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.
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.