As writers, we’re taught that a story rightfully begins with an inciting incident; an event that changes something for our hero/heroine, throwing them off their traditional path and setting everything in motion. It can be as simple as meeting a cute guy in the bar, the death of a family member, or being transferred to a new job, or more complex, like being transported into a whole new world. Typically, the inciting incident is something that happens to the hero/heroine, rather than something they actively do.
Simply put, before the inciting incident there is equilibrium. Afterwards, the balance has been upset and there is a problem to be solved.
- In our oft-quoted Loretta Chase favorite, Lord of Scoundrels, the inciting incident occurs when Jessica and Dain first meet in the antique shop, upsetting equilibrium for both of them.
- In the classic story, The Wizard of Oz, the inciting incident is when Dorothy finds herself transported from Kansas to a whole new world where she must solve the problem of how to get back home. (Note: Alternatively, some instead consider the inciting incident to be when Dorothy runs off with Toto, causing her to be caught in the tornado. There is no right/wrong answer.)
Once the inciting incident happens the story only moves forward if the impacted characters choose to cooperate. If Jessica and Dain had walked away from their initial meeting in Lord of Scoundrels and never thought of each other or interacted again, there would have been no story. If Dorothy had landed in Oz and said “I’m just going to pretend this is Kansas,” we’d have never had a fascination with ruby red slippers and the Wicked Witch of the West. Fortunately for us, these characters cooperated and the stories were set in motion.
Though characters may try to ignore the inciting incident or resist it in the early part of a story, they will eventually hit a point where they need to answer the call to action and commit to taking the journey (solve the problem) that was initiated by the inciting incident if the story is going to continue.
Recent current events provide a good example of the inciting incident / call to action concept.
- You could say we experienced an inciting incident with our most recent presidential inauguration which, if the news is any indication, has disrupted equilibrium for many.
- For some people the incident did not disrupt their equilibrium at all, so there is no story there.
- Others found the event disruptive but chose to ignore it (“there’s nothing I can do about it”) or decided to wait and see what might happen next. They’re waiting for the event to resolve itself or for a bigger, more disruptive event to occur before they take action. They may or may not wind up with a story.
- Still others have taken up the call to action initiated by the inciting incident. They’re marching and writing letters; protesting and making plans to solve the problem caused by the inciting incident. They’ve set their stories in motion and have committed to the journey.
From a writing perspective, this slice of real-life is a story-telling gold mine. Throwing together characters with different responses to the initiating incident provides the potential for some great conflict. Even if both characters have taken up the call to action, they could be going about it in different ways and/or have different ideas about what the real problems are. Family members on different sides of the issue or, even better, our romantic interests on opposing sides could present some real challenges.
These last few days I’ve been playing around with some new characters tossed in the middle of this very kind of real-life situation. My heroine and hero are on different sides of an issue and both have answered their call to action. I’m not sure about him yet, but she’s a reporter. They met / became involved first and then found out that they were opponents, which has put them in an uncomfortable situation. Complicating matters, they have to figure out how to work together to solve some Big Problem (still cogitating on the details).
If all goes well, you’ll meet these two in a few weeks in my February Short Story post.
For now I’m going to go catch up on the day’s current events (and possibly mine them for story ideas).
So, do you have any stories inspired by real-life events or have you answered a Call to Action recently?
(-: Nice way to apply real life to our art!
Up to now, my inciting events have been inspired by more intimate real life happenings. My friend had problems getting her dog on an airplane, and wound up meeting a nice guy who let her borrow a charger for her computer so she could communicate with the rest of the world. I used that inciting event (getting kicked off a flight) for my NaNo that year.
I’m really interested in seeing how your story develops. There are some real-life romances out there about people who are on the opposite ends of the spectrum politically, and I always enjoy that kind of human interest article. It’d be fun to see a whole story about how they deal with it!
I’m interested in seeing how the story develops too, Michaeline 🙂 They are going to have to learn how to find some common ground, and I don’t think that is going to be easy. I know my own parents were on different parts of the political spectrum, but they never talked politics, so that’s not too much help in figuring out how my characters will work together. Ah well, it’s a fun problem to wrestle with on a dark and rainy evening.
That may be the way people in real life deal with differences — ignore them and slather a heapin’ helpin’ of fantasy over their great romance. I think my husband and I share a lot of political opinions, but we have a great deal of trouble talking about them because he gets very pessimistic and tends to exaggerate a few instances into a lot. And my basic optimism may look flippant to him, and my “yes, that’s true, but it’s not quite as bad as you think” sounds like a Trumpian “Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong!” to his ears.
When it comes right down to it, most people in politics are interested in a better system that helps more people — but we define “helping people” in very different ways. So, if they can find common ground, and a willingness to say, “Well, it’s not a zero-sum game. Which way will actually help more people? Let’s both try!” — maybe that would lead to a satisfying relationship.
(-: And if there’s a truly bad apple — one of those people who gets into politics in order to boss people around and make money and influence for his/herself, then the couple can unite against that person. Different ways and means. We shall overcome by committee.
I can’t wait to hear how you resolve the characters’ issues with each other! I wrote a book like that once, and I never did figure out a way for them to overcome their political disagreements. That book is still under the bed. Never doing that again! At least not until I find the magic formula. 🙂
I’m pretty sure they’re going to continue to disagree, but they are going to find that even in their disagreements they can find bits and pieces that they agree on and then build from there. Kind of like what I’m hoping our elected representatives will be able to do in real-life. Fingers crossed all around.
I started a story last year after skiing. Apparently, 2015 was the first year that Park City and Canyons Village ski resorts were under the same (new) owner, Vail Resorts, and I heard rumors from the ski instructors and the valets that all was not right in Oz.
There were disagreements about how much the instructors were getting paid, how many hours they were getting, there were logistical problems on the mountain, etc. Very interesting, and the whole idea of some big conglomerate coming in and taking over a relatively mom-and-pop-type ski operation seemed good to me. Naturally (’cause I’ve never really been a skier), my heroine is the corporate lawyer/closer, slightly overweight non-skiing type who gets paired up wtih a sexy ski instructor who is barely making it on his instructor salary and has a lot to show Jennifer (heroine) about the people who make their living off the resort.
Maybe someday I’ll go back to it, but I have to finish the other DAMN book first.
I remember you mentioning that story. Sounds like there’s good potential for conflict and tension there. I watched a number of Hallmark Channel movies this past holiday season and there were several where a conglomerate takes over a small business (cookie factory, Christmas village, etc.). They were romances, so there was a guy on one side and a gal on the other. They all worked things out, though if I remember correctly, it was more a case of one side changing their mind, rather than the two finding common ground. Will have to look back at those more closely.
Hope you are able to get back to your story and get your characters to their HEA.