Friday, July 2

Real Life Diagnostics: The Inciting Event

Today we have another volunteer asking about something that I think a lot of folks struggle with. The inciting event. That sometimes difficult to identify moment that launches your story.

Where an inciting event occurs varies. In murder mysteries, you'll often see a body on page one. In fantasy, you'll often see it a chapter or two in. Generally speaking, the inciting event occurs within the first 35-50 pages (upper range opinions on this vary).

What launches a story can also change per genre. A mystery or thriller protag may be spurred into action by something that happens they need to deal with versus them making a choice to act. In romance, it might be a chance meeting between two people. But in all cases, something happens that forces the protag to act in a way that puts them at risk to solve a problem that matters to them.

In The Shifter, the inciting event is in chapter one, when Nya makes the decision to use her shifting ability to escape her bungled egg theft. That choice is what puts her on the path to the rest of the novel. Had she not done that, the novel would not have happened as it did. That single choice changed everything. This is what an inciting event does.

On to our volunteer:

My question is regarding the inciting incident. Here is an excerpt from the end of chapter one of my current YA fantasy WIP. I’m not sure if this would be considered foreshadowing, or if it’s enough to qualify as the inciting incident. Here is my book summary to give the except context.

When Jazzlyn becomes the apprentice liaison between her dark homeland, Creperi, and Lumen, the city of light, she discovers more than just the identity of her father. Learning the truth about why Creperi has been without light for centuries has put her life in danger, and may even lead to the destruction of Creperi itself.

Okies, first, I'm going to stress that seeing just a sample of work and talking about inciting events is hard to do since I don't have the full chapter to provide context. I'm going to attempt it anyway, because the sample is good for this and talking about it is valuable anyway. So take my comments with that in mind and look at your entire opening to decide how to apply anything I say.

Original Text:

"I see much darkness in your future my friend, more than just the black night of Creperi. I see there is darkness in your mind. Do you know what darkness is, Jazzlyn?"

I just stared at him, confused by the question. "Much darkness in my future . . . in my mind? Maybe that caterpillar had a side effect of the hallucinogenic variety!".

"The ‘Ritus Inlustravi’, as you say, is important to me Zac. It’s important to my family, and to the people of Creperi. Are you making fun of me because I’m taking it so seriously?"

"Dark: devoid of, or deficient in, light or brightness. You know that definition I am sure, having lived in the dark your whole life. I speak of a different type of darkness. Your mind, Jazzlyn, has been kept in the dark."

What does that even mean? "My mother has told me everything she knows about Lumen. I am not in the dark!" I can’t believe he’s acting like this! Yes, physically, I’m in the dark, just like everyone else in Creperi. What could he possibly know about my mind?

"Listen to me," Zac commanded.

"Unrelenting light-less sky, what is truth, when truth is a lie?
Resplendent girl, your light shines bright, a glowing beacon in the persisting night.
There is one who seeks to extinguish your spark, resolute to preserve the unyielding dark."

Even more surprising than his spontaneous poetry, was what he said to me next.

"Well thank you, my dear, for a lovely afternoon. I think it is time for a quick bit of sleep before the evening begins, don’t you agree?"

"Ah, no; I think it’s time for you to explain what in the name of the star you’re talking about."

My comments in purple:

"I see much darkness in your future my friend, more than just the black night of Creperi. I see there is darkness in your mind. Do you know what darkness is, Jazzlyn?" A darkness is her mind feels like foreshadowing here, because it suggests there's something hidden she doesn't know about. Shedding "light" on the truth is something I suspect is going to be a theme in the novel based on the snippets the author has shared. It works both plotwise and thematically. It's good stuff to get the reader in the right mindset. This says to me that the book is going to be all about uncovering secrets and shedding light on what was once hidden, both on a personal and overall level.

I just stared at him, confused by the question. "Much darkness in my future . . . in my mind? Maybe that caterpillar had a side effect of the hallucinogenic variety!".

"The Ritus Inlustravi, as you say, is important to me Zac. It’s important to my family, and to the people of Creperi. Are you making fun of me because I’m taking it so seriously?" She's stating a belief in something here, which suggests this is something she's willing to act on. I don't know what a Ritus Inlustravi is, but it looks like this is something driving her to act in some way. It already has gotten her to act by coming here to talk to Zac about it. She's there now to learn more about it, which suggests a goal with a personal need behind it. If it's important, there may even be stakes associated with it.

"Dark: devoid of, or deficient in, light or brightness. You know that definition I am sure, having lived in the dark your whole life. I speak of a different type of darkness. Your mind, Jazzlyn, has been kept in the dark." I like the double meaning of "lived in the dark your whole life" here. I suspect he means more than the literal life of a city with no light. This suggests there's more going on than Jazzlyn realizes, reinforcing the theme already established.

What does that even mean? "My mother has told me everything she knows about Lumen. I am not in the dark!" I can’t believe he’s acting like this! Yes, physically, I’m in the dark, just like everyone else in Creperi. What could he possibly know about my mind?

"Listen to me," Zac commanded.

"Unrelenting light-less sky, what is truth, when truth is a lie?
Resplendent girl, your light shines bright, a glowing beacon in the persisting night.
There is one who seeks to extinguish your spark, resolute to preserve the unyielding dark." Prophecies are such a staple in the fantasy genre, it's easy to assume she's the one mentioned here and this is something she's destined to do. This could even be the traditional "throwing down the gauntlet" challenge for her to accept her destiny and fulfill this prophecy.

Even more surprising than his spontaneous poetry, was what he said to me next.

"Well thank you, my dear, for a lovely afternoon. I think it is time for a quick bit of sleep before the evening begins, don’t you agree?"

"Ah, no; I think it’s time for you to explain what in the name of the star you’re talking about."

Overall, this snippet feels more foreshadowing than inciting event, because Jazzlyn hasn't decided to do anything yet. She's just gathering information. It suggests that she has to act, and that she might be destined to act, and that there's stuff going on that needs her to act, but she's not yet on the path. Odds are the real inciting event is shortly after this when Jazzlyn makes that choice to act.

If this is the case, this meeting is a solid lead in to that. She's about to discover something that shakes her out of her regular existence and starts her on the journey to the core conflict of the novel. That will be the moment where she says "I need to do something" to solve a problem that matters to her. That will be the inciting event. Or...

The inciting event could have occurred just before this, and this is the first step she's taken to solve that core conflict problem. If she did something and made a risky choice to come here, then that could have been the moment that changed her life. Had she not decided to learn more about the
Ritus Inlustravi, she might never had embarked on the novel's story.

That's the key thing in an inciting event. The choice that changes everything. The protag gets involved in something that makes them decide to take a risk and do whatever leads them toward the core conflict of the novel. They may not realize that choice will alter their lives (like Nya) or they may know they're about to get eyeball deep in trouble. They may not even think the risk is that risky, but the choice is a pivotal moment that changes their lives. Had they decided to do something differently, the entire plot and story would change, if not fall apart completely.

In this sample I can't tell that, but I suspect it's either just before or just after this snippet takes place. There's a lot of great foreshadowing and thematic description here that relates to what looks like the overall story goal. This looks like the important stuff that will drive Jazzlyn to act, but this just doesn't show the moment where she decide to act.

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this. I hope I answered her question and shed a little light on inciting events.

6 comments:

  1. Wow, thanks, Janice. Great as always. I'm very glad I found your blog because I learn so much here about story creation.

    Thank you, brave volunteer. Just that little snippet has captured my imagination and attention. I would love to know more about Jazzlyn, her world, and what happens. Keep up the good work.

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  2. Excellent! I love that you take the time to do this for your blog readers/aspiring authors. So helpful. :)

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  3. Great info. I love coming up with an exciting inciting moment when the story starts. Thanks for the reminders.

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  4. Thanks all! Lydia, this blog is my way of giving back to all the online folks who've helped me over the years :)

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  5. Thanks, Janice! Incredibly helpful, and much appreciated.

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  6. Oooh thanks for the great info.

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