  18. My critical thesis for Vermont College of Fine Arts was titled Unlocking the Heart of Your Story: Understanding the Key Incident in Order to Discover Your Story’s Emotional Core. I cited you, Syd Field, and Lisa Cron extensively in my thesis and lecture. After a lot of research, I came to the conclusion there are three vitally important plot points that give our story a heart that beats. Now, using your door analogy, the first plot point is the inciting incident. It is the discovery of a door that had gone unnoticed or one that wasn’t there before. It is the first inkling of what the story is about. This inkling will change the character normal world in a way they would never have imagined.

    The second plot point is the key incident, which provides the motivation the character needs to act. This motivation comes from a truth that is either realized or revealed. This truth upends each character’s false belief. This truth leaves the character wondering which truth is real. The one they’ve falsely believed or the one they’ve just learned about. The truth learned in the key incident is what opens the door in to the second act. BUT, this is a big but, the character does not walk through this door until they receive an invitation.

    The third plot point is the first turning point, which closely follows the key incident. The first turning point is when the character receives an invitation that is either stated or inferred to walk through the door into the rest of their story. This invitation is a challenge because when accepted, the character must step outside their comfort zone and unknowingly commit to change. The character has two options after receiving their invitation. They can either accept right away or they can refuse the call. This is where the big ‘but’ from above comes in. Characters often say no because they aren’t ready, they don’t have the means to continue or for many different reasons. But they HAVE to say yes or the story ends at the first turning point.

    Understanding all of this has helped me plot the external and internal journeys of my character. Several of your craft books helped me get to this point. Thanks.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Your terminology is different from mine, but this is spot on, IMO!

      • An Na was my advisor for my CT, and she helped me come to these realizations as well as understanding the difference between what a character wants and what a character needs. Again, thanks for providing a forum for writers.

  19. Hi Katie!! I have a question. In my WIP, I’m having a little trouble identifying the Inciting Incident, Refusal of the Call, Key Event and 1st PP.

    Could I give you a flash recap of my first act to look at and verify?

    The MC is a cowardly prince who has been humiliated and abused by his father, the Daimyo, (Japanese Lord) all his life. (He is actually a magical fox demon whom his father must learn to love or else lose his own power, hence the resentment.)

    (Inciting Incident) He grows a tail on his 18th (coming of age) birthday. (Refusal of the Call) Terrified and confused he tries to runaway.

    (or is this the Inciting Incident?) Before he can, his father’s Samurai storm the castle and kill his father. They almost kill the MC too when an honorable Samurai arrives and persuades them to spare the MC.

    (Or is this the Inciting Incident?) The honorable Samurai proposes that the MC marry his daughter and allow the Samurai to advise him as he rules in his father’s place. The MC agrees mostly out of fear that refusal would spell his death.

    (Refusal of the Call or Key Event?) But afraid that his incompetence–and his tail–will be discovered, he again to run off intending to become a monk and hide.

    (1st PP) The Samurai’s daughter sees that her father’s honor and life are at stake since the MC’s actions reignite the arguing again, so she dresses as a boy and sneaks off to pursue him.

    I have three candidates for the Inciting Incident…
    Is it the first appearance of his magical identity?
    Is it the death of his father? This shoves him out of his Normal World because no matter what, he has to find a new way to operate since his father always controlled his life.
    Is it the Samurai’s proposal that he marry the girl and take the throne? This gives him a chance to “refuse” the call in a way the other two don’t seem to.

    What do you think?

  20. Hi Katie,
    After working through Concept and Premise for my crime novel, I was not happy with the results. I had a feeling that mysteries with a detective as main character were not comfortably fitting with your usual paradigm–as flexible as it is! So I Googled crime novel structure and found a very useful site: written by Hallie Ephron. I’m sure there are others equally useful. You might want to add such links to your incredibly helpful pages! Because sleuths are very special kinds of protagonists. Even when they have personal issues to deal with, their focus is to solve the crime, which limits their journey!

  21. onewordtest says

    In my WIP the call is actually initiated by the antagonist. She is trying to get the protagonist “out of the way”, but inadvertantly puts him a position where he becomes more involved in the conflict. The main reasons he refuses the call at first because the Thing He Wants is in the Normal World with him, but then the antagonist also removes the Thing He Wants from the Normal World and so he decides to accept the call, because there is nothing keeping him there now anyway, and he thinks maybe if he does accept the call he can get the Thing He Wants back.

  22. Sorry for the slight necro to this post, but do you recommend the two halves being completely different scenes or was your intent to suggest they’re the two halves of each scene (obviously allowing for the assumption of whatever works for any given story!)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It really does depend on the story (its length, pacing, etc.). The two halves of the beat can be spread out over a long sequence of scene or take place very quickly within a single scene.

      • That makes sense. Thank you!

        I wonder whether there’s a pattern there. Maybe longer or separate second halves of these major structural scenes and then decrease the length for subsequent minor scenes (to increase the pace) through to the next major structural scene, which then gets its own separate scene again.

        Plucking numbers out of the air, purely to demonstrate the pattern, but something like this:
        * 100% (separate scene) devoted to the second half/reaction of a major scene
        * 50%
        * 40%
        * 30%
        * 20%
        * 10%
        * 0% devoted entirely to the first half/action of the next major structural scene.
        * 100% (separate scene) devoted to the second half/reaction of the next major scene.

        I’ll tinker with it and see how it works out.

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