5 Secrets To Writing A Strong Inciting Incident

5 Secrets To Writing A Strong Inciting Incident

Create a strong inciting incident.

The inciting incident is the ‘turbo boost’ you need to set your novel or screenplay into action. Like a superhero movie, it’s a gust of wind beneath the hero’s cape, making them dash into a new adventure. Here are five ways to master it.

Breaking It Down

Let’s get back to basics for a moment and examine the two words in this term – inciting and incident.

To incite is to intentionally provoke someone to take action. Think of a pesky younger sibling who keeps annoying their brother just to get a rise out of them.

And the word incident is exactly that – a happening, an event. A moment.

So, for example, it’s not just the annoying sibling pushing their brother’s buttons, but about the brother completely and spectacularly losing his cool at the Sunday Picnic his widowed pastor father has organised to introduce the family to his new flock.

5 Secrets To Writing A Strong Inciting Incident

If you want to create a powerful inciting incident in your story, we have five secrets to share with you.

  1. Make Sure It Registers With The Reader Or Viewer

The inciting incident has to be the first game-changer in your story, and it must happen pretty soon after your story opens.

It’s like a little gong going off at the start of a novel or screenplay. ‘Hey, pay attention –  this is where the real story kicks off!’  In a novel, it usually takes place in the first three chapters, in a screenplay in the first twenty pages.

It has to be something that sticks in the imagination, with your characters taking centre stage, and the setting and emotions coming together to create this pivotal moment.

Read about Joseph Campbell’s mythic ‘call to adventure’ in our blog on Classic Story Structures.

  1. Make The Inciting Incident Pivot Your Story

Some writing blogs or how-to books say that the inciting incident has to drive the story forward. That’s not entirely accurate.

Let me rephrase that – the inciting incident should steer the story in a new direction. Swiftly. Powerfully. Meaningfully.

It could be the unexpected first kiss in a romance novel, the moment a previously untouchable defense lawyer accepts a shady criminal’s hefty bribe, or when the brave adventurer finds the old Nazi treasure map.

It shifts the plot and characters into a different lane – and you can bet there’s some serious movement in the narrative.

Read 5 Shortcuts For Creating An Inciting Incident

  1. Make It Deeply Personal For The Main Character

The inciting incident must be deeply personal. To me, this is the ultimate litmus test of an inciting incident.

In a nutshell, it means the character can’t simply brush off or quickly fix what happened in the event. Or push the problem onto someone else.

Nope. It’s their problem now and they have to deal with it head-on or juggle the metaphorical hot potato. Money won’t make it disappear. A good night’s sleep won’t erase it. It’s not something so trivial that it’ll slip their mind. (‘Oh, yes, I have to track down my father’s murderer today!)

Are there two types of inciting moments?

  1. Make It An Irreversible Event Or Action

The irrevocable nature of the inciting incident means that there’s no going back.  It’s happened, it’s real, and brushing it aside is not an option for your protagonist.

Well, what if the hero ignores this incitement?  This only serves to make it resurface soon after – larger, uglier, and more pressing.  And the second time around, the character has no choice but to confront it, grapple with it, and make decisions that will shape the course of the story.

The character is thrust into a situation where they must face the music, ready or not.

  1. Make It Fit With The Genre

And lastly, your inciting incident must match the genre you’re writing in and be placed correctly in the story’s timeline.

For example, if you’re aiming to write a historical thriller about the French Revolution, you may use the storming of the Bastille as your inciting incident and one of Launay’s men as the protagonist.

However, if you were writing a historical romance set in the same period, your inciting incident would look very different. It could be a beautiful frightened young aristocrat accepting help from a handsome, rough criminal who is going to smuggle her into Austria.

If you’re writing a crime story with a romantic subplot, the inciting incident involving the crime should occur before the detective meets the love of their life.

Why this careful sequence of plot points? We do this as writers because this is how readers absorb and process the story. In short,  it’s the way they’ve come to expect the story to unfold.

The Final Word

The inciting moment must incite – it must be provocative, urgent, and compelling.

anthony ehlers

By Anthony Ehlers. Anthony Ehlers facilitates courses for Writers Write. He writes awesome blog posts and workbooks too.

More Posts From Anthony:

  1. 5 Reasons To Start Writing A Story With Viewpoint In Mind
  2. 7 Extraordinary Authors With Extraordinary Word Counts
  3. The 5 Easiest Genres To Plot
  4. The 5 Toughest Genres To Plot
  5. Action Is The Hero
  6. 5 Fears That Keep You From Finishing Your Novel
  7. 5 Ways To Look At Viewpoint (Slightly Differently)
  8. 5 Fresh Starts To Your Writing
  9. 8 Ways To Uncover Your Character’s Motivations
  10. Which Way North? 5 Methods To Outline A Novel

Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

Posted on: 12th April 2024