Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Inciting Incident

Inciting Incidents are the thing that starts a story.  They have to be big enough so that your hero's world completely changes and he can not go back to his old life.  They also have to catch your reader's attention and keep them hooked.  They ALSO have to, on some level, demonstrate your villain's badness.  And that's just the Inciting Incident.  

II's usually take place during the first chapter of a novel.  The first chapter also has to get the reader to like the hero, to understand the genre, voice, and time period of the novel, and what type of story you are telling. The first chapters have a lot running on them.  I know some people who have a really hard time writing the first few scenes of a novel, but they can write well and quickly once they get to the middle.  I also know people who fly through the first scenes but have difficulty on the middle (cough, me).  

I'll probably do a longer blog post about this, but I believe that their are only three types of stories.  The Heroic Quest, Boy Meets Girl, and The Man Who Learned Better.  Many novels have two or more of these in the story, but the main plot is always one of these three things.  For instance, Lord of the Rings is a Heroic Quest story, but they have several romance sub-plots (Aragorn/Arwen, Faramir/Eowyn) and a few Man Who Learned Better sub-plots.  (Legolas and Gimli's friendship, Pippin and Merry growing wiser, Boromir's change before his death, etc.)

A Christmas Carol is an example of Man Who Learned Better, and Pride and Prejudice is an example of Boy Meets Girl.  

There are II's in each of these genres, but I am only talking about Heroic Quest because that is my favorite and it is what I write.  First chapters will usually show what your hero's life was like before the II and it shows the injustice the hero is suffering.  A few examples...

The Hunger Games- The first scenes show Katniss hunting for food to keep from starving with her buddy Gale.  This shows that Katniss hunts everyday, and it also shows the injustice, she has to keep her mother and sister from starving because her dad is dead, her mother is weak, and Prim is young.  

Tarzan of the Apes- The first scenes of the novel show Tarzan swinging around with his Ape family who don't really accept him and him being completely unaware of it.  Tarzan is happy.  Though Tarzan does not know the injustice, the readers do.  We know about his parents being marooned on the island by wicked sailors and we know what Tarzan is missing out on.  

Sword in the Stars- The first scenes show Alastair searching relentlessly for signs of the Halfainin, and battling his increasing need for the illegal drug, Witchdrale.  The injustice is that Alastair is unable to find what he has given his life to find, and that he can't fight his need for the drug.  

Heroic Quest novels usually start the story with one of the three things; a fight, a new arrival, or trouble.  A fight can be any type of fight, verbal, emotional, internal, or physical.  A new arrival sounds obscure at first, but it is actually pretty common, when somebody comes to the heroes world that is either bad or good.  Sometimes the hero is the new arrival.  In "Isle of Swords" the new arrival is Cat, the mysterious boy found alone and beaten on an island.  And trouble, depending on your story, can really be anything from a missing jewel to a rumor.  

The Inciting Incident itself is usually caused by the villain and it forces the hero to do something, but life cannot be the same for the hero.  

In The Hunger Games, the Inciting Incident is Prim getting picked in the reaping.  There are a lot of things Katniss could do, but no matter what her life will never be the same again.  She could stay silent and watch Prim die, she could volunteer knowing she will probably die, she could attack the guards and still watch Prim die, she could break down and scream loudly, she see where I am going with this?  But no matter what Katniss did, her life was going to change drastically.  

In The Patriot, the Inciting Incident is malicious murder of Benjamin Martin's son.  Benjamin chooses to go to war against the British for revenge.  He could have chosen to stay home, or to go to war for patriotism, but he chose revenge and it changed his life.  But his life was already changed because of the Inciting Incident.  

So, to summarize, first chapters typically have most, if not all, of these things.  

-They begin with a fight, trouble, or new arrival to grab the reader's attention.
-They show the hero's old life
-They show the injustice the hero is suffering
-They demonstrate the hero's character and positive ideal
-The Inciting Incident which usually demonstrates the villain's badness.  

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