As over the years I’ve become a definite plotter, I thought now was as good a time as ever to write about some plot essentials, starting with my favorite: the inciting incident.
The inciting incident is the moment or event that changes your character’s life and sets them on the journey that is the rest of the book. It’s when Harry begins receiving acceptance letters to Hogwarts, when Clary sees the Shadowhunters kill a demon in a club, and when Tris’s faction test results are inconclusive, making her divergent.
The reason I love the inciting incident so much is two-fold—firstly, it’s the very first thing I figure out when plotting. Usually the inciting incident is where my story idea comes from—it’s the spark that sets off the rest of the brainstorming that uncovers the rest of the book. Second, the inciting incident is the first real taste of what to expect from the rest of the book.
The inciting incident is, by no means, an optional plot point. Without a life-altering event to catapult our characters in one direction or another, there isn’t a story. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the examples above.
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling): If Harry was never accepted into Hogwarts, he would have continued to live in the cupboard under the stairs at Privet Drive, hidden from the rest of the world, in a rather boring, depressing life. Hogwarts-free Harry, as it turns out, isn’t really epic seven-book series fodder.
- City of Bones (Cassandra Clare): Had Clary never seen the Shadowhunters, she never would have begun to question the reality she knew, nor would she have encountered the hidden, paranormal world of Shadowhunters and angels and demons and werewolves and vampires and mages and all of that exciting stuff that makes The Mortal Instruments series so interesting.
- Divergent (Veronica Roth): Had Tris’s test shown expected results (that is, that she belongs in Abnegation, or another single faction), she would have chosen a faction and lived a normal life in whatever faction she chose. The end.
As you can see, without their respective inciting incidents, the above stories aren’t really novel-worthy stories. But with the incident that changes the protagonist’s life comes the fascinating stories that we all love and adore. And that’s the power of the inciting incident.
What examples of inciting incidents can you think of from your favorite books, movies or TV shows?
Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it’s just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.
It’s a cycle. You start a story, and it’s stupid. You don’t have any ideas. You’re washed up. Finished. And then you get a sliver of an idea, but it’s kind of dumb. Ugh. Then you start working it, and it becomes, oh, maybe. Alright. Yeah, I am going to finish this story. I did finish it! It’s not terrible! [Then] you don’t have any ideas. Is that what life is? It’s just a series of enacting the cycle. Lately, it’s become kind of wonderful to say, ‘Yeah, so now I’m at the point where I don’t have any ideas. Is is a crisis? No, it’s not a crisis. You’ve been here before. And maybe even you could enjoy that moment when you’re bereft of ideas… The goal would be to keep enacting that [cycle], live to 190, and put the period on the best story ever.
A young black girl decided to not bleach her skin after seeing the success of Lupita Nyong’o.
Lupita Nyong’o was inspired to be an actress after seeing Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg in The Color Purple.
Whoopi Goldberg realized she could BE an actress after seeing Nichelle Nichols in Star Trek
I’ve been thinking about titles a lot lately.
There was once a time when I loved single-word titles. They were snappy, cool and easy to remember, and in my head, basically the bomb. Some of my favorites included Saint and the sequel Sinner by Ted Dekker.
But over time, I’ve come to realize that I’ve been gravitating more and more to longer, more evocative titles. I’ve realized I really love titles that create interesting images, titles that intrigue and echo elements of the book in an interesting and haunting way.
Some of my favorite titles include:
- The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
- Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor
- Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
- Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
- The Wicked We Have Done by Sarah Harian
- Let the Storm Break by Shannon Messenger
Interestingly, I haven’t actually read any of those books (yet!), but I’ve found their titles to be particularly memorable.
But now I want to hear from you: what are some of your favorite titles and why?
Everyone, do yourself a favor and read Shadow and Bone and its sequel, Siege and Storm. It’s basically about an army of people with supernatural abilities stuck under the thumb of the military in a very Russian-esque place that happens to have a rift of pure darkness across the land filled with demon monsters. It’s amazing.
this is actually a very excellent description of the series! thank you <3
My reaction when someone says “real writers write every day.”
Dude. No. Real writers write a story under whatever perimeters they want. If the end result is a story, and you are the thing that made that story, then you = writer. Nothing else matters.
getting sick of female YA authors crying about every little bit of criticism they get. “oh boo hoo I’m a girl and I’m getting criticized so it must be sexist”
like hey yeah maybe you’re just bad at writing? maybe you need to break out of your circle jerk of well-to-do…
Be a good girl. Be a cool girl. Be a tough girl.
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO YOU IS NOT ACTUALLY HAPPENING TO YOU.
Every threat you’ve gotten is deserved.
Every good thing that came your way wasn’t earned.
You’ve written a book and that gives people the right to insult the way you look, the way you talk, the things you like, the people you hang out with.
You are lucky lucky lucky so just stfu and be grateful.
This kind of casual, callous crap makes me furious. And SRB’s original post had zero to do with criticism of her actual writing. (Also, her response here is much more sensible than mine and full of good links.)