Every story needs a strong beginning — one that is compelling enough to jump-start the plot, grab your readers, and carry them along to the very last page. One of the best ways to do this is with an inciting incident. An inciting incident, also called a catalyst, is an event that changes the character’s course and thrusts them into the action of the plot. It can be a positive or negative event that throws the character into turmoil and concludes in the story’s climax. An inciting incident is different from a hook, which is another device used to grab your audience at the very beginning of the story, but which doesn’t necessarily have a large impact on the overall plot. The experts have some advice and a few tips about writing an inciting incident — and why you should.
How To Write An Inciting Incident
Disrupt the status quo. An inciting incident usually happens to your main character and forces them out of their “normal.” This can be a call to action where the hero is asked to embark on a journey, or a tragedy that forces them to leave home. Your inciting incident can also be an action the character instigates, whether it’s deciding to leave home or choosing to get involved in shady business that is potentially dangerous.
Make it significant to your character’s growth. The inciting incident sets the story into motion and is the beginning of change for your character. This can — and should — significantly affect their life, for better or worse. It should also act as a timestamp to tell us who your character is at this point in the story.
Make it sustainable. The springboard for your plot won’t be a successful inciting incident if the effects are minor. If the event only has mild repercussions, you may need to rethink the jumping point for your story. Otherwise, this “catalyst” will simply be a bump in the road or a minor inconvenience.
Create a sense of urgency. An incident that kickstarts your story should force your character forward and cause your readers to become invested in the outcome. This is where the stakes are raised and the character’s course is changed forever, so your incident needs to be accordingly urgent. This is also the event that grabs your readers’ attention and carries them to the end — so make it good!