|Photo credit: justonlysteve on Flickr|
The inciting incident is the moment or event that changes your character’s life and sets them on the journey that is the rest of the book. It’s when Harry begins receiving acceptance letters to Hogwarts, when Clary sees the Shadowhunters kill a demon in a club, and when Tris’s faction test results are inconclusive, making her divergent.
The reason I love the inciting incident so much is two-fold—firstly, it’s the very first thing I figure out when plotting. Usually the inciting incident is where my story idea comes from—it’s the spark that sets off the rest of the brainstorming that uncovers the rest of the book. Second, the inciting incident is the first real taste of what to expect from the rest of the book.
The inciting incident is, by no means, an optional plot point. Without a life-altering event to catapult our characters in one direction or another, there isn’t a story. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the examples above.
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling): If Harry was never accepted into Hogwarts, he would have continued to live in the cupboard under the stairs at Privet Drive, hidden from the rest of the world, in a rather boring, depressing life. Hogwarts-free Harry, as it turns out, isn’t really epic seven-book series fodder.
- City of Bones (Cassandra Clare): Had Clary never seen the Shadowhunters, she never would have begun to question the reality she knew, nor would she have encountered the hidden, paranormal world of Shadowhunters and angels and demons and werewolves and vampires and mages and all of that exciting stuff that makes The Mortal Instruments series so interesting.
- Divergent (Veronica Roth): Had Tris’s test shown expected results (that is, that she belongs in Abnegation, or another single faction), she would have chosen a faction and lived a normal life in whatever faction she chose. The end.
As you can see, without their respective inciting incidents, the above stories aren’t really novel-worthy stories. But with the incident that changes the protagonist’s life comes the fascinating stories that we all love and adore. And that’s the power of the inciting incident.
What examples of inciting incidents can you think of from your favorite books, movies or TV shows?
Working on a plot for your WIP? Writer @Ava_Jae discusses the importance of the inciting incident. (Click to tweet)
Do you know your WIP's inciting incident? Here's why it's so important to identify early on. (Click to tweet)