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The protagonist is The Everyman who by chance happened upon the Inciting Incident

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
BreadBull on Feb 10th 2019 at 5:10:24 PM
Last Edited By:
BreadBull on 20 hours ago
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

If you've got a story that needs a protagonist you can either have them be a chosen one, where forces have already pre-determined who is to be The Hero that saves the day (eg. prophecy, bloodline, it's their field of work, etc). Or, you can just toss an Inciting Incident onto a random street corner and let the first Tom, Dick or Harry who comes across it be the protagonist.

To qualify for this trope, the protagonist needs to meet these two terms:

  • Not have any inherent qualities or circumstances that make them the hero beforehand.
  • Find the Inciting Incident, and not have the Inciting Incident start happening in front of them.

So, for example: Meet our protagonist, Alice, about to take a nap by a river. She notices a rabbit with a pocketwatch hurry past her, and since that's not something you see every day Alice decides to follow the rabbit. The rest - well, you know the rest (or maybe you don't, but what happens next isn't important). Why is Alice the protagonist? Because she saw the rabbit. If her sister had been the one who saw the pocketwatch-wearing rabbit and followed him, we'd likely be reading Alice's Sister's Adventures in Wonderland.

On the other hand, if the rabbit had come up to Alice and asked her to come to Wonderland to stop the evil Queen, that doesn't count - for that, see Summon Everyman Hero. Neither would it count if the evil Queen invades our world and there is nobody around but Alice to close the portal so the rest of the Queen's army doesn't get through - for that, see Right Man in the Wrong Place.

(There's also "Die Hard" on an X, which would be if Alice was part of a trans-dimensional police force and was called into Wonderland because the evil Queen had illegally seized power and was now holding everyone in the palace hostage, but we digress.)

This trope is commonly seen in works with a Story Arc or Myth Arc to serve as the protagonist's Origin Story, such as where a superhero got their powers. As a bonus, exposition can be given much more naturally, since in this case our main character knows as much as the audience does and other characters will explain without invoking As You Know. For works where characters stumble into the conflict time and time again, common in episodic works, instead of being a one-off, see sister trope Plot Magnet and Unlikely Hero.

How the protagonist responds also varies. They might go From Nobody to Nightmare as a result, they might just go along for the ride as a Pinball Protagonist and be an Action Survivor. For the latter, it's common for our protagonist encountering this tropeto have various reasons reasons why they can't escape from it now that they've stumbled into it, for example a Clingy Macguffin or Trapped in Another World. If it's a superpower-related Incident, expect I Just Want to Be Normal.

The Drifter archetype often follows this pattern: he comes into a new town and tries to keep to himself, but ultimately gets sucked into some local conflict that didn't initially have anything to do with him.

See also: Accidental Hero, when somebody finds themselves regarded as a hero without intending to; Awakening the Sleeping Giant and Create Your Own Hero, both for when a person or party creates - from their point-of-view - the antagonist via actions they themselves have made (in which case they might be a Heroic Neutral); Innocent Bystander, for characters by the wayside.

Supertrope to Falling into the Cockpit, for when the Inciting Incident happens to be the soon-to-be protagonist encountering a Giant Mecha; It Began with a Twist of Fate, which mentions a specific decision that led the protagonist to the Inciting Incident.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Rokuro Okajima aka Rock from Black Lagoon is forced to go on the run and eventually, live in Roanapur and join Lagoon Company since his boss in Asahi Industries decided to have him written off despite being told to handle sensitive data to be given to a VIP in Southeast Asia in case of He Knows Too Much.
  • Seras Victoria, a police officer, is forced to join with Hellsing in Hellsing since she was targeted by a vampire and Alucard turned her into one in order to save her life after being wounded in a fight. Since the agency had publicly declared her as "dead", Seras has no choice but to work for them.

Film

Comics and Literature

  • ''The Adventures Of Tintin:
    • In King Ottokar's Sceptre Tintin finds a lost briefcase on a bench in a park and decides to return it, initiating his involvement in the whole Bordurian conspiracy to depose the Syldavian monarchy and invade Syldavia.
    • The Black Island similarly has Tintin thrown into the plot when a counterfeit money smuggler's plane crash-lands in a field near where he's taking a walk.
  • Keys to the Kingdom plays with this in regards to Arthur Penhaligon. While he is The Chosen One for receiving one of the Keys, him being chosen was him being in the wrong place at the wrong time, where he was one of many of a list of children who were close to death (in his case chronic asthma). The villain, Mister Monday wished to grant ownership of the Minute Hand to the boy and then reclaim after he died off. However he didn't consider not only would Arthur be saved from death by the Key's healing powers, but also that Arthur would choose to use the Key to fight back against his forces and be a hero.
  • Jack and Annie, of The Magic Tree House, find the titular tree house walking home from school one day and begin their Time Travel adventure shenanigans.
  • A Tale of Time City: Vivian, escaping from the Blitz during World War II London, suffers from a case of Mistaken Identity and is taken to Time City.

Live Action TV

  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
    • Most of the companions of Doctor Who simply happened to stumble into the Doctor's vicinity and now have aliens trying to kill them. Donna Noble is a semi-exception, as she was looking for the Doctor however it was spurred by her accidentally getting sucked up into the Doctor's TARDIS a year ago.
    • Likewise, Gwen Cooper stumbled into Torchwood via similar stumbling into the Torchwood team.
  • Rembrant from Sliders got caught up in Quinn's parallel world surfing adventure because he got caught up in their whirlwind while driving his car and, like the rest of the team, are trying to get back.

Video Games

  • Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: Unlike most protagonists of the franchise, Edward Kenway simply happened to get shipwrecked next to an assassin, getting him involved in the titular creed.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
  • Far Cry 3: Jason is suddenly thrust into the position of having to save the Rook Islands and his friends from Vaas when they're kidnapped during a vacation.
  • In Final Fantasy XII, main character Vaan was just a Street Urchin and petty thief who happened to be trying to steal a valuable piece of Magicite from the castle on the same day that both the deposed princess and a famous Sky Pirate also tried to steal it, resulting in the urchin getting entangled in a political struggle that reshapes the continent, and even forever changes the relationship between mortals and the Occuria, who are awfully close to gods.
  • Tommy Angelo from Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven is an honest taxi driver as the game opens, when he is forced at gunpoint to help a couple mobsters escape from a rival family's attack. Later on, the same rivals destroy his car in revenge, so he has no choice but to join up with the family he unwillingly helped before.
  • The Playa from the original Saints Row is just a Stilwater nobody at the outset, accidentally caught up in a three-way gang shootout and almost executed as an unwanted witness. He is rescued by the Vigilante Man Julius Little and joins his 3rd Street Saints out of gratitude, as well as to Clean Up the Town.

Web Comics

  • The Runaways became caught up in Secret Invasion because they just happened to be visiting New York City on the very day that the Skrulls attacked the city.

Web Video

  • Marble Hornets: Jay is just a man with a camera who decides to look back on old memories of shooting a never-finished student film, when he notices something weird in the background of every tape. The supernatural effect on him is so strong he is unable to stop his obsessive investigating afterward- even after he makes the attempt to stop completely, he gets pulled back in through circumstances beyond his control.

Western Animation

  • Katara and Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender, who found Aang (whom is The Chosen One) frozen in an iceberg.
  • Dipper Pines from Gravity Falls, who finds a mysterious journal buried in the woods when sent out to hang signs on trees. The journal, as a Great Big Book of Everything, tells Dipper that the town he's in - the titular Gravity Falls - contains a variety of supernatural phenomena, piquing Dipper's interest and leading him to start exploring the hidden secrets the town has to offer.
  • In King (2003), Russel Wright finds a portal hidden under his bed and discovers a land called Under, where he is deemed king because he's from "the place where kings come from" (our world).
  • The four protagonists of Super Noobs, who got entrusted with defending the Earth with battle balls (that don't come off due to being fused with their DNA) due to being mistaken for soldiers.

Feedback: 57 replies

Feb 10th 2019 at 6:44:51 PM

In order to justify making this a different trope from Right Man In The Wrong Place, your examples should explain why the hero is stuck with the circumstances and can't back out.

Feb 10th 2019 at 9:04:31 PM

Right Man In The Wrong Place is still similar to The Chosen One, though, in the sense that the Inciting Incident went to the protagonist (which limits possible protagonists to, well, whoever happens to be around at the time) instead of the protagonist going to it (which is broader, as anyone could've walked into it instead of who happened to be in proximity)

Feb 11th 2019 at 12:52:11 AM

I think this is a common opening for crime-based From Nobody To Nightmare plots, e.g.:

  • Tommy Angelo from Mafia The City Of Lost Heaven is an honest taxi driver as the game opens, when he is forced at gunpoint to help a couple mobsters escape from a rival family's attack. Later on, the same rivals destroy his car in revenge, so he has no choice but to join up with the family he unwilling helped before.
  • The Playa from the original Saints Row 1 is just a Stilwater nobody at the outset, accidentally caught up in a three-way gang shootout and almost executed as an unwanted witness. He is rescued by the Vigilante Man Julius Little and joins his 3rd Street Saints out of gratitude, as well as to Clean Up The Town.

Feb 10th 2019 at 11:43:57 PM

Rokuro Okajima aka Rock from Black Lagoon is forced to go on the run and eventually, live in Roanapur and join Lagoon Company since his boss in Asahi Industries decided to have him written off despite being told to handle senstive data to be given to a VIP i Southeast Asia.


Seras Victoria, a police officer, is forced to join with Hellsing in Hellsing since she was targeted by a vampire and Alucard turned her into one in order to save her life. Since the agency had publicly declared her as "dead", Seras has no choice but to work for them.

Feb 11th 2019 at 8:47:00 AM

Film - Animated

Feb 11th 2019 at 11:41:11 AM

Not every example explains how each protagonist fits the criteria. This is most evident in the Western Animation section.

Anyway:

  • Marble Hornets: Jay is just a man with a camera who decides to look back on old memories of shooting a never-finished student film, when he notices something weird in the background of every tape. The supernatural effect on him is so strong he is unable to stop his obsessive investigating afterward- even after he makes the attempt to stop completely, he gets pulled back in through circumstances beyond his control.

Feb 11th 2019 at 12:29:56 PM

Would it be better if I renamed this to Stumbled Into The Macguffin instead?

Feb 11th 2019 at 12:31:27 PM

^ Nah, then a multitude of examples would no longer fit. Title is fine as-is.

Edit: Noticed another issue in that, well, I'm pretty sure only my Marble Hornets example has the title in italics...

Feb 11th 2019 at 3:40:39 PM

Whoops. Okay, italicised all the works I could see. Tell me if I missed one.

Feb 11th 2019 at 5:42:32 PM

The Gravity Falls example is a Zero Context Example. How does Dipper just finding the book relate to being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Feb 11th 2019 at 5:43:50 PM

^ I mentioned that too. (Well, not specifically, but ehhh)

Feb 11th 2019 at 8:22:37 PM

Comic Books

  • The Runaways became caught up in Secret Invasion because they just happened to be visiting New York City on the very day that the Skrulls attacked the city.

Feb 12th 2019 at 6:36:17 AM

^^^ It's a figure of speech. The main gist is that there was nothing about Dipper that made him destined to be the protagonist. Mabel could have been the protagonist instead if she'd found the journal (read: Inciting Incident) instead of Dipper.

There, I've added some clarification.

Feb 12th 2019 at 6:49:49 AM

The Drifter archetype often follows this pattern: he comes into a new town and tries to keep to himself, but ultimately gets sucked into some local conflict that didn't initially have anything to do with him.

Feb 12th 2019 at 9:53:33 PM

How does this relate to Plot Magnet and its subtropes?

Feb 13th 2019 at 2:29:00 AM

^^ Added. ^ Also added.

Feb 13th 2019 at 2:49:21 AM

I am not a fan of this draft. It doesn't feel like a trope of its own but a combination of existing tropes (Right Man In The Wrong Place, Trapped In Another World, It Began With A Twist Of Fate, etc.) without creating something unique. E.g. we could add a sentence to the description of Right Man In The Wrong Place about the hero being dragged along with the plot (like the taxi driver in Collateral) and it would probably cover this draft fully. Why do you say it does not cover your third point about being trapped in the situation?

What exactly is the common theme in the example list?

  • What does the Spider Man Into The Spider Verse example have to do with stumbling into a conflict? Superheroes are prone to be born out of mundane characters going through a Freak Accident.
  • Katara and Sokka decide to follow Aang, they are not forced into the adventure. Also Katara has inherent qualities as a Waterbender.

Also, is this a character trope or plot trope?

Feb 13th 2019 at 3:36:15 AM

^ I spent a good hour searching but no, there is no existing trope that's similar. You can't fit works like Cars 2 or The LEGO Movie into Right Man In The Wrong Place. Right Man In The Wrong Place , you've got a character, something happens, and they respond out of necessity, it's very much an "I guess it's up to me to save the day" trope. That's very different from Mater crossing paths with a super spy or Emmet quite literally falling into finding the piece of resistance, neither volunteered to be the hero.

For the Spiderman example, I shall refer to point 5 on the Superhero Origin page. I know, the name's not ideal. Somebody suggest a better name.

As for the A:TLA example, Katara and Sokka followed Aang of their own decision yes, but they decide to do so because a) Aang is their friend and b) The fire nation is putting their tribe in danger. It doesn't have to be a physical thing stopping them. Second, Katara isn't a protagonist because of her waterbending abilities, she's a protagonist because she found Aang. That much should be obvious; Sokka can't waterbend and he's also a protagonist.

Character trope. Going under Backstory Index.

Feb 13th 2019 at 6:01:32 AM

I question whether Dipper Pines counts. While he does stumble upon the Journal, he's actively looking for something to do, begins investigating on his own, and living in the source of everything weird.

Feb 13th 2019 at 6:48:56 AM

^Yeah, that part wasn't really working. Scrapped.

Feb 13th 2019 at 8:58:43 AM

^^^ What's the reason of singling out Spiderman, when most superheroes became so against their will? Is being cursed with becoming a superhero all it take for this trope to apply?

I saw that you adjusted the definition. So now it's not about an outside force compelling the hero to stay on the path but it's about the active discovery of Inciting Incident. Not seeing how this can be seen as a character trope.

>>It doesn't have to be a physical thing stopping them.

Too broad. The motivation for Katara and Sokka to go on their journey was to save their tribe. Most stories have an Inciting Incident that forces the character to leave their comfort zone. That's not a new trope in my book. Or I am misunderstanding where this is going?

Feb 13th 2019 at 9:47:11 AM

^ I don't (can't) know every single character off the top of my head. Especially when it comes to superheroes; I'm only familiar with two other superheroes' backstory, Superman (who got his power from the sun, so he doesn't count) and Batman (who just has a crapton of self-made gadgets, so he doesn't count either.

The trope was supposed to be about characters who landed the title of protagonist by chance. It was always about the Inciting Incident, there was just some miscommunication in that regard.

Feb 13th 2019 at 11:47:37 AM

^ I think the problem is that all the criteria, at least beforehand, was very heavily based on the character and their plot hitting all three points.

Feb 13th 2019 at 11:58:55 AM

How is your The Drifter scenario different from Unlikely Hero? How does this trope compare against Action Survivor?

Feb 13th 2019 at 12:51:27 PM

^^ Yeah, that was my mistake. The difference between someone encountering an event and an event happening in front of them is surprisingly difficult to put into words.

Feb 13th 2019 at 3:20:59 PM

I added a Mistaken For Spies pothole to the Cars 2 example.

Feb 13th 2019 at 4:16:17 PM

Gravity Falls initially makes it like Dipper is just the lucky kid who happened to find the journal, but there's a prophecy or something, that specifies him as one of the people who help seal Bill Cipher?


VideoGame.Chantelise: Chante and Elise seem to be a random pair of sisters that had Chante be turned into a fairy, but they end up defeating a archdemon in a foretold way, although it wasn't specific about who specifically would end the archdemon?

And there might've been a fortune told?

Feb 13th 2019 at 4:29:20 PM

  • Keys To The Kingdom plays with this in regards to Arthur Penhaligon. While he is The Chosen One for receiving one of the Keys, him being chosen was him being in the wrong place at the wrong time, where he was one of many of a list of children who were close to death (in his case chronic asthma). The villain, Mister Monday wished to grant ownership of the Minute Hand to the boy and then reclaim after he died off. However he didn't consider not only would Arthur be saved from death by the Key's healing powers, but also that Arthur would choose to use the Key to fight back against his forces and be a hero.

Feb 13th 2019 at 9:02:34 PM

"The difference between someone encountering an event and an event happening in front of them is surprisingly difficult to put into words."

That, and it can be hard to differentiate the two in practice.

And the title and laconic mentions Plot Device, yet the description doesn't.

And by the way, Unlikely Hero is rather vague. One can be an "unlikely hero" for a lot of reasons and it seems that that trope is, um, counting them all?

Feb 13th 2019 at 11:23:35 PM

I thought "Stumbling into the Inciting Incident" sounded good enough?

Feb 16th 2019 at 8:24:25 PM

It feels like I'm saying a tongue twister. There, I've changed it to Stumbled Into The Plot.

PS: I'm not sure what you mean about how one can be an Unlikely Hero for all sorts of reasons. The trope to my understanding is about somebody who manages to find themselves in situations where only they can save the world time and time again, regardless of how improbable that is. Perhaps you might be confusing it with Accidental Hero?

Feb 18th 2019 at 11:09:16 PM

If nobody is objecting to the new new new trope name then I'm launching in 2~3 days.

Feb 18th 2019 at 11:20:15 PM

The example I'm thinking of fits into The Drifter, but would it fit here as well?

Feb 19th 2019 at 10:54:53 AM

Just noticed some indentation errors. (Spider Gwen, for example.) You'll want to get those fixed before launch. I still think Gravity Falls could use more context as well.

Feb 19th 2019 at 3:31:09 PM

^^^ That is, I'm thinking about adding an example.

Feb 19th 2019 at 3:45:50 PM

^^^ I would say no, considering Holly was friends with Harry which dragged him into everything. It's kind of like Spy Kids.

^^ Spider Gwen? Who? Where? Also, I'm not sure what more context is needed for Gravity Falls.

^ Believe it or not, I cannot read minds. You'll have to tell me of the example before I can judge whether it fits.

Feb 19th 2019 at 6:17:33 PM

^ My bad man, the Dr. Who example. I saw "Gwen Cooper" and my mind went "Spider Gwen."

The issue with the Gravity Falls example is that it doesn't explain how the book kicks off the plot. It's just "Dipper finds a book."

Feb 19th 2019 at 6:21:59 PM

Yeah, Gravity Falls is still a Zero Context Example. Tells nothing of the significance of the book.

Feb 20th 2019 at 1:33:45 PM

Could you phrase the opening differently? You start off saying three types protaganists, fair enough, but then have two paragraphs which are not this trope, but we still don't know what your trope is yet. Until third paragraph you describe, but... in both your summary of trope at the very top(under big name, above red bar) and in third paragraph (which ends "and managed to stumble upon the event or Mac Guffin that led them into their great big adventure") You don't mention the major thing separating type 3. From comments I'm guessing it's stumbling on a powerful object or an accident that gives them power. You mention a Macguffin and Inciting incident, thing is these can be completely insignificant. I'm still confused atm what this is tbh. tl;dr explain better and sooner difference between this and everyman

update: I think it's easier to read and understand now. Good editing there, and it's an interesting trope to cover the different types of 'origing stories'.

Feb 19th 2019 at 9:30:16 PM

Alright, I've (hopefully) added enough context to the Gravity Falls example. I'm keeping Gwen Cooper and Doctor Who together since they're related shows, but I've added an indent - sorry, forgot not everyone will know Live Action TV/Torchwood is part of Doctor Who.

Feb 19th 2019 at 9:34:54 PM

Compare with Pinball Protagonist, where the protagonist is largely superfluous to resolving the plot.

  • In Final Fantasy XII, main character Vaan was just a Street Urchin and petty thief who happened to be trying to steal a valuable piece of Magicite from the castle on the same day that both the deposed princess and a famous Sky Pirate also tried to steal it, resulting in the urchin getting entangled in a political struggle that reshapes the continent, and even forever changes the relationship between mortals and the Occuria, who are awfully close to gods.

Feb 20th 2019 at 8:34:56 AM

Would the Tintin story King Ottokar's Sceptre be this trope? Tintin finds a briefcase on a bench, initiating his involvement in the whole Bordurian conspiracy to depose the Syldavian monarchy and invade Syldavia.

Feb 20th 2019 at 4:08:52 PM

^ Yes, it would - or at least, it would based on me reading the synopsis on the Other Wiki. I've added it in but somebody who is more familiar with the story feel free to counter.

Feb 20th 2019 at 5:27:30 PM

I'm not sure of policy for launchpad here, if I should edit this in myself. But this story would apply I think. In Magic Kingdom for Sale SOLD! the novel begins with Ben Holiday, a trial lawyer from Chicago, lamenting the loss of his wife and unborn child in a car accident. He finds an advertisement in an upscale Christmas catalog claiming to offer a magical kingdom for one million dollars by a man named Mr. Meeks. Although skeptical, Ben pursues the offer out of a desperate need to start a new life.

Feb 20th 2019 at 7:54:24 PM

^ I'm gonna need a bit more context as to exactly what shenanigans Ben Holiday gets himself into after buying said magic kingdom.

Feb 21st 2019 at 8:32:21 AM

The Tintin story The Black Island similarly has Tintin thrown into the plot when a counterfeit money smuggler's plane crash-lands in a field near where he's taking a walk.

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