Created By: ArtemisStrong on July 22, 2011 Last Edited By: ArtemisStrong on August 7, 2011

Inciting Incident

The event that sets the plot in motion.

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All good stories have a beginning, middle, and an end. This is about the beginning. Not just the beginning, but the beginning of the beginning. This is about the Inciting Incident.

The Inciting Incident is that first thing, great or small, that sets in motion the sequence of events that constitute the plot. From the First Act to the Dénouement, everything that happens in the story can be traced back here.

Despite the Inciting Incident's importance to the plot, it doesn't necessarily have to be a large event--it could be something as mundane as a phone call (in fact, in many non-heroic dramas it is a small thing of seeming unimportance.)

While the Inciting Incident may appear banal on the surface, it has some heavy lifting to do in a narrative sense. Firstly, it must propel the protagonist into the first phase of the plot: it sends the soon-to-be lovers into the Meet Cute in a Rom Com, it is the death of a loved one that inspires the hero to fight injustice, it is the French Toast being scraped into the trash by a emotionally cold mother. Secondly, it must place in the audience's mind the notion of what The Climax will be like: if it is the discovery of a shark-bitten corpse on a beach, expect a showdown at the end with said shark; if a farm boy discovers a message of intergalactic espionage, be sure he will follow his journey to the Galactic Overlord.

If the Inciting Incident is taking place in a Heroic Epic, it is a Call to Adventure.

Note: The Inciting Incident need not be the first thing the audience sees, nor the first eventful thing to happen in the story. It pertains to the protagonist solely, and his role in the overall plot.

Community Feedback Replies: 10
  • July 23, 2011
    The genre of the novella (particularly as defined by Goethe) is defined by such an incident.
  • July 23, 2011
    Deryni Rising starts with the assassination of King Brion while on a hunting trip. Prince Kelson orders his courtiers to send for Duke Alaric Morgan. Morgan has to come back from watching the Torenthis at Cardosa to help Kelson, face Kelson's mother (who hates and fears him), cope with hostile churchmen and the rival claimant Charissa.
  • July 23, 2011
    Oh, I probably should mention that if this makes it out of YKTTW, straight examples should probably go on works pages only, seeing how universal this potential trope is.

    But please keep adding examples, it will help me judge if this is working the way I hope it is.
  • July 24, 2011
    Wouldn't this be a Omnipresent Trope then?
  • July 25, 2011
    ^Most definitely.
  • August 5, 2011
    Ro Kyu Bu has the high school basketball team captain's alleged efforts at propositioning a minor. If that actually happened, it'd be his Moral Event Horizon, as the school actually thought it had actually happened and punished the entire team for something most of them didn't do (but their captain allegedly did). This forces the main character, who was hoping to join the team, to settle for coaching a basketball team full of grade-school girls like the one his traitorous captain allegedly made out with in some sort of misplaced Laser Guided Karma.
  • August 5, 2011
  • August 5, 2011
    ^ I beg to differ. This is a structural thing like Denouement.
  • August 6, 2011
    A famous film producer once said, "Start with an explosion and work your way up from there." Oddly, I'm pretty sure it was not Michael Bay.

    This is the plot event on the first page(s) of a novel; first minutes of a Movie, TV Show or Videogame that compel the audience to keep going. Critics (be they literary, film, TV, etc...) often call this "the hook".
  • August 6, 2011
    Yes, we need this article.