Monthly Archives: July 2016

Inciting Incident in a Novel


lucyThe inciting incident
is probably the most important part of your story. It propels your protagonist off on his or her path and gives the novel its raison d’être.

The inciting incident is the event that throws the protagonist’s
world out of balance and sets the story in motion. The plot is trying to get the balance back.

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Knowing where to start your story is crucial. Inexperienced writers start with backstory and that is a fatal mistake. The reader will get bored quickly. Starting in media res is the best way to get your plot off with a bang. It means immediately plunging your hero into a crucial situation or in the middle of an action scene and then having him figure out how to extricate himself from the mess he finds himself in. Of course, the worse the situation, the better your novel will be

Here are other ways to conceptualize the inciting incident:

  • it jolts your hero out of his everyday routinepunch
  • it is the event which sparks the fuse of your plot
  • it’s something that MUST happen in order for your protagonist to do, or go, wherever she has to
  • what is at stake?

Who is involved in the inciting incident?

The story is all about the protagonist and his/her journey so the inciting incident must involve the hero of the story. Sometimes, as in a murder mystery, the victim may be introduced first but make sure the hero is presented as quickly as possible so that the reader can become invested in the character.

The inciting incident does not have to be a negative thing like a murder: life can be unbalanced
by winning the lottery or having a baby. It just has to be vitally important to the character. This is totally subjective – it has to be important only to the character, not necessarily to anyone else. It must be personal. Also, the inciting incident cannot happen offstage. The protagonist must be aware of it.

A story is about something happening to someone. If nothing happens, you don’t have a story – you just have description. Stories do not have to begin with the inciting incident but it should be foreshadowed. You can bring it in when the time is right, but it is best if you do it as early as possible especially when you are a new writer.

Example of inciting incidents:

Wizard of Oz – The tornado that takes Dorothy out of Kansas and into Ozoz
Legally Blonde – When Warner dumps Elle instead of proposing to her as she expected
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – When Lucy hides inside the wardrobe
Hunger Games – When Katniss volunteers to be in place of her sister at the games
Star Wars – When Luke receives Princess Leia’s message in R2D2

Do you know what the inciting incident in your story is?

How to Create a Plot

No plot, no story – so how do you create a plot?

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The first and most important aspect of a plot is, of course, the germ. You have to have an idea. Without it, there can be no story. So, pre-supposing you have a wonderful light going off in your head here are ways to get you from point A (the beginning) to point Z (the end).

  • Take your idea and start at the end. Think about what the end of the story will be and work your way backwards. How does Hero or Heroine get to where they end up? This is called a reverse outline.
  • Key Moments – these are spikes in your plot where the suspense is heightened and things are going terribly wrong for the protagonist. You can have between five and ten of these for a novel, depending on how long your manuscript is. Write down the worst things that can possibly happen. The worse – the better. Shove those poor characters into the worst situations they can get into and then have them have the toughest time getting out.
  • Dot jot the beginning, middle and end. This only works if you already have a pretty good idea what your story is about. If you can set these three crucial parts in place, you’ll be able to figure out what hot spots your characters can get into. The beginning is your inciting incident, the middle is the escalating conflict and the end is the climax of the story.
  • Mind maps are a great way to brainstorm. Draw a circle in the middle of a blank sheet and shoot lines randomly out of it. In the center, mark your inciting incident and then brainstorm what horrible situations you can stick your unsuspecting characters in to. Have no mercy.
  • Let your characters talk to you. They can and will if you take the time to listen.
  • Write a synopsis. Like the beginning, middle and end – this only works if you know the complete arc of your story.

Boring Writing

boringWe’ve all read books with boring writing. For myself, I love such books. They give me hope. If writers such as these can somehow get published, then – there is hope for myself and all the other good writers out there. All we need is perseverance and the ability to find the right literary agent to champion our book.

What is Boring Writing?

Sure, you can recognize boring writing when you read it. It’s the type of stuff that makes your eyes close and is way cheaper and better for you than sleeping pills. But how can writers recognize whether their writing is boring or not? Here’s what to look for:

Hackneyed, Overworked Plots – these are the ones you’ve seen done over and over again. While there are only so many plot structures to go around, it is our job as writers to see  how we can refresh these plots, and re-work them so they are fresh and unique.

mad scientistStereotypes –  think the smart-mouthed detective, the Pretty Woman hooker, the mad scientist. What can we do to rescue these characters from their cliched existence?

Soul-searching – yeah, yeah, all very well but thenavel reader can take only so much navel gazing. There is a time and place for introspection in your novel, but too much of it turns the reader off. Get of the stupid couch and do something for god’s sake!

Where’s the Action? – if your character has no objective and just sits on his butt and thinks, well – where’s the story? Readers want action from their characters: they want to vicariously live and enjoy what they can’t necessarily do themselves. Give it to them or risk them tossing your book.

Crisp, Exciting Writing

The best way to ensure your writing is exciting, dynamic and has that un-put-downable quality is to present your work in writing classes or writing groups that you know will give you honest feedback. Family members don’t count – they like you too much to give an honest opinion!