The inciting incident in a work of fiction is what gets the plot moving. Think of it as the first flashy set of fireworks that leads into an awesome display which lights up the sky and sets up the crescendo at the end. In other words, it will also lead directly to the climax.
A superb inciting incident will keep your audience glued to your words, reading at warp-speed with the driving desire to finish your story. And this image is what keeps our fingers flying on the keyboard, right?
Here are five suggestions to help you make your inciting incident heart-stopping:
Immediately place your protagonist in a dire situation where a decision must be made and there is precious little time in which to make it.
Force your protagonist to compromise on her ideals – give your reader hope that this compromise will lead her to a bright outcome.
Give your protagonist the opportunity to feel pain – allow him to be uncomfortable, hurt, vulnerable – give your audience a reason to root for him.
Allow the villain free reign and control to show the strength in the protagonist, the refusal to give in despite towering odds.
Forget the introduction altogether and begin the novel with the inciting incident – start your story with a bang! The rest can be filled in throughout the rising action.
There are many ways to keep your readers engaged. Obviously, voice and style are key. However:
We live in an era designed to take our audience’s attention away.
Readers are also quite savvy and images/settings/backstories that once took pages or even chapters to create can now be created in a paragraph or even a sentence!
Therefore, it is essential to keep the plot moving.
I hope these suggestions help to spark your creativity and perhaps inspire you to try something new with your writing.
Would love to hear from fellow writers how you navigate your inciting incident and where you place it, first or later in your novel? What works for you?
Every word counts. I tend to skim and skip passages when I feel the plot of a novel is not moving. So I try to put myself in my future reader’s shoes (or, eyes) and make every effort to ensure the plot is not stagnant.
My notes as an English teacher inspired me, as did the blog of author Nikki Owen, to use the tried and true plot graph in order to achieve this goal.
Please note, I used this method once I had a very good understanding of my protagonists’ motivations and backstory, not before. Knowing my heroine and hero first helped me to plot their story.
The following steps might help you organize all of the wonderful ideas buzzing inside your head:
In point form, list the main ideas of your novel
Then, use the graphic above to plan where the main ideas should fall
In point form, on the triangle, write down what will happen at each plot point in the novel.
Then repeat this process for each chapter – draw a triangle, label the plot points, then write what will happen in the chapter at each plot point. This will ensure you have a clear goal for each chapter which includes a climax and a way to flow into the next chapter. (NOTE: ensure to use only the front of the page, keep the back blank for notes later on)
And voila! Novel done. Haha! Kidding – if only it were that easy 😉 You won’t have a finished novel, but you will have a clear outline of each chapter when you sit down to write. And, since each chapter has been outlined on a separate sheet of paper, you may reorganize the chapters before you start writing.
In order to accomplish the above I bought a cheap notebook to keep my ideas together:
I found that this process helped me to stay focused during precious writing time (which is hard to obtain with marriage, career and children). Also when other ideas came to me as I wrote I could jot them down on the blank side of the page. If it was an idea which didn’t fit into the chapter or the novel as a whole, I was able to set it aside (after writing it down of course) for future books.
I hope this helps you on your writing journey! Please remember, every writer has her or his own process and this might not work with your style.
I’d love to know how other writers plan and plot out their works. What do you do when you start to write a novel?