The Inciting Incident: How to Ignite Your Novel
In fiction writing, the inciting incident can be considered one giant ball of chaos. It’s what sets your story in motion and flips your protagonist’s life upside down. Without it, your novel will fall flatter than a beehive hairdo on a rainy day. Getting it right to hook your readers is crucial.
Before we jam that gas pedal, let’s start off by defining the inciting incident. Elementary, my dear Watson, you may say. But it bears repeating.
Think of the inciting incident is a plot point where your MC inserts that almighty key into pandora’s box, and their life is never the same again. With romance novels, for example, an inciting incident is often that moment when future couples meet for the first time. In The Titanic, the inciting incident is when Jack stops Rose from jumping overboard. Often in a post-apocalyptic, an inciting incident is centered around a tragic event or a difficult choice. For example, when Katniss Everdeen’s sister’s name is chosen in The Hunger Games, she volunteers to take her place.
An inciting incident can happen almost anywhere in the first act, but it MUST occur in the first act and nowhere else. Sooner is better than later to grab the attention of your readers early on. In doing so, you’ll create a narrative drive that draws readers into the flow of the story.
So, know that you know what an inciting incident is, how do you create a captivating one?
First off, the inciting incident has four important qualities:
· It happens in the first act.
· It happens to the protagonist.
· It is set in motion by someone or something other than the protagonist.
· It can be either casual (a choice) or coincidental (random or unexpected).
While developing an effective inciting incident, keep your main character front and center. How does the inciting incident affect your MC? What type of response does it evoke? What tensions or conflicts arise? How do your characters overcome these conflicts?
An effective inciting incident creates a sense of urgency. For example, a man discovers a magical bottle that must be destroyed before the evil villain finds a way to unleash an Earth-destroying genie.
A strong inciting incident sets the tone of the story. A horror novel will likely have an inciting incident that creates a menacing tone, while a romance comedy may create a quirky and lighthearted one. Whatever your genre, the inciting incident will set the mood and atmosphere of your story. Pair it up appropriately with your narrative.
Use your inciting incident to raise questions for your readers. Give them reasons to keeping reading to figure out what will happen to the protagonist. How will they navigate life now to overcome the obstacles the inciting incident has set in motion?
Ready to burn some rubber? Get out there and #CreateYourEpic!