The Importance Of Inciting Moments

The Importance Of Inciting Moments

How do you start a story? Use this post on inciting moments, with examples, to help you write your book.

Have you thought about where you will start your novel? Do you have a treasure trove of inciting moments from which to choose? I hope you do.

When I taught our Writers Write course, I found that students seldom want to know how to write a perfect beginning. They think they already have that one in the bag.

Generally, they had decided that it will be a prologue, usually a flashback that will show the reader something he or she needs to know in the future. Then they start at the beginning with backstory. They must, because ‘the reader won’t understand the story if I don’t show who the characters are’.

Sound familiar? Don’t be too hard on yourself. We all start writing that way. We were taught exposition at school. We had to set up the story before we could begin. As a fiction writer you need to un-learn everything you were taught about story-telling as a child.

The Importance Of Inciting Moments

Adults want to read a book that begins with a bang. They want to land in the middle of the action, identify with the protagonist, side against the antagonist, and take a thrilling vicarious ride to a resolution.

We can learn how to do this. We don’t need to hang on to bad writing habits that bore readers. The backstory belongs in your character profiles, your timelines, and your first draft. After that, we have to get rid of most of it, and start where things change.

So what are the elements of a good hook?

  1. Change is always a result of CONFLICT. Something happens that causes your protagonist to react. Something changes. He or she is presented with a situation that can’t be ignored. You hook the reader with action and reaction. Leave out how you got there. You want to get the reader interested.
  2. Begin in a moment of CRISIS, THREAT, or OPPORTUNITY. This creates a situation that has to be dealt with. It is exciting, stimulating, and absorbing – especially if it’s vicarious. This critical moment could be real or imagined, internal or external, negative or positive. It is easier for first time writers if it is real, external, and negative. This gives your protagonist a purpose, a motivation, an opposition character, and a story goal. It forces change.
  3. Cover the basics in this moment. Introduce the characters by giving us their names and telling us where they are (setting). You want to get the reader oriented. Where are we, what’s going on, who’s involved? Readers who feel confused go somewhere that’s more comfortable.

As always, I believe that if you are a brilliant, gifted writer, you can write anything without help. You could also get away with a prologue, or a flashback, or backstory as a beginning for a novel.

However, if you’re the writer who wants to learn the craft, the first option is a better choice. You could also try a combination, such as an imagined, negative threat.

Posted on: 26th January 2014