Elizabeth: After the Inciting Incident

Stories Yet To Be WrittenHas it only been a week?  Feels like a life-time has flashed by since my last Wednesday post.

Nancy’s Writing is our Superpower post on Monday, with her message about using story to help people make sense of the world around them got me looking at real life from a storytelling perspective, which led me to thoughts about how people react to conflict.

If the events of the past few weeks were something we were reading in a story, then last Tuesday would have been that inciting incident or initial conflict that blasted our protagonists out of their stable-state existence on Monday and drop kicked them into a whole new world on Wednesday.   Like “innocent, optimistic, naïve Nancy of November 7”, those protagonists can’t go back to the people they were before; they must now figure out what to do in what is their new reality.  They can refuse to change, but they can’t un-change the world around them.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  ~ Heraclitus

So, if this were just a story, once the shock and blaming were over, what would our protagonists do next?

Despite the futility, some would in fact, refuse to change.  They would do their best to take the new reality bend and shape it to fit their previous stable –state; working hard to convince themselves that nothing had changed until things reached a point where they just couldn’t maintain that fiction any longer.    If we were drawing a conflict box their goal would be “not to change.”

In fiction, an example of this would be Bill from Jenny Crusie’s book Crazy for You.  Bill’s girlfriend leaves him and moves on with her life, but he steadfastly refuses to believe it; insisting as the story progresses and nothing has changed, resulting in a big showdown in the climax of the story when he is forced out of his denial.

Going back to our story world, other protagonists might instead take up the “call to action” and work to become the drivers of their own stories, rather than players in someone else’s narrative.   Their conflict box goals would be something like “make xxx happen”.    From a storytelling perspective these are very crunchy goals because they have the potential for danger, additional conflict, and escalating tension.    They’re also the kind of goals that provide great opportunities for community building along with the potential for both great risk and great reward.

There are obviously other ways our protagonists could react to the initial inciting incident, but the second group are who I want to both write about and read about.  Seeing how they act under pressure and how they grow/change can be both entertaining and provide useful examples for how do to do the same in real-life.  Conversely, watching how people react to the current situation in real-life will undoubtedly provide some wonderful story fodder in return.  I’m predicting an up-tick in stories with family members on opposite sides of the political spectrum, not to mention some interesting real-life discussions around the dinner-tables this holiday season.

For now I’m off to see what kind of dent I can make in today’s NaNo word count.

If writing just isn’t on your mind right now, check out Chuck Wendig’s Mourn, then get mad, then get busy post or the recent thought-provoking posts over at Arghink.  If you need a light-hearted distraction instead , check out the some of these Biden memes that have been sweeping the internet.

7 thoughts on “Elizabeth: After the Inciting Incident

  1. I love that Heraclitus quote; very true. It might feel like we’re stepping into the same river (not politically — that’s a whole new swamp as far as I’m concerned), but circumstances have changed, because they always change. And maybe today, we have better footwear.

    I’ve been loving the Joe Biden memes. So silly, and just a bit of a punch to them. I can punch vicariously through Joe Biden. I really adore the very silly one about installing cat-shaped door knobs everywhere in the White House. It’s a combo of “You want to grab p****? Here, grab this!” and “Your words come back to haunt you, with every door you open.”

    I have failed miserably at NaNo this year (so far) in the only way one CAN fail NaNo: by not writing. I would like to say I’m going to do better this week, but that kind of thing doesn’t work for me; I resent my better self and watch too many YouTube videos, and stay up until midnight googling Joe Biden memes. So, I will go back to the basics, and promise myself to avoid the internet, get some good sleep tonight, and maybe finish and schedule my blog post tomorrow so I can clear the weekend.

    To all you guys who are writing: you are winning. I don’t think the words matter so much as the doing. If you’ve written even three words more because of NaNo, you’ve won, as far as I’m concerned.

    • I like that quote too, Michaeline, though I hadn’t realized who it was attributed to until I looked it up last night.

      Sorry to hear NaNo hasn’t panned out for you recently; sometimes the timing just doesn’t work. I was on track for the first week, but am about 7k words behind schedule now. Happy to have more words than I started the month out with, though I have the nagging feeling that I should be working on something substantial than a snarky, light-hearted story.

      Good luck on your plan to get back to basics.

    • Going to the UnConference I attended helped derail any hope I had left of ‘winning’ NaNo. I’m working on backstory, not for the page, but so I know my characters inside and out so I can know what they will do and more importantly, why they will do it in the story. I woke up in tears this morning as I realized (I guess in a dream or dreamlike state) something that happened to the antagonist 5 years before the story of the book begins. It turns a few plot points on their heads and clarifies some of the choices she’s made as the book opens. So important progress, whether it counts for NaNo or not.

      Elizabeth – My story has a light tone and snark as well, but plumbs some dark and emotional depths. I think good fiction can use both to great effect, so write on with whatever inspires you right now!

      • Bummer about waking up in tears, but yay for the insight into your antagonist and the story progress. It’s always a nice surprise to find your mind has been busily percolating away when you busy elsewhere.

  2. (-: Redefine “winning NaNo” — I think as long as you get words on paper duriing NaNo that you wouldn’t have otherwise, you win. Technically I did, for one day. And I still have about 12 days to guilt-trip myself into writing.

    (-: Wrong way to look at it. I am doing some research and getting some clues about that mysterious black knot in the middle of my story, so I guess I am making progress. Just not word progress.

    I think you both are winners!

    • You’re right Michaeline, “winning NaNo” can be viewed many different ways. For me, it means touching the story everyday, whether I hit that 1,667 words or not. I’d love to hit 50,000 at the end of the month, but even if I don’t I’m pretty sure I will still meet my every-day goal. Sounds like your progress has been in unraveling some knots in your story, which sounds like winning too. I’m pretty sure the only way to “lose” is to not try at all.

      • (-: For sure, if I get that whole black ball of unseen story unravelled enough to start writing again, I will feel like it’s a huge win. It feels like my hands keep slipping off the story ends, though . . . . My subconscious doesn’t know what’s the important thing to be said here is, I guess.

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