While there are various schools of thought on where to start a story, they all revolve around a phrase called the inciting incident, so it’s important to know where that point is in your story. In last week’s writing post, we defined this event in the story:
Inciting Incident: The point where something upsets the main character’s everyday life—maybe even turns it upside-down. It is the motivation that that causes the main character to react in a way that will set the course for the story.
On its face, it sounds simple. An important event happens to the main character that motivates him to set a course that will change his everyday life. Something so important should be easy to spot, right? Many times it is. But because a character has a history that leads up to the inciting incident and straight into the story’s plot, sometimes it’s hard to pick out the one event along that timeline where the change from normal life into story actually happens.
In a way, an inciting incident is like a sunrise, which has three semi-distinct parts as it lights up the morning sky: the point of first light, followed by a period of time where the sky is filled with color, with the highlight being the moments where the color is the deepest and most beautiful. Yet we call the whole process a sunset. Likewise, if we look at a the beginning of a story’s timeline, we will find three important points which are often called the inciting incident:
- The event which shifts the main character’s life in the direction of the story’s plot
- The event which sparks the main character to react in a way that causes her to set foot of the path of the story’s plot.
- The point where the main character must deal with the consequences of her choices; she can’t turn back.
Which one is the real inciting incident? It may vary from story to story, but generally it will be one of the first two–most often the second–with the third being the first major plot point. No matter which one it is for your story, it will be the point which impacts the main character’s life so much that it causes a major change in his life.