Inciting Incident (Act 1 of the 3-Act Story Structure)

Inciting Incident

Inciting Incident

The Inciting Incident is one of the most famous plot beats in the 3-act story structure—and storytelling in general. The moment in the story where everything is flipped upside down and the plot officially kicks off. Something happens that triggers your character to spur into action. Usually, they’ll have to face a certain choice or obstacle, that absolutely cannot be ignored. Your (main) character is literally forced into taking action.

This is also the point in the story where most of your audience should start getting involved or sucked in. Something interesting should happen; something that makes the story worthwhile and has your audience guessing what will happen next. What choices will the character make? How will this story play out? Etcetera.

Some questions to ask yourself, about your own story:

  • What is your character’s greatest fear? (Hint: Try to shove them face-first into this)
  • What does your character need to learn—and thus, be propelled towards?
  • What would disrupt your character’s life the MOST?
  • How could you make your character face a dramatic change or choice and push them out of their comfort zone?
  • What would absolutely be the worst kind of choice for them to face?
  • What “fun” twist would set off your character on an [epic] adventure?

Inciting Incident Examples

Mulan
Copyright © The Walt Disney Company

Mulan

There’s a war brewing between China (the empire) and the Huns (as depicted in the movie) and the imperial army demands one man from every household to join the army and fight in the war. Whereas, women are strictly forbidden to join. As Mulan’s parents only have one daughter, Mulan, her father is the man to go. But he gravely injured his leg during the last war he fought in—where he became highly respected—and it’s almost certain he won’t be able to return home, facing the war ahead in the condition he’s currently in. And as loyalty, honor, and bravery are very important to him, he decides to go without resistance. So, Mulan is facing the fact that she’s about to lose her dad.

Interstellar
Copyright © Warner Bros

Interstellar

The Inciting Incident for Interstellar is longer than most. After a duststorm, Murphy (the daughter) says that the “ghost” in her room has left a message to her. She deciphers the message the ghost left at her bookcase/with books, through using morse-code. She finds out that they’re coordinates and tells her father, Cooper (the main character), who takes her seriously and immediately spurs in the action. He goes on a trip toward these coordinates and finds what’s left of NASA—his former employer. There’s a group of scientists and engineers working on a last mission, to save humanity. And they ask Cooper to become their pilot—which would mean that to secure a better future for his children, he might not ever see them again in the pursuit.

Hunger Games
Copyright © Lionsgate

The Hunger Games

The reaping (name-lottery for the hunger games) starts, and one boy and girl are pulled from a bowl of names in district 12, Katniss’ district. The girl’s name is called and it’s revealed to be Primrose Everdeen—Katniss’s little sister. Katniss faces the fact that her little sister is about to be pulled from district 12, to participate in the Hunger Games, without strength or useful skills.

Avatar
Copyright © 20th Century Studios

Avatar

Jake’s brother—who is a scientist preparing to leave for the planet Pandora—is murdered, right before the start of his voyage. Because they’re identical twins, the team of scientists stationed in Pandora ask him if he wants to take over his brother’s Avatar (because he’s able to link to the Avatar, which is created with their genetics in mind). This is a no-brainer for him, as earth is currently not the place to be. So, obviously, he goes.

Beauty and the Beast
Copyright © The Walt Disney Company

Beauty and the Beast

Belle’s father’s horse returns from his trip in panic, without her father and she knows somethings wrong. She goes back with the horse and lets it guide her towards where her father supposedly is. After a while, she arrives at a seemingly abandoned castle and decides to look for her father inside. Eventually, she finds him and meets the Beast, who tells her that her father stole a rose from his garden and thus is his prisoner for life. Makes so much sense, I know.

Comparison

As you can see: some inciting incidents happen right at the beginning of the story, which immediately starts the entire plot. With these stories, the inciting incident might not be the “difficult question” that the character faces (as discussed in the next post of this series), but just the thing that sets it all into motion and pulls them toward the difficult decision on a later time. Other inciting incidents go on for a longer time and do contain the big and troublesome decision or ultimatum. Stories like Avatar or Interstellar are much longer than the Disney movies, which explains why some structures are proportioned differently.

But the point is this: The story should start with a major change to the character’s life—either through a choice, discovery or something that happens to them. Whatever you choose, make it enticing! Happy writing 🙂

I hope you’ve got some inspiration to write your stories Inciting Incident!

Lots of Love,
Britt

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Britt van den Elzen

Hi! I’m Britt, a 20-something creative entrepreneur from the Netherlands. I’m passionate about all things magic and can often be found dreaming about fictional worlds. The greatest love of my life is storytelling and I’ve been reading and watching stories ever since I can remember. ✨

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