The inciting incident: the incident that kicks off a chain reaction, leading the protagonist to the story-worthy problem.
Plot is all about cause, consequence and conflict. Every action has a reaction. The first action kicks off a chain reaction. A story starts with the inciting incident, which should not be confused with just any bad situation.
The inciting incident is the moment the real story gets rolling and the audience will recognise that moment instinctively. A strong inciting incident has the climax embedded within it.
Girl goes abroad with friend. Both get kidnapper. Father of girl gets kidnapper on the phone. Father warns the kidnapper of his specific set of skills and promises to use those skill to track and kill the kidnapper unless the daughter is set free. The kidnapper wishes the father luck.
The inciting incident, the moment the girl is taken and the father has a brief conversation with the kidnapper has the climax embedded within it. The story:The father does use a particular set of skills, does track down the kidnapper(s). The climax: the father kills them.
Requirements of an inciting incident
- Leads to/ exposes / creates the story-worthy big problem
- The problem (on abstract level) led to trouble before
- The solution to the inciting problem contributes to solving the main problem
- The character does not have many options to solve the problem
- It is the first time the protagonist truly realizes he has serious problems
Just ask yourself: “What can I do to create a scene that will introduce my character’s real problem?”
Edgerton, L (2007) Hooked: Write fiction that grabs readers at page one & never lets them go
Pressfield, S. (2016) Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit