We care about characters because they go on a journey and improve the problems in their lives. But what starts this journey of change and growth?
What is an Inciting Incident, and why do I need it?
The Inciting Incident is the event that begins the story's problem, or in other words, it's the catalyst of the plot. Also referred to as the Call to Action or the Call to Adventure, the Inciting Incident thrusts the protagonist into the story's main action and will cause our beloved protagonist to experience both external and internal change. The character is being called into the unknown. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the Inciting Incident is when Hagrid gives Harry his Hogwarts letter and tells him he's a wizard. In Pride and Prejudice, the Inciting Incident is when Mr. Bingley arrives with Mr. Darcy.
Hook vs. Inciting Incident
The Hook and the Inciting Incident occur at different times in the story, and their purpose in the story is different. A Hook happens at the very beginning. It's what grabs our attention immediately and makes us want to read more. In A Court of Thorns and Roses, it's when we open to a wintery scene of a starving Feyre who is ready to kill. The Hook begins on the first sentence and may stay for several pages. However, the Inciting Incident occurs within the first three chapters, usually around 10-15% in the entire story's outline. In a Court of Thorns and Roses, it's when Feyre is punished for killing the wolf and is taken from her home.
Critical Components of an Inciting Incident:
1) Occurs within Act 1 (10-15%)
2) Happens to the protagonist
3) Comes from an outside source
As mentioned earlier, an Inciting Incident can also be referred to as the Call to Action/Adventure. That's because someone calls from an outside source to pull our protagonist out of their status quo. This is one of the only times in our major plot points that it is good for our character to be passive. Stories are about change, but how boring would it be if our character was ready for it? You can bet there will be resistance, and it starts with that Call to get up and do something different with your life!
Although the protagonist will be passive when called to action, they are immediately forced to be proactive in making a decision. What decision? The answer to the Call, of course! Will Harry leave with Hagrid to Hogwarts or stay miserably living with the family that hates him? Will Alan Grant accept the invitation to endorse the mysterious Jurassic Park, or will he stay at the dig site in need of money? Readers like characters who are actively changing the story, not characters who let the plot happen to them—protagonists make the action happen!
After the Inciting Incident, the character's everyday life is no longer available, and they need to act. I hope you feel more confident with Inciting Incidents and the crucial part they play in a story. Next time you are reading a book or watching a movie, see if you can spot it!
Melissa Hope is passionate about helping writers improve their craft and connect with the writing community. She escaped the frostbite normalcy of Canadian winters to live in Florida with her family, bipolar cat, and growing collection of scuba gear. Sea of Kings is her first novel.
Visit her website www.authormelissahope.com to watch free writing tutorials.