3 Things to Remember about Your Inciting Incident

The inciting incident messes things up and launches your character into the story.
Photo by Inzmam Khan on Pexels.com

I’m posting about fiction so you’ve probably guessed I’m still working through the DIY MFA Writer Igniter challenge. Sometimes it takes time for a lesson to sink in as was the case with Inciting Incidents. An inciting incident is the point in the story where the main character is launched from their everyday life into the challenge of solving the story problem.

And this leads us to the first thing to remember about the inciting incident.

An Event + A Choice

The inciting incident combines two things – an event and a decision. The event is an incident that prompts change. It drives your character from their everyday life into something bigger. But the character must decide to engage. Sometimes it is easy to make the choice as in a character who is working to prove their own innocence. Sometimes they resist making the choice because problems at home are so much less frightening then what might be waiting for them out in the larger world.

Big Event or Slow Build

Until I took part in this challenge, I thought the inciding incident was just that – a single event. In Star Wars Luke comes home to find his family homestead burned and has no reason NOT to leave the planet. Big Event.

But Gabriela Pereira explained that sometimes the inciting incident is the final event in a slow build. PLOT SPOILER. In Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae a slow build culminates in a big event. Before she can move in, someone dumps trash in Janet’s kitchen. She starts wondering who might be mad at her. Then she is interviewed by a hostile journalist although she doesn’t understand why this person she just met would dislike her. Then the journalist is found murdered on her property. Event after event, each feels more personal than the one before.

No Return

The inciting incident also marks a point of no return. Once your character accepts the call to action, there is no turning back. Sometimes, as in Star Wars, it is because home no longer exists. Other times, as in Plaid and Plagiarism, it is because things keep building. Janet has to prove she is innocent. Or it might simply be that their world view has changed and they no longer see things in the same way.

What is the inciting incident (or call to action) in your story? In the book you are reading?


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