Michaeline: One More Thing You Need To Start a Story

A little girl offering root beer syrup to a young woman in black.

Older and wiser, but still obsessed with root beer. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

If you read Saturday’s blog post, you already know three elements you need to get your story started: a character, a setting/situation and finally, another character to play against.

The final thing you need to get the ball rolling is an inciting incident. You need the spark that sets the whole ball of wax on fire, and starts it rolling toward the finish line.

Yesterday, I talked about Rachel, who is producing illegal root beer on a spaceship. She is up against Ms. Pratchett, an atmosphere engineer who is disturbed by the sudden increase of carbon dioxide in the air – and she isn’t very fond of exploding bottles of semi-alcoholic liquid in the cabin next door. Plus, she hates the smell of root beer. It reminds her of an old Chinese remedy her mother used to force down her when she was under the weather.

In this case, the inciting incident is pretty easy to find. In fact, if you put your mind to it, I bet you could think of several. The first one I thought of was having the carbon dioxide detector go off in the middle of the night, awakening both Rachel, the fussy Ms. Pratchett, and the entire ship.

But hold on a minute! The first idea MIGHT be the best idea, but then again, it might not. It would be better to brainstorm at least a half a dozen ideas – things start to get very interesting around idea 12, they say.

So, here goes:
2. The captain calls Ms. Pratchett into his office, and orders her to investigate (strengthens Ms. Pratchett’s position, but a lot less exciting than an alarm going off).
3. A bottle of soda explodes, and Ms. Pratchett must investigate. (I do like a good explosion.)
4. Change the perspective: Ms. Pratchett is the hero of this story, and Rachel is an evil rule-breaker. (This is worth exploring: the villain is often the hero of her own story in a good book. This could deepen Ms. Pratchett’s characterization, and who knows? Ms. Pratchett, or Susie as we come to know her, might be the real hero.)
5. There’s no root beer yet. Susie Pratchett finds a recipe book lying open, and must cut the action off at the pass. (Of course, cutting the action off at the pass can result in . . . less action. Not good.)
6. There’s root beer a-flowing in the gutters! And Rachel is raking in the dough, but half-drunk and sugar-high people are fighting in the hallways. Susie steps in when her date gets slugged by a root beer addict in the canteen. (This could work. But how do I escalate from here?)
7. Let’s move the exploding bottle from Rachel’s closet to the closet of her best friend, Frannie. Rachel is shocked and upset! And Frannie is in such trouble with horrible Ms. Pratchett. (meh.)
8. Closets? This is a space ship. Rachel would be lucky to have a foot locker. What if we move the root beer distilling area next to that important shipment of silks? (Stakes are higher now than ever before – but it seems too escalated. It might make a good move for the second act, though.)

A girl with root beer syrup and a glass of root beer.

“All you need,” Rachel said, “Is some water, some yeast, and this little bottle of magic!” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

9. Rachel has been a root beer lover with a big case of nostalgia in all of the scenarios so far. What if she doesn’t particularly like root beer? She does recognize that some of the most powerful crew members would do a lot for a good root beer. (This moves her more into the villain camp in my mind – someone who manipulates for her own profit.) The inciting incident could be when Ms. Pratchett discovers the happy captain toasting Rachel with a mug of frosty goodness. What kind of triggers would this sort of favoritism set off?
10. Sassafras, which was traditionally used in root beer, has been banned in the US by the FDA (for real!). But what if the captain thought it was just what he needed to prevent his gout from taking over his body? The captain asked Rachel, the ship’s chef, to create a batch of root beer with some smuggled sassafras – and Susie’s sensitive sniffer catches up with the dangerous project just as the first batch is about to explode. (Oooh! There are some really good elements here!)
11. The captain’s sassafras is brought in by pirates, who take over the ship in the inciting incident, and Susie and Rachel must figure out how to re-gain control of the ship.
12. What’s the good of having a spaceship if there are no aliens?? The captain’s illicit sassafras turns out to be the key to killing the aliens! So, the inciting incident is something mild and amusing: Susie discovers Rachel’s little chemistry project. The captain is dragged in, and supports Rachel. But then the aliens invade! They start taking over bodies, starting with a couple of Redshirts, but ending with the poor gout-ridden captain, who drinks his root beer just as his belly begins to swell for the final explosion! Things subside, the human universe is saved! And sassafras and root beer become hugely popular with people all over the galaxy!

(-: See? Didn’t I tell you the good stuff starts happening around the twelfth idea? I’m too exhausted to see what the twentieth idea will bring.

I’d like to share one short brainstorming hint. You may notice that examples one and two play with the “Who”. Three and four are about the “What.” Do you get the pattern? The next two are changing the “when”, the next two deal with the “where”, then we head for the “why” and finally play with the “how” for the last two. The old journalism questions of “who, what, when, where, why and how” allow us to address different aspects of the story.

At any rate, this is the fun part. Coming up with ideas and going into discovery where you make the stuff that’s going to eventually become the story are the parts I enjoy the most. The harder part is actually making everything fit together without any bumps or clunks. Give it a try, and see what happens.

4 thoughts on “Michaeline: One More Thing You Need To Start a Story

    • I guess that’s what gets ME to sit down and write — two ideas bump into each other, and I start wondering what-if. Originally, I was writing some sort of socialist dribble about a workplace where everyone exercised for perfect health (sounds great in theory, even though I’d probably complain if it were ever imposed on me — I might even quit), and talking about the all-natural organic root beer they’d create on this very artificial space ship. A real longing for the old days with an appreciation for the new and modern.

      (-: The hardest thing about writing about root beer is that I want to make it one word: rootbeer. And the writing programs HATE that. (Plus, I think it’s probably wrong. If Hire’s doesn’t do it, it’s probably wrong.)

  1. First, it’s not rootbeer. It’s root beer. Hire’s is right about that. The other thing: have you ever seen a move called “The Road to Wellness”? It’s a comedy about a health spa at about the turn of the last century. The one where they stimulated you by sticking you in a tub of water and then turning on the electricity. That really happened. I thought of it when you said socialist workplace where everyone exercised for perfect health. I think you could do a lot with a rewrite of “The Road to Wellness.”

    • LOL, yes ma’am. And yes, ma’am! I’ve read the book twice; it’s really good, and there’s a strange romance at the heart of it — more of a “settling for the one you love” kind of thing. I wonder if I read it around the time I first started thinking of this situation. Hmmm.

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