Ignite Your Reader’s Imagination with the Inciting Incident

How do you, as a writer, capture your readers’ hearts and minds? With a spark that grabs the reader. No, that spark is not the first sentence, though it is important. The spark that grabs the reader is an inciting incident that ignites the reader’s imagination. Crafting the right inciting incident is crucial to laying the foundation for a can’t-stop-reading story. To create the best one for your story, you must understand what it is, why it’s a powerful piece of your story, and how to create one.

Photograph of a t-intersection of a paved road in the countryside with mountains in the distance. Your inciting incident must force a turn like a t-intersection.
Stop sign and markings on the road at a two-way crossroad in a rural countryside scene

What is an Inciting Incident?

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to incite means to move to action,stir up,spur on,urge on. So far, so good. But there’s more to what an inciting incident is. 

Let’s look at what some writing experts say the inciting incident is. 

Kathryn Craft at Writer Unboxed says: “A story exists because something happens in a character’s life—the inciting incident—that upsets her equilibrium and arouses her desire to restore balance.”

According to Sara Letourneau on DIYMFA it’s “the launching pad that thrusts a character into the conflict.”

Janice Hardy on Fiction University says, “The inciting event is the moment when something changes for the protagonist that draws them onto the path that is, or will become, the novel’s plot. If this moment didn’t happen, the story would not have happened.”

No matter which genre of fiction you write, it is a pivotal moment. It is when the protagonist is at the t-junction of her life. There is no continuing on the path she’s been on, at least in her mind there isn’t. She must turn onto an unfamiliar path. If she does not turn onto this path, the rest of the story either doesn’t happen or makes little sense.

Why it’s Important

The inciting incident often focuses on a smaller issue related to the big conflict of the story. This leads some writers to believe that the inciting incident is minor. 

It is not a minor event. 

I think Janice Hardy says it best, “If this moment didn’t happen, the story would not have happened.” The right inciting incident deepens the questions in your readers’ minds. It hints at problems to come. Often the protagonist misunderstands the meaning of the moment. Sometimes the reader also misunderstands. Sometimes the reader knows more than the protagonist. Either way, the reader wants to keep reading.

If you want to read more of this post, please visit the Writers in the Storm blog.

For more about writing, read Create a Compelling Plot with What-But-Therefore.

Writing How-to: Create Characters Your Readers Love and Hate

It’s time for my monthly appearance on the Writers in the Storm Blog. This one is a continuation of my creating characters series. A portion of that post appears here. For the full post please click the link at the end of this excerpt.

African-American female at a coffee shop reading a book that's open about 1/2 way and she has a concerned look on her face as if she can't stop reading this exciting or concerning part.

You can create charming good guys and vicious villains, the hookiest of hooks, brilliant worlds, and twisty plots with the most intense cliffhangers, but if readers don’t care about your characters, they won’t recommend your book to their friends. Or worse, they’ll put the book down and never buy your books ever again. Why would they do that? Because they didn’t connect with your protagonist, antagonist, or viewpoint characters. Your reader wants to connect with at least one of those characters. They open the book wanting to love or hate your characters. But creating characters your readers connect with takes work. What makes readers not care? It could be one of several problems.

Why Readers Put Down Your Books

You’ve put a lot of work into writing your book. You love your characters and your story but your readers, be they critique partners, alpha or beta readers, or your book reviews, tell you your book was boring, or they couldn’t finish your book and put down your book, or they didn’t like it at all. It hurts. A lot. But it’s time to put aside your emotions and examine your reader and your story. 

If one reader has issues, the reader is probably not your target audience. If more than one reader makes similar complaints, it’s probably something your book does or doesn’t do. Evaluate it as objectively as you can. (Ask for help if you can’t.) Does it suffer from one of these common issues? 

  • There is no problem that matters. 
  • The conflict happens off stage.
  • Unrelated cause and effect.
  • Your character is a stereotype or trope. 
  • You aren’t putting your reader in your character’s shoes.  
  • Your character didn’t earn the ending. 

No worries. All authors experience at least one manuscript with faults that stop the reader. Take heart. There are ways to fix these problems in your writing. You can learn to create characters your readers will love or hate and will pay to read more of their stories.

The Problem Doesn’t Matter

If your character is happy and content, why should the reader care? Even if the story problem is a big bad guy or a world-ending catastrophe, if your character doesn’t care deeply and personally, neither will your reader. Being an altruistic superhero isn’t enough. The problem must matter to the protagonist or it won’t matter to the reader.

Remember the 2008 movie, The Incredible Hulk? Not a blockbuster. People didn’t connect with the film or the character because Banner’s needs and problems were largely unconnected to Hulk. In fact, he wanted to control Hulk. And Hulk’s limited reactions were usually “Hulk angry” or “SMASH!” 

Compare that movie to the deep characterization of the 2018 movie, Black Panther. We see T’Challa as a child yearning for a place he’s never seen. We feel the trauma of his father’s murder and we know his need to find his place, his destiny, to be the man his father wanted him to be. Most people can relate to that. Watching him struggle and fail and struggle again against a foe and against himself, we grow to care about him and his challenges. The problems T’Challa faced mattered both personally and in his larger world. His personal connection to the problem became the viewers’ connection. 

We human beings gravitate toward the personal. The challenges we choose or we make for ourselves may have some level of altruism, but deep down, it is something specific and personal. Look for a personal connection your protagonist has with the problem in your story. Ask yourself: 

  • Is this problem one that he could solve easily by doing one thing? 
  • Does the problem challenge his beliefs, his morals, his sense of duty, or his worldview?
  • Does the problem test his resolve to reach a solution?
  • If he does not face this challenge, will it change his sense of success or worthiness? 
  • What does he fear will be the catastrophe if he doesn’t act?

Thanks for reading this far. I hope you find it valuable enough to click through and read the remainder of the piece on the Writers in the Storm Blog.

What story and character have you read that kept you turning pages? What was it about the character that kept you reading?

Make Flat Characters Genuine in 8 (Sort of) Easy Steps

Have you been told you have “flat characters” in your story? Reel in your emotions and re-examine your characters. Does your character have little to no internal life? As your character moves through the story, does she overcome nearly every obstacle? Does she have a crystal-clear need? Is she unchanged at the end of the story? If even a few of your answers are yes, you probably have a flat character. Is that a problem? Probably. Flat characters are usually uninteresting and unmemorable. Got flat characters? Don’t worry. You can take your flat characters to genuine in 8 (sort of) easy steps. 

Image of two rows of a chain of paper dolls in shades of green against a green background. .

1. Diagnosis: Flat vs Round Characters

What Does Flat Mean?

If you guess flat characters are the opposite of round characters, you’re right. But let’s take it a step farther. Typically, when a reader says your characters are flat, they mean the characters don’t feel real. They want to read about realistic characters, people like themselves or people they know. Writers often call realistic characters round characters. A round character is a character who has multiple-dimensions to their personality.

In real life, we humans are a complicated bag of emotions, contradictions, and quirky bits. Our relationships with others are just as complicated as we are. We often make a whole range of mistakes in relationships, jobs, and every other aspect of our lives. In order to write a “simple” story, authors must be certain their characters come across the page as just as complicated, even if not all those bits show up on the page. So the first step in diagnosing flat characters is to see what IS on the page.

What’s On the Page?

To fix a flat character, you must re-examine how that character appears on the page. Re-examining your character is harder than it sounds. You created these characters. You likely know them as well as yourself. Unfortunately, that may be part of the problem. As the creator, you read things into the story and character that may not be on the page. 

If you don’t see why readers say your characters are flat, print your manuscript. Mark your primary character’s internal thoughts, emotions, dialogue, and descriptions. (Hat tip to Margie Lawson’s excellent courses.) Then take a step back and look at your pages. Missing one area? That’s a definite area of flatness. If one color dominates the page, lack of balance may be part of what makes your characters flat. Don’t despair. You can fix flat characters. 

Read how to fix flat characters on the Writers in the Storm blog.

Image Purchased from Deposit photo.

Writing How-to: Put Ground Under Their Feet

A frequent piece of advice writers get is to put ground under the feet of their characters. Yet, advice on how to do that is limited or confusing. Often taking the advice literally, writers attempt to make certain the reader knows where the character is physically. However, the phrase means more than what city or building they are in. It also means where this character is in relation to the objects in the room and other characters in the scene. It reveals who this person is. 

Characters fit into a story, into a scene, like puzzle pieces. The right pieces make a complete picture. The wrong pieces can be confusing. To create a character that involves your reader in the story takes many unique pieces or layers. This article will touch on some of the different things you can do to put ground beneath your characters’ feet. 


Making characters’ voices, or dialogue, as unique as the instruments in a symphony, helps the reader to identify with your characters. But the reader needs more. Every word in your story (or scene) comes from a specific point of view. Strengthen your story and put ground under your characters’ feet by choosing words that reflect what your character sees, senses, his values, judgments, and opinions.


George, a 36-year-old prematurely gray business manager, walked down the street.

That helps the reader see him, but it doesn’t put ground under George’s feet. 

Be careful

Keep it natural sounding. You don’t think: I, a 36-year-old, struggling writer with her deep brown hair tied in a messy bun, walked down the mud-streaked asphalt street, do you? Of course not.

I’m not saying don’t refer to your character by name. There are certain things you have to do, so your reader isn’t confused, especially at the beginning of a story. However, the larger percentage of your descriptions should be as your viewpoint character thinks of it. So instead of the staying outside of George, try to focus on the inner George:


George, a 36-year-old prematurely gray business manager, walked past his favorite coffee shop on his morning walk.

That’s an improvement, but you can do better.

Read more.

I’m so glad you’re here. I blog for the Writers in the Storm (WITS) blog once a month. I share a portion of it here so that you who don’t follow WITS, can read it.

Don’t worry, I’ll be back to regularly posting content here very soon.

Thank you for reading and being willing to click to read the rest of the post.

For the rest of the article, please go to the Writers in the Storm blog.

Image Credits

Top image by Barbara from Pixabay

Make Music with Character Voices

On the Writers in the Storm Blog, I offer suggestions how you can create characters with voices so distinct that your readers can “hear” theme music for each one.

Bright jolly vector staves with musical notes on white background, decorative major wavy set of musical notation symbol.

Do your characters feel flat? Do they all sound like you and only you? Tune in to the music of character voices, make them sound more like the different instruments of a band or orchestra. Make music with your character voices and your readers won’t be able to get enough of the stories you write.

Great characters are the key to great fiction.Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel

Donald Maass, Writing the Breakout Novel

What or Who Your Character Is

There are many things to consider when creating your story characters. Many how-to-write articles suggest creating a detailed profile of your characters. Delving into a character’s birth place, likes and dislikes, job, hair color, and using tools like spreadsheets and fill-in-the-blank questionnaires can be helpful, but characters are more than the details on a spreadsheet or form. Character are more than their story role, more than the point of view you choose for them, and more than what they do in the story. Your characters each need a voice, a unique voice. But how do you create that?

The Key to Understanding Characters

When a writer is told they’re too young or haven’t lived enough life to write about it, it’s often because of a lack of understand the basics of character or even life. A general understanding of psychological personality types will go a long way to helping you create varied and interesting characters. 

Learn about the fundamental personality types. Go deeper than Wikipedia, though it may give you an overview that is helpful. There are literally millions of sites on the internet that discuss variations on personality types. Choose one that’s reliable like psychcentral, psychology today, and The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Psych Central has a helpful explanation of what is personality. Psychology Today discusses the basics of personality traits. NIMH has a great resource on personality disorders. Those three sites offer multiple articles on personality, personality traits, and personality disorders. 

Read about establishing your character’s musical pitch and more in the rest of my post at the Writers in the Storm blog.