The Inciting Event


Before I even start, go ahead and google the phrase Inciting Event.

Don’t bother to read them all. Half make no sense. But I did like one by Lucy Gold at According to Lucy, an Inciting Event is, “The conflict that begins the action of the story and causes the protagonist to act. Without this event, there would be no story.”  She has edited the original with a more wordy and writerly addition, but really, it was unnecessary. This says it all, and it’s pretty much how I explain and use the concept.

Understanding the theory of the Inciting Event, and its placement, and executing it well, are, together, the most important things in grabbing readers for your story: novel, short, novella, novelette, or even an epic series of a million words.  “Wait!”, you say. “George R.R. Martin’s sixth novel in the Game of Thrones had color pictures and twenty pages of history and text and … So does mine. There is NO Inciting Event until, like, page fifty! So there!”

Right. That is George. You are you. He doesn’t have to work to gain readership. You do. I do.

A fabo Inciting Event is also the main, huge, outstanding difference between genre and mainstream literary novels.  And George. I know. Mustn’t forget George.

In literary fiction, the Inciting Event can happen anywhere. In literary, it can be something small and seemingly unimportant, that the reader (and maybe the writer) figure out is important only a hundred pages in. Want to sell stories to your family and three close friends? Skip the Inciting Event!

Yes. I know that some Literary Novels have an Inciting Event. In The Lovely Bones, the main character dies. Pretty Inciting. And the book was successful. But successful literary novels are RARE! And one reason is that literary stories are seldom as compelling as genre stories. And one of the reasons for that is the lack of an Inciting Event.

In genre writing, the Inciting Event needs (MUST) happen or be hinted at in the first 1,000 words. Best if it happens or is hinted at on the first page.  Successful genre novels are everywhere! Do you want to build an audience from your first book/story? If you are trying to build a readership, put the Inciting Event up front and make it personal to the main character and the reader.

Yes, you also have to world-build, create voice, indicate setting, suggest genre, and intro your character, among other things, all without info dumps or backstory or talking to your reader. But that Inciting Event (in the mystery genre it’s call “the body on the first page”) is the foremost part of Bait and Hook. (Yes, you can search this site for Bait and Hook. But finish this first, Okay?)

The Inciting Event doesn’t just show the reader the conflict, it also gives the main character motivation, a reason to care about your plot and conflict, and indicates his or her raison d’être. It also makes your reader care. And caring is the way to keep them reading.

I hint at the Inciting Event on page one, para one in SKINWALKER:

I wheeled my bike down Decatur Street and eased deeper into the French Quarter, the bike’s engine purring. My shotgun, a Benelli M4 Super 90, was slung over my back and loaded for vamp with hand-packed silver-fléchette rounds. I carried a selection of silver crosses in my belt, hidden under my leather jacket, and stakes, secured in loops at my jeans-clad thighs. The saddlebags on my bike were filled with my meager travel belongings—clothes in one side, tools of the trade in the other. As a vamp killer for hire, I travel light.

I’d need to put the vamp-hunting tools out of sight for my interview. My hostess might be offended. Not a good thing when said hostess held my next paycheck in her hands and possessed a set of fangs of her own.

Note how the above paras introduce the character, show setting, and sell the genre. This is called doing double duty with a literary device.

On page 3 I let the reader know what the Inciting Event was:

I needed work. My best bet was a job killing off a rogue vampire that was terrorizing the city of New Orleans. It had taken down three tourists and left a squad of cops, drained and smiling, dead where it dropped them. Scuttlebutt said it hadn’t been satisfied with just blood—it had eaten their internal organs. All that suggested the rogue was old, powerful, and deadly, a whacked-out vamp. The nutty ones were always the worst.

Note above that I give motivation and push the genre aspect at the same time.

I intro Inciting Event more fully on manuscript page 8 by placing the main character in danger:

The room was spartan but expensive, and each piece of furniture looked Spanish. Old Spanish. Like Queen-Isabella-and-Christopher-Columbus old. The woman, wearing a teal dress and soft slippers, standing beside the desk, could have passed for twenty until you looked in her eyes. Then she might have passed for said queen’s older sister. Old, old, old eyes. Peaceful as she stepped toward me. Until she caught my scent.

In a single instant her eyes bled red, pupils went wide and black, and her fangs snapped down. She leaped. I dodged under her leap as I pulled the cross and ripped the derringer from my scalp, to the far wall where I held out the weapons. The cross was for the vamp, the gun for the Troll. She hissed at me, fangs fully extended. Her claws were bone white and two inches long. Troll had pulled a gun. A big gun. Men and their pissing contests. Crap. Why can’t they ever just let me be the only one with a gun.

“Predator,” she hissed. “In my territory.” Vamp anger pheromones filled the air, bitter as wormwood.

“I’m not human,” I said, my voice steady. “That’s what you smell.” I couldn’t do anything about the tripping heart rate, which I knew would drive her further over the edge; I’m an animal. Biological factors always kick in. So much for trying not to be nervous. The cross in my hand glowed with a cold white light, and Katie, if that was her original name, tucked her head, shielding her eyes. Not attacking, which meant that she was thinking. Good.

I place my character in mortal danger once and I hint at the Inciting Event four times in Chapter One. Then, I finish introducing the Inciting Event on manuscript page 77, while in Beast’s Point of View:

More-than-five blocks later, smelled fresh blood. Crouched in shadow of alley wall. Crept forward, paw, paw, paw into darkness, belly hairs dragging across dirty stone of man-road. Mad one crouched in man-light. Wrinkled. Dry. Rotted. Stink of rich new blood. Human. Eating sounds. Mad one ate without regard for thief-of-food. Gray light and blackness formed over it. It seemed to shift. To change. Wrinkles faded. Rot smell died.

I hunched close to road. Padded close. Within range. Gathered all power in. Weight balanced. Silent. Sprang. Through air. Long tail revolving for stability. Forelegs reaching. Unsheathing claws. Lips back. Mouth open. Killing teeth bared.

It looked up. Glimpse of face, pale in dim light. And was gone. Gone. Fast.

Shock flooded through. Overshot place where mad one was, and now was not. Passed through empty air. Retracted claws. Lifted paws to break fall. Crashed hard into brick wall. Weight on one pad, bending into it. Body whipping. Hard slam. Bruising shoulder. Ramming hip. Drop to ground, eyes searching.

Strange sound. Look up. There. On ledge, one, two stories. Too high to leap. It clung to window ledge. Looking down. Laughing. I growled, spat. It jumped. High, to rooftop, running. Not hiding escape.

My character has agreed to hunt a rogue-vampire but it turns out the creature is something that she has never seen or heard of before. By the time she knows this, she is in too deep. She cares.

So, what is your Inciting Event and what page do you hint about it? Page 1? Or page fifty after a bunch of colored pictures and a twenty page history lesson?

I know this was long. Sorry about that. Nah. Not really!

Later Gator!









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