Setting Your Story Into Motion

In novel writing class, we’ll be discussing the inciting incident, the event which sets the story into motion. What are some things to consider when deciding upon the inciting incident?
Writing Tip for Today: Although this point is generally placed at the bottom of the classic story arc, it doesn’t mean that the event is without tension. For your main character or protagonist, the inciting incident is the point after which nothing will ever be the same. Usually a goal is announced and immediately an obstacle pops up to block the goal. This event compels your character to move toward the goal–whether it’s to remedy the event or cause the event to yield a reward for the protagonist or another character. In the fairy tale of Cinderella, for example, the inciting incident is not when Cinderella announces her hopes to attend the ball. The event which kicks off the story is when the stepmother says Cinderella can’t go. The story is set into motion by the pitting of two contrary goals against one another: Cinderella’s desire to attend versus the stepmother’s goal of keeping her home.
As you decide where your story begins, consider the following:

  • At what point does the character have the most to lose?
  • What event would trigger the deepest emotional reaction?
  • What does your character feel most passionate about and why?

In your story, think about what causes your character to begin moving toward a goal. It could be a death, a birth, an opportunity, a reversal or any number of other situations. Just make sure your story starts moving at the time just after the event in which nothing will ever ever be the same.
Try This! Imagine your story beginning in three different places/times. How does the story take on a different direction depending on which inciting incident you choose.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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