Writing Exercise: Inciting Incident

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Hannah Yang gave a very in-depth article “How to Write an Inciting Incident for Your Novel” on ProWritingAid (Jan 16, 2022)

The Characteristics of Inciting Incidents really hit me with characteristic #3 being the gut punch – “It’s out of the protagonist’s control.” I’ve never really thought about it. It isn’t Joan chose to leave home, it’s Joan was kicked out of the house. It isn’t John choosing to marry, it’s John falling in love with someone (and the plot centers around the fact he couldn’t legally marry them). Not only does Inciting Incidents happen (1) early in the book and (2) changes things / disrupts the status quo. It also isn’t in the characters control and (4) forces them to make a difficult choice.

The Inciting Incident is when everything changes. 

Genres tend to be Inciting Incident driven early in the narrative.

  1. Romance – Introduction of the protagonist to another person. A “meet-cute”.
  2. Mystery – A question/mystery arises that must be answered/investigated.
  3. Fantasy/Sci-Fi Adventure – “Answer the Call”. Something is inviting (or forcing) the character from the previous life into a new one.

Literary fiction often has something challenging the protagonist’s worldview – questioning what they are taught. These may be related to coming-of-age stories, but anyone in any genre might have an “a-ha” moment that terrifies, shifting their world with a snap,

For flash and novellas, most Inciting Incidents happen in the first chapter, maybe even in the first paragraph, dumping the reader into the fray. Downside, the reader doesn’t understand how the Inciting Incident is changing everything, but it does start with excitement. Novels might do a bit of worldbuilding and character development, giving a chapter or three before everything changes.

This is just the scratch of the surface for the article. If you want to found out more about Inciting Incidents before tackling the writing exercise below, the URL is: https://prowritingaid.com/inciting-incident

WRITING EXERCISE: Write an Inciting Incident. Just a short scene.

My Attempt: It took some doing to find flashes meeting “out of the main character’s control.” Like I said, I hadn’t really focused on that aspect of an Inciting Incident before. Need to work on it more.

Not All Who Wander” (February 27, 2022) – This is a sci-fi romance, with romance being the central part of the story, and starts with a meet-cute. Yes, the two had played a VR adventure together, but it was a “for-hire” from a chatroom one-and-done. Garrett takes the first big step saying he wants more. Becca starts her normal comfort zone declining, but decides to Change Things to the point of sending him a Contact Card when she returns to real life. I really would like to return to this couple to see how things go – between her real-life body betraying her and his body being … well, that is what the story hinges on.

You Have Mail” (February 6, 2022) – An urban fantasy romance starts with a mystery. A physical letter from an on-line friend with just a key and a sheet of paper with an address. Should Bryan investigate or leave it be? Given his normal life, worldbuilt into the story as he does the initial letter investigation, how bad can looking into what the key goes to be?

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