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Plot Construction 101: Inciting Incident

by Kellyn Roth |
April 27, 2016

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My new and improved graphic! Made it myself! *bows*

Hello, all! Well, it’s time for the next episode in Plot Construction 101, which is basically me summarizing all the stuff you knew, and I didn’t until I started researching it recently because I was having trouble with Ivy Introspective.
Today we’ll be talking about the inciting incident.
Rising action usually starts with an inciting incident. The inciting incident is the push that gets the novel started; the event that upsets or changes the main character’s life in some way.

Examples of inciting incidents:

  • In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen’s beloved sister Prim’s name is drawn; Katniss offers herself in Prim’s place.
  • In Pride and Prejudice (oh, I love that book), very eligible bachelor Mr. Bingley buys a home in the neighborhood; Mrs. Bennet obviously wants one of her daughters to marry him!
  • In The Secret Garden, a horrible epidemic sweeps India, causing the death of Mary Lennox’s parents and Ayah. Mistress Mary must go live with her hunchbacked uncle in dreary old England.
  • In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is meets Gandolf, an old wizard who seems determined to upset his peace and take him on an adventure.

Inciting incidents usually occur in one scene or chapter towards the start of the book. In The Dressmaker’s Secret, it occurs on page nine; it can happen a little later in some novels, though not too much later; you don’t want to drag a reader through pages of endless introduction.

The Inciting Incident in The Dressmaker’s Secret

“Does she have a name?” asked Helena, picking up a large, beautiful doll from where she sat on a little chair in the corner.
“Yes, Melinda.” Alice passed a teacup to her. “We might have a party.”
“But it was teatime hours ago. We’re lucky we’re not in bed like we would’ve been at home,” said Faith, setting a second teacup that Alice had just given her aside.
“Let’s put the dollies to bed then,” Rosalind suggested.
They did and then Helena said, “Now, our papa would come in and kiss us good night.”
“Does your papa come every night after your mama tucks you in and kiss you?” Faith asked Alice.
“‘Papa?’ What’s a ‘papa?’” Alice asked.
The three girls stared at her.
“Why,” Rosalind replied after a long silence. “Papas love your mama and you.”
“They take care of everything,” Faith continued, “And keep bad people away and make sure nothing will ever hurt you.”
“But they are stern when you are naughty,” Helena warned, cradling a hand that she imagined was still sore from her father’s belt.
“Why, Alice Chattoway, don’t you know what a father is?” Rosalind demanded.
“Oh, yes, fathers!” Comprehension swept over Alice’s face. “Some have them, Mummy says. I don’t.”
“Why, you’ve got to have one!” Faith replied incredulously. “Just about everyone does, I think.”
“I don’t,” Alice insisted.
“Yes, you do. You don’t know who he is!” Helena taunted.
“I don’t have one at all. There’s no need to know him since he doesn’t exist,” Alice said, frowning in confusion. “What do you mean ‘everyone has one?’”
“Everyone does have one,” insisted Faith. “I know, because I asked my mama once and she said so. There’s no one who doesn’t have a father!”
“Why, yes there is. I don’t,” Alice persevered, becoming more and more puzzled by the moment. “We’ll go ask my mother and she will tell you for sure that I don’t.”
“Well, I’ll just ask my mama, and she will say the same as I do,” announced Helena. “Everyone’s got one!”
“Not me,” retorted a flustered, unsure Alice.
What on earth does anyone need a father for? Alice wondered to herself. She had lived eight years quite well without one and was planning to live decades more in the same condition. Faith, Helena, and Rosalind did not – could not! – know what they were talking about!

I might argue that the inciting incident is the most important part of a story. Some inciting incidents are less spectacular than others, but they’re still really important.
I know this wasn’t much of a post, but I’m feeling kind of half-dead today, and so I thought I’d save rising action for a time when I’m not semi-zombified.
Au revoir!
~Kellyn Roth

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9 Responses

  1. Thanks for the post! I know the feeling…I’m experiencing it right, actually – only sleeping five hours last night has taken its toll, I guess. It’s almost midnight now and I still haven’t posted. 🙁

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