Inciting Moments – Winter Is Here
Every problem has a moment – a beginning point – where everything changes. Your world is off balance. You are acutely aware that something is different. You can feel it, taste it, see it, smell it. You can no longer ignore it, if that was your coping mechanism. In hindsight, it is easy to identify. If you were recounting the story to a friend, this is where you would begin. This would be an inciting moment.
Every problem also has a solution. The solution is usually a process you have to go through to solve the crisis. To solve a problem you need to make a decision about what you are going to do next. You need a goal. Whether or not you reach your goal, or find another solution, is part of the journey.
The stories we write are no different to the problems we face in real life. Something happens that changes your character’s life. The inciting moment in real life or fiction is about change that leads to conflict, or conflict that leads to change.
This moment is interesting and important enough to create a response in you or your protagonist. It makes you act.
We don’t want you or your protagonist to wallow in victim mode, frozen in your inability to react. We don’t want you to be passive or indifferent. We want to find out how you solved the problem, what you faced, how you felt, and what you learnt about yourself.
There are two types of inciting moments:
Major – nothing is ever the same again:
This inciting moment is external and can be immediately linked to the main plot. For example:
- An antagonist kidnaps your protagonist’s child.
- A sniper kills an important politician who is being guarded by your protagonist.
- A husband walks in on his wife who is having sex with another man.
- A man is told that he is terminally ill and has a few weeks to live.
- A teenage girl’s parents are killed. The killers tell her that she is really the heir to a fantasy kingdom and they plan to use her as leverage in a war.
This type of inciting moment involves immediate major conflict, action, change and a reaction from a reasonable protagonist.
Or we can go back a few scenes and start the stories here:
Minor – a glimpse into the ordinary world before the change:
This inciting moment can begin earlier. It is either internal or external, and shows us more about the characters. In older books and archaic storytelling, more time was given to this setting up of the protagonist’s ‘ordinary world’. If you want to go this route, make sure you keep it short and make sure it is important. For example:
- A protagonist almost has a car accident because she is distracted. She ends up being late to pick up her child.
- A bodyguard can’t sleep. He is having a crisis. His girlfriend has left him, his father is ill, and he wonders if he is still good enough to do his job.
- A man’s business flight is cancelled. Annoyed, the workaholic decides to go home and do some work from home. It’s closer to the airport.
- A man is fighting with his wife because her mother is interfering in their marriage. He walks out, late for a doctor’s appointment.
- A teenage girl is bullied by other children her age. She has always felt as if she does not belong and wishes that a dragon would spirit her away.
This type of inciting moment involves a slower beginning with a minor conflict (bearing in mind this is relative to the storyline). This gives you a chance to get to know the characters, but don’t go back further than this. The major inciting moment must occur soon after this.
Why does it matter?
- The inciting moment is vital because it gives your protagonist a story goal. It doesn’t matter which one you choose as long as you get to the point sooner rather than later. If you don’t, you run the risk of losing the reader.
- Once the story has started, and I care about the character, I want to know what happens next. All your backstory can be woven into the rest of your story with dialogue, memories (don’t overdo these) and the occasional flashback (one per novel is plenty).
- Remember that the inciting moment is just the beginning. Everything should continue to change. Add conflict, suspense and action. Show how this changes your character until we reach the moment of crisis and ultimately a resolution.
- Did you solve your problem? Does he or she achieve his story goal? That is up to you.
© Amanda Patterson
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