Tuesday, January 24, 2012

At What Point should the Inciting Incident Occur?

Last year, when I  read in many blogs and writing craft books that the Inciting Incident ( the incident which changes the Main Character’s life or causes upheavals in his or her life) should occur as early as possible in a book, preferably in the first chapter, maybe even on the first page, had me extremely worried. Because in my book/s the Inciting Incident  occurs in the fourth chapter, though I have dropped hint of the changes or tremors my Main Character will undergo right on the first page.

The  writing craft books mention that the Inciting Incident is instrumental in snagging the readers’ attention and keeping them hooked on to the rest of the story wondering whether the Main Character will achieve his or her purpose.

On the basis of this theory I am sure my book will lose out, as I have a little world building and setting up the character’s background in the first 3 chapters.

When I came across a post by former  Literary Agent Nathan Bransford in which he talks about the need to have the Inciting Incident occur by the first 50 pages, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Nathan mentions that if the Inciting Incident takes longer than that to occur, then the readers’ attention will  wane and patience with the pace of the story will decline, and this does not augur well for the  story or the writer.

For me personally, I would like to know a little about the character, start caring for him or her before I am plunged deep into trouble along with the character. I need to see the character in his or her background before changes threaten him or her.

 I would like to ask you all, both as writers and readers, that at what point should the Inciting Incident occur. I am sure there is no ideal time; for each story the need for the Inciting Incident’s arrival is different. What do you all consider the correct time for the occurrence of the Inciting Incident, especially for Middle Grade fiction which I write? Please help me out by sharing your thoughts.


  1. Hmm... good question. For me, it depends on the book I'm writing. I let the incident occur when it feels natural. Anything else will feel forced and contrived.


  2. I think the idea of a very early inciting incident is more to do with hooking agents than readers. If you buy a book, you like the cover, the blurb, maybe you'e heard good things about it, you will read it as a story, not as a button-pushing set of bulletin points.

    However, that doesn't mean the character/world building type of opening shouldn't be interesting, even exciting. A lot of stories I read by aspiring authors (and I read a lot) don't have enough going on as they set up everything, and that isn't good either.

    Moody Writing
    The Funnily Enough

  3. Don't force it in anywhere, Rachna. Just let it happen. In mine, it happens by the end of the first chapter. But it happens naturally. You are a good writer. It will come to pass as it should. Genuinely, spontaneously. :-)

  4. I started my first book with a mini adventure. The second book opened with a focus on the characters. This was in part to help bring new readers up to speed on who the good guys and bad guys are and what their motivation is.

  5. People may or may not agree with me, but I think it depends upon what the incident is. Some stories work better with a build up to the incident, whereas others are best when the incident already occurred well in the past. It's all pretty situational to me, and has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

  6. Thank you friends for chiming in with your views. I feel Inciting Incidents should happen naturally, and should not look contrived. I feel Inciting Incidents are more about hooking agents than anything else.

    Personally for me a little back ground build up is important. I need to see the main character in his or her setting and only then can I invest in her or his struggle.

  7. It wholly depends on how it's done. If you've managed to hook the reader in the first chapter without the inciting incident, then you're fine. It's all about the hook to keep the readers reading.

  8. Like you said, early on but after we already feel something for the MC.

  9. Rachna, I think each story is different and inciting incident should be a part of the the flow of narration unless one would like to give a shock treatment:)

  10. I guess it depends in part upon how long the book is. Personally, I don't go for rules such as this, I'd rather the story unfolded naturally, in the time-span that seems right to the teller. Stick with your gut feeling, I say!

  11. Like you, I like to know and connect with the character/s first before major things happen to them. But at the same time, I know that if there's no hint of tension in the first few chapters, readers will get bored quickly. I think to say that the inciting incident should occur within the first 50 pages is probably a good rule to go by. It gives us enough time to get acquainted with the characters enough to care about what happens to them. :)

  12. I agree, some background is important. I usually prefer and earlier inciting incident rather than a later one--but if the buildup is strong and there's enough tension, then I'll wait for a while (even over fifty pages, in some cases).

  13. I think there's a lot of confusion about the difference between the HOOK, the INCITING INCIDENT, and the FIRST PLOT POINT. Sometimes, they can all be the same thing. But I think the "it has to happen within the first chapter" idea usually applies to the hook, where you get your reader "hooked" on some fascinating/unputdownable aspect of the story/plot/character.

    The inciting incident, like you said, is when the protag's life changes, and I agree that within 50 pages is a good estimate.

    The first plot point, where the protag gets the first full-on glimpse of the main story problem, can be the same as the inciting incident but doesn't have to be. But the first plot point is what ends the first act, so that usually occurs about 1/3 of the way through the story (which for a MG, could be at 50 pages).

    That's what I've learned, anyway, and how I try to do things (I use the 3 Act plotting system). I agree that it works better to get to know the character a bit before having the big problem slap them in the face!

  14. Note-- when I said "a lot of confusion," I didn't mean by you or the commenters here. I just meant in general. :)

  15. @ Shallee...thanks for clearing up the confusion. I am sure none of us took any offence, you have cleared up a lot of confusion by pointing out the difference between the Hook, Inciting Incident and the First Plot Point. Trying to write that awesome opening chapter does muddle up the three for a few of us, or atleast for me.

    I too have started following the 3 Act Plotting System. I feel it simplifies quite a few things and helps us get a clearer image of the larger picture.