The inciting incident serves as the spark that propels your novel into motion. This pivotal moment sets the stage for the central conflict, hooks readers, and establishes the trajectory of your narrative. In this blog post, we will explore the significance of the inciting incident in story structure and how it captures readers’ attention, setting the tone for an engaging and compelling journey.
This is the second article in the Story Structure Series. Read the first one on How to Create a Great Hook here.
Defining the Inciting Incident
The inciting incident is the event or occurrence that disrupts the ordinary life of the protagonist and introduces the central conflict of the story. It typically occurs within the first few chapters or early pages of your novel. This really sets the story in motion. Despite what many think it does not have to be a big call to adventure, but it must push the protagonist out of its comfort zone.
Functions of the Inciting Incident
Hooks the Reader: The inciting incident serves as the hook that grabs readers’ attention from the outset. It presents a moment of intrigue, excitement, or disturbance that compels readers to continue turning the pages, eager to uncover the outcome of the story.
Establishes the Central Conflict: The inciting incident introduces the central conflict or problem that the protagonist must face. It creates a disruption or imbalance in the protagonist’s world, setting them on a journey of discovery, growth, or transformation.
Ignites the Protagonist’s Call to Action: The inciting incident forces the protagonist to respond, often with a call to action. It triggers a response or decision that sets them on the path of pursuing their goals, overcoming obstacles, or seeking resolution to the central conflict.
Sets the Tone and Genre: The inciting incident establishes the tone and genre of your novel. It introduces the themes, atmosphere, and narrative style that will permeate the story. Whether it’s a sudden event, a personal revelation, or a catalytic encounter, the inciting incident sets the stage for the tone and genre of your narrative.
Creates Narrative Momentum: The inciting incident creates momentum in your story, propelling it forward. It engages readers by presenting a problem or challenge that demands resolution, encouraging them to follow the protagonist’s journey and discover how the conflict unfolds.
This is one of my favourite videos on How to Write an Inciting Incident.
Crafting an Impactful Inciting Incident
To create an effective inciting incident in your novel, consider the following tips:
Create a Disturbance: Introduce an event or occurrence that disrupts the ordinary world of your protagonist. This disturbance should be significant enough to grab readers’ attention and create a sense of imbalance or tension. In Harry Potter it is the letter from Hogwarts.
Establish the Central Conflict: Clearly identify the central conflict or problem that the protagonist will face throughout the story. Ensure that the inciting incident directly relates to this conflict, setting the stage for the protagonist’s journey.
Trigger the Protagonist’s Response: The inciting incident should compel the protagonist to take action. It should motivate them to make a decision, pursue a goal, or respond in a way that sets the story in motion. The respons should also reflect the protagonists inner conflict.
Establish Clear Stakes: Convey the stakes involved for the protagonist. Highlight what is at risk, what they stand to gain or lose, and why the central conflict matters to them personally. This adds depth and emotional investment for both the protagonist and the reader.
Maintain Narrative Flow: Ensure that the inciting incident flows naturally within the larger narrative. It should feel organic and coherent, seamlessly connecting with the subsequent events and developments of the story.
Different Inciting Incidents for Different Character Archetypes
I’m reading a very interesting book by K.M Weiland called Writing Archetypal Character Arcs. Most of those who write are familiar with the Hero’s Journey, but there are many more archetypal character arcs that the protagonist can go through. Examples of the inciting incident for some of these are:
- Journey of the Maiden: Predator’s Proposal. In the maiden’s ark, a maiden goes from being dependent on others to becoming a strong independent being. What sets the story in motion is that the maiden takes her first steps from child to adult by leaving her home and following the predator.
- The hero’s journey: Call to adventure. Nothing exciting has happened in the life of the hero until a stranger comes to the village or he discovers something. Soon the hero is forced to embark on a journey to save the kingdom.
- The Queen’s Journey: The queen is happy in her role. What forces her out of the status quo is the fact that enemy arrives from “without”. For some reason the King is not available to lead the country and the Queen needs to take the role of leader.
I highly recommend that anyone who wants to get better at character building read this book. Like I said, I haven’t finished it yet, so I don’t have all the archetypes.
The inciting incident is a crucial component of story structure that sets your novel into motion. By hooking readers, establishing the central conflict, igniting the protagonist’s call to action, setting the tone and genre, and creating narrative momentum, the inciting incident captivates readers and propels them into the heart of your story. Craft an impactful inciting incident by creating a disturbance, establishing the central conflict, triggering the protagonist’s response, establishing clear stakes, and maintaining narrative flow. Embrace the power of this pivotal moment to engage readers, introduce your narrative with intrigue, and set the stage for a compelling journey that will keep readers eagerly turning the pages until the resolution of your story.