what is the inciting incident of a story?

In storytelling, the inciting incident is the moment that sets everything in motion in a good story.

It’s the event that kicks off the plot and starts the conflict. Without it, there is no story!

In this article, we will discuss what the inciting incident is and give you some examples from famous books and films to help you understand it better.

We will also show you how to write the inciting event for your short story, novel, or screenplay.

Let’s get started!

What is the Inciting Incident in a Story?

Let’s start with the inciting incident definition. In storytelling, it refers to the key event or circumstance that sets in motion the central conflict of the story.

Without this crucial ingredient, the story would lack purpose and direction.

The incident occurs early on in the story, typically after the main character’s ordinary world is introduced, and its effects are felt throughout the entire plot.

It is often the catalyst for change, spurring the protagonist to action along a new path. Some would say that this is when the real story starts.

In some cases, it is a direct result of the main character‘s choices or actions. In others, it is an external force that throws the character’s life into chaos.

Regardless of its source, the inciting incident creates tension and conflict, driving the story forward and keeping readers engaged.

Inciting Incident

How Does the Inciting Incident of a Story Fit Into Overall Story Structure?

The inciting incident of a story is the catalyst that sets the story in motion.

Typically occurring early on in the story, this pivotal event thrusts the main character on their journey, and it sets the tone for the rest of the narrative.

The inciting event can be something minor, like a character receiving a letter, or something big, like a natural disaster.

Regardless of its size, it must be significant enough to change the course of the story. Without this moment, a story would simply be a series of events with no apparent purpose or direction.

The inciting incident is what gives a story its structure and purpose. It is the hook that draws in the reader and allows them to follow along on the journey and see how the characters change and grow.

Freytag’s Pyramid

Freytag’s Pyramid is a visual representation of the basic elements of a good story arc. Outlined by German writer Gustav Freytag in his 1852 book Technique of the Drama, it has five parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.

freytag's pyramid

The exposition is the story’s beginning when the main characters and setting are introduced.

The rising action is the section of the story when the tension builds and the stakes increase.

The climax is the dramatic turning point of the story when the conflict reaches its height and is resolved.

The falling action is the section of the story after the climax when the tension dissipates and everything is wrapped up.

The denouement (or resolution) is the very end of the story when all loose ends are tied up.

rising falling action in a story

Freytag’s Pyramid is a helpful tool for understanding how a story is structured and how to create suspense and tension.

While similar to the three-act structure outlined by Plato in Poetics, there are marked differences between the 3-act plot structure diagram and Freytag’s Pyramid, particularly in terms of the length of rising action, the point of occurrence of the climax, and the length of falling action (as illustrated in the diagrams above).

In either plot structure, the inciting incident is the plot point that acts as the transition from the introduction to the rising action on the pyramid.

Why Is It Important to Have an Inciting Incident in a Story?

Inciting incidents are essential in stories because they are what propels the plot forward and get the story moving. Without the inciting moment, there would be no conflict or tension, and the story would simply be a dull account of someone’s life.

It is what provokes the main character to take action and sets the story in motion. It is often a turning point in the protagonist’s life, after which everything changes.

The inciting event is what makes a story interesting and gives it purpose. It is the spark that ignites the fire of the story and gets readers invested in the characters and their journey.

What Happens After the Inciting Incident in a Story?

The inciting incident is the life-changing action that sets the story in motion. It is the catalyst that sets the ball rolling and marks the turning point from which there is no turning back. But what happens after the inciting event?

For the protagonist, everything changes. The world as they know it is turned upside down, and they are forced to face challenges they never thought possible. They must confront their fears, overcome obstacles, and make impossible choices.

Along the way, they will grow and change, learning more about themselves and others. And if they’re lucky, they’ll come out on the other side stronger and wiser for their journey.

As for the story itself, after the inciting moment, there is usually a period of upheaval as the characters adjust to their new reality and decide to take action.

The plot thickens as complications arise and tension builds. The stakes get higher and higher until, finally, all comes to a head in an exciting climax.

After that, there may be a period of resolution as loose ends are tied up, and loose threads are woven into the tapestry of the story.

And finally, there is the denouement: the moment when we see the after-effects of the protagonist’s journey and how everything fits together in their new normal.

Stacked Books

Can I Skip an Inciting Incident in My Story?

You can skip an inciting incident in your story but do so at your peril! An inciting incident is an event that upsets the status quo, sets the story in motion, and propels the protagonist toward the climax.

Without this moment, your story will meander, and your readers will quickly lose interest.

That said, there are some instances where it may seem as though skipping the inciting incident can work.

For example, if your story is set in a world already in turmoil, you may feel that the stakes are already high enough and that every action carries weight. In this case, starting with an inciting event may seem contrived or superfluous.

However, you must remember that the inciting incident is when everything changes for your hero, even if the world around them is already falling apart.

It could be something as simple as discovering a way to return the world to peace or something that would make it even worse.

Ultimately, it’s up to you as the author to decide whether or not to include an inciting incident but be warned that it’s a risky move.

How do I Write The Inciting Incident in A Story?

The inciting incident is the event that sets the story in motion. It is the point at which the protagonist faces a new problem or challenge that they must overcome.

The inciting incident should be intriguing and raise questions the reader wants to be answered. It should also be relevant to the overall plot of the story.

There are many ways to write an inciting incident, but there are a few key elements that should be included:

  • It should be unexpected.
  • It should hook the reader to invest in the protagonist’s journey.
  • It should set up the conflict that will drive the story forward.
  • It should launch the story into action.

An effective inciting incident will leave readers wanting to know what happens next. It will also give them further insight into the world of your story and the characters who inhabit it.

If done well, the inciting moment can be a powerful tool for drawing readers into your tale and driving the main character arc.

Don’t forget to use the best book-writing software or screenwriting software programs to write and format the inciting incident in your book!

You can even use artificial intelligence (AI) story-writing software to help you come up with plot points, dialogue, and character development!

How Do I Write an Inciting Incident for a Subplot?

It’s easy to get bogged down in the main plot of a story and forget about the secondary plots or subplots. But a good subplot can be just as important as the main plot, adding depth and intrigue to the story. So how do you write an inciting incident for a subplot?

First, think about what your subplot is about. What is the goal of the subplot? What conflict needs to be resolved? Once you know the purpose of your subplot, you can start to brainstorm possible inciting incidents.

An inciting incident is an event that sets the conflict in motion and creates tension. It should be unexpected and deliver a sudden jolt to the characters involved.

For example, say your subplot is about a secret love affair. A possible inciting incident could be one of the lovers being married to someone else. This event creates a sense of urgency and danger and throws the characters into a situation where they must choose between their feelings and responsibilities.

Remember, a subplot inciting incident should be unexpected, cause ripples of conflict throughout the story, and be tied to the main plot simultaneously.

With this in mind, take some time to brainstorm possible incidents for your subplot. Once you have an idea you’re happy with, write it into your story and see how it affects the characters and the overall plot.

What Are Good Examples of an Inciting Incident in A Story?

Let’s look at some great inciting incident examples in popular books and films.

Example 1: Star Wars

star wars

In George Lucas’s film Star Wars, the inciting incident occurs when Luke Skywalker talks his uncle Owen into buying R2D2, the small droid carrying the plans for the Death Star.

This simple act sets in motion a series of events that leads Luke to gain a mentor in Obi-Wan Kenobi, learn about his father and the Force, rescue Princess Leia, join the Rebel Alliance, and eventually defeat the Empire.

The moment Luke takes ownership of the droid is pivotal to the story and sets the stage for the rest of the adventure. Without this event, Luke would never have started on the path to becoming a Jedi saving the galaxy from the Emperor’s tyranny.

Example 2: Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone

Close-Up Shot of a Spell Book and a Wand

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, young Harry Potter is living a miserable life with his aunt and uncle when he is visited by a giant named Hagrid. Hagrid tells Harry he is a wizard and has been accepted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

This event completely changes Harry’s life, as he is thrust into a world of magic and adventure. He makes new friends, learns about his magical heritage, and confronts evil forces threatening him.

This moment sets in motion an exciting and uplifting story.

Example 3: The Hunger Games

Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is an excellent example of an effective inciting incident.

The story begins with Katniss volunteering to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games, a televised event in which two tributes from each of the twelve districts in a dystopian world are forced to compete in a fight to the death.

This selfless act triggers a series of events that leads to Katniss becoming a symbol of hope for the oppressed people of Panem.

The Hunger Games is an exciting story that builds to a thrilling climax. It all starts with an inciting incident that immediately grabs the reader’s attention and establishes Katniss as a heroine worth following.

Example 4: The Great Gatsby

silver ring on silver ring

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a novel set in the Jazz Age and tells the story of Jay Gatsby, a man obsessed with wealth and status, as told from the perspective of Nick Carraway, a newcomer to the world of the New York elite.

The inciting incident in The Great Gatsby occurs when Nick accepts an invitation to a lavish party thrown by his mysterious neighbor, Jay.

Thanks to this decision, Nick arranges a meeting between Jay and Daisy Buchanan, a beautiful socialite married to Tom Buchanan.

It sets in motion the tumultuous love triangle between the three that propels the rest of the story.

Common Questions About The Inciting Incident in a Story

Where is the inciting incident in a story?

In a story, the inciting incident is the event that sets the plot in motion. It is the turning point that takes the protagonist from their everyday life and throws them into conflict. Without the inciting incident, there would be no story to tell. The inciting incident usually happens early in the story, often within the first few chapters of a novel or the first 10-20 minutes of a feature film.

However, it can sometimes occur later, after the reader has had a chance to get to know the characters and their world. Regardless of when it occurs, the inciting incident is always a pivotal moment in the story that changes everything and sets the stage for all that will follow.

How long should the inciting incident be?

The length of the inciting incident should be just long enough to establish the stakes of the story and build interest, but not so long that it feels like filler. Generally, a good rule of thumb is to keep the inciting incident to a single scene in a film or a single chapter in a novel. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, so use your best judgment when determining the length of your story’s inciting incident.

Inciting Incident of a story

Summary: What is the Inciting Incident of a Story?

The inciting incident is the moment that sets your story in motion and gets your characters moving. It propels your plot forward and reveals the conflict that will keep readers engaged.

As you craft your next work of fiction, be sure to start with a strong inciting incident that grabs your reader’s attention from the very beginning!

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