Story Structure: the Inciting Event

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Happy Friday! Welcome to the third installment in Truthful Storytelling’s story structure series. Last week we talked about the Set Up and its purpose. Today, we’re moving on to the Inciting Event, one of the most exciting story beats.

Let’s get into this!

Where Does the Inciting Event Belong?

The Inciting Event usually occurs about 12% into the narrative. It falls at the end of the Set Up.

What is the Inciting Event?

The Inciting Event is the culmination of the Set Up. It’s what kicks off the main plot and forces your character to start making choices. Without the Inciting Event, your character would just stay in their normal world and never go on any kind of journey. The Inciting Event is the catalyst that sets your character on the path toward the First Plot Point.

The Inciting Event is the Climax of the Set Up

The Inciting Event belongs at the end of the Set Up and should act as the culmination of much of that story beat. If you did your Set Up right, the Inciting Event won’t feel like it has come out of left field and the protagonist’s reaction to it will make sense.

(SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE AHEAD)

For instance, look at the Inciting Event in Star Wars: A New Hope. It occurs when Luke hears the message Leia left for Obi-Wan Kenobi. We already know about this message because of the Set Up, and we also know Leia is in danger. Because of what we’ve learned about Luke during the Set Up (that he’s kind and longs for more than what Tattooine can give him), we already know that this event is going to lead him places. We may not know exactly how it will play out, but it quickly becomes clear that Luke isn’t going to be able to let this go.

(END SPOILERS)

Make sure your Inciting Event doesn’t feel random. Every story beat builds on the one before it. Let the Set Up serve as the foundation for what comes after.

The Inciting Event is the Catalyst

Like I said above, without the Inciting Event, your protagonist has no reason to move forward. They may want things, but they don’t have the impetus to go and get them. And they certainly don’t yet know what they need (that’s what they’ll figure out over the course of their character arc). It’s the job of the Inciting Event to force them into a situation where they have to engage with the plot.

They will probably reject this call at first, but the Inciting Event will put them on an irrevocable path toward a choice. Step out of their normal world and into the new one or stay in their old, familiar life.

(SPOILERS FOR TREASURE PLANET AHEAD)

Consider Treasure Planet. When Billy Bones crash lands at Jim’s home, warns him about “the cyborg”, and gives him the treasure map, Jim gets a glimpse of a new world — not that he’s ready to enter it yet. After he and his mother escape the pirates’ attack, Jim is on an inevitable path toward the First Plot Point.

(END SPOILERS)

Your Inciting Event needs to be big enough and personal enough to push your protagonist out of their comfort zone. If it’s something your character can turn away from easily, it might not be strong enough. This is the story beat where things start moving. You want to make sure it excites your reader and affects your protagonist in a meaningful way.

The Inciting Event is the Beginning

The Inciting Event is the beginning of the true action in your story. It fires off the starting gun of the main plot and serves as the signal to the readers that you’re going to make good on the promise of your premise. The stakes are going to rise, and things should start happening.

(SPOILERS FOR THE AVENGERS AHEAD)

For example, in The Avengers, the Inciting Event occurs when Director Fury begins to bring the Avengers together. We are introduced to many of our main characters, the main plot begins, and the promise of the premise (a team of superheroes overcoming their relational issues and kicking butt together) is starting to be fulfilled.

(END SPOILERS)

Make sure your Inciting Event is truly the beginning. Your protagonist is about to leave their normal world and start a journey that will change them forever. The Inciting Event serves as signal — the Set Up is over. The plot is about to ramp up.

So… What is the Inciting Event?

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