Monday, April 21, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip #4 - The Inciting Incident

The Inciting Incident (sometimes called the Catalyst) is the trigger that starts the story. It’s not necessarily the first thing that happens in the book, but it should occur within the first 30-50 pages depending on the total length of the book. It’s the completion of the statement, It all started when…. 

Les Edgerton discusses the Inciting Incident in his book, HOOKED (great book, btw), where he draws from the movie Thelma and Louise.

The story opens with a series of very brief vignettes back and forth between the two women, establishing their relationship to each other and letting the audience know about a trip they’re planning to take together. The inciting incident occurs right after, when Thelma is talking with her husband, Darryl, in the kitchen.

It quickly becomes obvious from Thelma and Darryl’s conversation that Darryl is mostly condescending to his wife and has an exalted opinion of himself as being much smarter than Thelma. It’s also clear he fancies himself a ladies’ man and has been treating his wife badly for quite some time.

Thelma is on the verge of telling him about her impending trip with Louise and asking his permission to go, when he answers her innocuous and sweet, “Hon?” with a snide, impatient “What,” delivered in the tone of a parent condescending to a bothersome child. As a result of his tone, she decides to go without asking permission. This a small but significant turning point—the inciting incident that creates the surface problem and starts to expose Thelma’s deeply psychological story-worthy problem.

Edgerton goes on to point out that most people think that the inciting incident in that movie is when Harlan tries to rape Thelma, and Louise shoots him.
Let's use a book that most YA readers know well for illustration, TWILIGHT, by Stephanie Meyers. The inciting incident in this book is when Edward saves Bella from being crushed in the parking lot. Before this, she had a new move and she was intrigued if not disturbed by Edward and his behavior, but she still could've lived life quite uneventfully. The encounter in the parking lot when Edward miraculously saved her life started the story.

In HUNGER GAMES, the inciting incident is the moment Katniss's sister's name is drawn and Katniss volunteers to take her place in the games.
In CLOCKWISE, the inciting incident happens on the first page. Without thinking Casey, the protagonist, catches her love interest's wayward football. If she hadn't done that, and just let the ball land and topple away, the rest of the story wouldn't have happened.  This is what it looks like on the page.
-- Impulsively, I jumped up and thump, Nate Mackenzie’s football, signed by the famed Tom Brady himself, was in my arms. I couldn’t believe it. I’d caught Nate Mackenzie’s ball!
 Gingerly, I raised my head. Sauntering across the field, with all his hunky hotness, was the cutest boy in the school, the most valuable senior varsity football player of Cambridge High, and the love of my life.  He stopped right in front of me.
 “Good catch.” His rugged and manly voice lassoed me. He'd said, good catch. I couldn’t move or take my eyes off his face. The way the sun glistened off  his sweat, emphasizing his strong jaw and the brightness of his blue eyes, brighter still because of the contrast of his dark, shaggy hair…
 “So, can I have my ball back?”
 My hands gripped his football with sticky sweat. The ticker tape in my brain searched for the right response before flashing ERROR in red neon twelve-point font.
 “Casey?” Lucinda nudged my back. With a slight swivel of my head I saw her expression. Mortification. Give the dumb ball back! Did I just have an aneurysm? I felt woozy, like throwing up. I imagined myself vomiting all over Nate’s feet.
 Unbelievably, there are some things worse than puking in front of the football team. A wave of dizziness threatened to wash me away into black nothingness. But I couldn’t be so lucky to just faint. It was happening. Oh no. Not here. Please, not in front of Nate Mackenzie.
 In an instant, my world brightened like a nuclear blast as I spiraled through a long white tunnel. When I opened my eyes, he was gone. Nate was gone and so were Lucinda and all of Nate’s football team.--
  Think about the book you’re reading now. Can you pinpoint the inciting incident? What is the situation where you could say, if this didn’t happen the story couldn’t have unfolded? What about your current WIP (work in process)? Do you know what your inciting incident is? Is it easy to identify? At least to you?
Next week I'll discuss Plot Point 1.

No comments:

Post a Comment