The Inciting Event

The Monday morning workshop recently focused on scriptwriting, specifically tracing inciting events and the patterns of storytelling for television, film, and even books.

An inciting event in a plot is the shift forward in a story, the twist, hook, and plot points of the story.

K.M. Weiland, author of the book, “Structuring Your Novel,” helps us understand the confusion in and around an inciting event in a story in “Your Book’s Inciting Event: It’s Not What You Think It Is” on Helping Writers Become Authors.

What the heck is the Inciting Event? That’s a question just about any writer can answer. The trouble is that sometimes we all have a different answer.

Is the Inciting Event the first thing that happens in the story?

Is it the moment that kicks off the plot and the conflict?

Is it the First Plot Point at the end of the First Act?

Is it something in between?

Is it something that happens before the story ever starts?

The chief trouble with identifying the Inciting Event is that the term is used rather wildly to apply to just about any of the above. One writer calls the Hook the Inciting Event, another calls it the First Plot Point. Argh! No wonder we’re all so confused.

Weiland demonstrates three examples.

  • The Hook: The opening moment in your opening scene, the first moment something happens that keeps the reader reading or “hooked.”
  • The First Plot Point: The thing that happens at the end of the first act that changes the course of the story. She calls it “where your story really begins…the moment that fully engages your character in the conflict. He couldn’t walk away now, even if he really wanted to.”
  • First Act Turning Point: This is the moment that is the “call to” adventure or action, the no-turning-back point, the lit-match moment. She explained that most writer’s don’t include nor think of the turning point in the first act as the inciting incident, but it is. It is the moment that can be pointed to throughout the rest of the story, the moment when everything was shaken up and decisions needed to be made and action inspired. This is the inciting event.

Weiland explained that the first act turning point, or inciting event, should be placed at the 12% mark or 1/8th the way into the story. The first eighth of the story is character development, the time the audience needs to connect with the main characters, the time, and the place, the set up. (more…)