Writers Write creates resources for writers. This post includes five short cuts for creating an inciting moment.
What is an Inciting Moment?
Somewhere near the beginning of a story, a main character is confronted with a crisis. The crisis destabilises his world in a dramatic way—his life is turned upside down. Usually, this crisis also acts as a catalyst to expose an inner conflict in the character, one that can only be resolved by him directly confronting the external threats, in a series of escalating dramatic incidents.
This is the Inciting Moment in a nutshell. It stirs things up in the main character’s life and gets the story started. It urges the main character to take action, and refusing to act will have consequences. The main character must be startled by this moment. He must be aware of it as a turning point but often he is unaware of the ripple effect it will have on his life or the story.
(You may want to read: The Importance of Inciting Moments)
As a writer, it is not always easy to identify the inciting moment—it will probably be refined or rewritten in draft two or three. One way to make it easier is to keep the inciting moment consistent with your genre. For example:
- In a love story, it is when the heroine comes up against the one person who will irrevocably change her world.
- In a detective story, the lead investigator is given a difficult case to solve.
- In suspense, the danger to the main character becomes chillingly apparent. In a drama, more often than not, somebody dies.
Imagine your main character in a deserted park at night. He comes across the antagonist for the first time. What will they say to each other? What action will the hero take? This will give you some insight into what needs to go into your inciting moment.
Try it. Have your heroine in a coffee shop or restaurant and in walks the hero. How does she react to him? How is he going to change her life? Free write this scene. While you may never use it in your actual story, it will help clarify things for you.
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5 Shortcuts For Creating An Inciting Moment
- Introduce a character / Reintroduce an old character. An old school friend shows up in town. An amnesiac is found in the church graveyard. A stranger on a train strikes up a conversation.
- Have someone die. The funeral brings together feuding family members. A best friend goes missing. A sister is confined to a mental home.
- Introduce an event. A fire burns down a single mother’s home. A new ordinance evicts people from their home. A religion is banned. Cholera epidemic breaks out.
- Issue an invitation / Give a promotion. A secretary accidentally gets invited to a billionaire’s charity ball. A man is given a chance to work overseas.
- Deliver a threat. Somebody leaves a mutilated doll outside a supermodel’s apartment. An old woman notices bizarre spiders in her basement.
Do you have any suggestions for creating inciting moments?