Craft of Writing: What is your Story's Inciting Incident?

I’ve really enjoyed the talks in our “Craft of Writing” posts, so I wanted to toss out another one. It is short because I’m on my phone waiting for a client to show up.

I think we all know that the inciting incident is the event that changes the status quo for your protagonist, setting the plot into motion. But I also think it’s important that we are intentional about where we placed the inciting incident. Did we put in the first scene, or even the first page, or did we allow more breathing room to show the reader the status quo before tossing it in? Or did we choose to have the inciting incident take place “offpage,” before the start of the actual story?

1) So…What is your story’s inciting incident?

2) How far into the story does your inciting incident take place? Why did you choose that spot?

CCH1’s inciting incident occurs in Issue 1 when the Contrarian/Manipulator bombs Burgerz N’ Ringz. It sets into motion the main plot; namely that a new villain, seemingly drawn to Speck by the new hero-training program at the community college, has decided to cause chaos in the city until her demands are met.

It happens very early in the story. The MC is still walking to campus on Orientation Day when the MC hears the explosion. Looking back, I could have waited longer to put it in, and maybe it would have been more effective to let the students get somewhat comfortable at the school and then…BANG!..have the Contrarian show up. But I chose to add the extra level of tension among the inexperienced students from the very beginning.


Can the inciting incident happen before the story actually starts?


I think the short answer is “Yes.”

And that might lead to an interesting “why” from an author who structures their story in that way.


Finally! About time I need another dose of Craft of Writing :crazy_face:

'olright, let’s begin.

  1. Inciting, huh? I’m not sure if you can call my inciting incident as the one that moves the plot. It’s like MGS 5 first “mission” where the hospital you’re taken care at is assaulted.
    Everything is dramatic and tense from the beginning, but later on, the story kinda chills down and you can play the game at your own pace.
    And… right. I’m actually still not sure what is my inciting incident will be :sweat_smile:

  2. Not too far. In fact, it’s somewhere on chapter 1.
    This way, I hope the player can get hooked early-on (especially since the prologue is super boring). But of course, I still have more “exciting” incidents than this “inciting” incident, you see :wink:


I would say so. I mean, personally, I would place my story’s inciting incident happens before the player comes in.

As for the question of “why”, well… a couple of reasons I suppose. It adds an element of mystery and intrigue surrounding the main character. You know why you’re here but you don’t really know how you got to be there. It’s a lot like the main character with amnesia trope except this time the character knows what happened, the reader doesn’t. The reader becomes the main character with amnesia slowly piecing together their own past and realizing why they’re here.

Second of all, it makes more sense, narratively, to begin where the real action does. Exposition can be delivered through experience and reaction- so instead of taking five pages to explain how heroics work in Nickelport and that it’s become an almost mundane thing to be saved from falling off the edge of a building that’s just exploded by a masked hero- I let the reader experience all that first hand. The mundane part of the equation is then delivered through the fact that the main character doesn’t really react with shock or surprise to all this. Fear, yes, and panic, yes… but, heck, depending on the players choice the MC could even be sarcastic about the whole life-or-death situation they’re in.

Third of all, linking with second of all, it’s a much better hook then where I would begin had I had a “prologue” of sorts. Because if I did have a prologue I’d have to go through the MCs mundane college life. As it is now I can present just the important bits as brief memories while keeping the unimportant parts left to the imagination because… well, it makes sense. The MC isn’t going to spend everyday of their lives recollecting what they had for lunch in the dining hall their freshman year of college. Plus the reader already knows the MC, already has some sense of their past through more interesting, and arguably more meaningful interactions. If I used the college life to get to know the MC, however, then the reader wouldn’t really know or understand this world and it’s people- so skipping around to just the very very important bits would leave them with no time to breathe and look around and understand what is going on. But on the other hand jumping back into the past and using that to get to know everything in a quieter time when things weren’t as crazy would just be a lot less entertaining. Both for me to write and others to read.

And I guess the most prominent reason being- I just wanted to. I wanted to start where it would be most fun for me and I decided that I would like to write a story with all these above elements. So in the end that was just how I wanted to write my story… So I did.


This is for my WIP The Drifter

  1. Well I have two inclination events the first being before the story and that’s the CW. Here’s the second The MC and their canine companion is ambushed by Apaches and either takes care of it themselves or is rescued by a passing cattle drive
  2. It happens in the intro

For my WIP?

  1. The inciting incident is when the MC meets the “mysterious benefactor” that helps them escape their starting predicament; namely, being in one of the most secure prisons in the world. This starts the plot because, frankly, the benefactor is the character that drives a lot of the early plot, so the MC meeting them kickstarts the story for the MC by extension… If that makes sense.

  2. This happens fairly early in the story, in chapter 2. I did that to give the reader a bit of exposition on the setting and let them establish their MC in chapter 1 before kickstarting the plot.


My first scene involves the PC communicating with the ghost of their mother, who was murdered the night before. I’d classify the murder as the inciting incident, as it shakes up the PC’s life and kicks off a lot more drama as a result of their actions. The status quo is shown (and disrupted again) in the second chapter.

I like starting games in medias res (Chuck Wendig writes a bit about that here, with some swearing: especially fantasy ones - it kills the urge to over-explain the setting, and I enjoy the challenge of keeping the pace moving while introducing new ideas.


Well, from the MC’s point of view, SYP kicks off in the later half of the first chapter, when the convenience store gets wrecked in the midst of a demon brawl. We went out of our way to make everything else about the MC’s life sound as mundane and ordinary as possible to help accentuate the “WTF?” feeling of the reveal. But, just looking at the story, the actual inciting incident, which we included in our short stories but the MC only gets bits and pieces of throughout, is Vex getting canned and banned from Hell, with the resulting fallout. That was deliberate. I love the idea of an MC and the player unraveling the mystery at the same time, one not knowing more than the other. Nothing frustrates me more than when a story or movie has a “twist” that isn’t really a twist, but is just finally revealing something to the audience that all the main characters know but haven’t said. In other words, if you actually were one of those characters living their lives up to that point and not just an outside observer, you would have already known this information, too, and thus not been shocked. I’ve seen it done well sometimes, usually in regard to an unreliable narrator, which can be fun but isn’t something we wanted for SYP. However, it’s more often done very badly IMHO and feels like a cheap cheat or fake out. If there is a name for that trope, though, I don’t know it. :confused:

Anyway, as the series progresses, including into the sequel, you find out that all sorts of things have been in motion for much longer than that. So, I guess each reveal is actually pushing the “inciting incident,” or at least your understanding of it, back further and further…hopefully people find that as fun and engaging to unfold as we have in writing it!


The inciting incident of Choice of Rebels is the Fourth Harrowing, the (attempted?) killing of a number of young helots, at the end of which you are publicly known as a rebel. It comes late in Chapter One.

It used to be the first event of the game, with only a bit of character-establishing choice before it, but two things changed that. First, CoG recommended adding a more action-packed prologue (now the first prologue of three you can pick). Second, FairyGodfeather challenged me to make them care about the characters at risk of being Harrowed, which gave Ch 1 its lengthy flashback scenes.

I’m happy with it coming when it does–I think the earlier scenes do increase the stakes significantly and give the inciting incident much more meaning than it had in my first draft of Ch 1.


It’s difficult to say for Awoken since there’s several plot threads that have different inciting incidents. For the present plot, it’s the thing that happened to you to get you in your present situation, which happens both before the story begins but isn’t revealed until much later. The political plotline kicks off properly in chapter 5; the magical plotline technically started about a thousand years before the story begins.

I suppose the closest thing to a central II is the MC’s discovery of a magical artifact, because it’s that which makes them the main character, the reason the plot happens to them and not anyone else. And that happens … um, before the start of the present plotline at the beginning of the story but also close to the beginning of the past storyline about three chapters in? :sweat_smile:

Because I love to make myself suffer, apparently.

More seriously, one of the story’s themes is about dealing with the consequences of past actions, both yours and other people’s. So having the MC dealing straight off the bat with the fallout of what’s already happened kind of goes with that.

  1. Well I suppose there would be two incidents that change the status quo in my story. (Can there be two? XD) "The Operative"
    And really its more the first event put cracks in the status quo while the other broke it completely. I would rather not go into too much detail on it but i can say the first was more a personal incident for the MC and the second just shattered the worlds status quo.
  2. Both actually take place before the real story starts but there are flashbacks to key events including those…

I’ve been a little hesitant about commenting in some of your threads about writing, since I still don’t have anything to post, and it will probably take me a lot of time to actually do so. However, my ideas are still there, and I’m trying to outline some events, so I guess I can share how it works. Sorry if it sounds too vague:

  • The story starts with a prologue, this is used to explain how the character starts in their initial position, the one that later will be affected by the Inciting Incident. For my story, I think it is better than start in the initial chapter and then explain how did we end up here as something of the past. This is because at the start of the prologue, the MC feels somehow lost in the world, and at the end of it they find a place where they belong, which is an important theme throughout the rest of the story.

  • One year later, MC has adapted to the new environment. The first chapter is presented to show a day in the life of the MC. Here I present the main characters, the main themes, I give some foreshadowing about some future event and I present the mechanics of the game that will be repeated later. This place is under the control of some kind of leader/mentor, let’s call her X.

  • The MC doesn’t know yet, but X is aware that the place you’re currently in is not safe, and it can’t survive for long. X is unsure about what to do though, as she isn’t convinced that you or some of the other main characters will be able to do what will be necessary. She says that she’s expecting the visit of another character (Let’s call him Y) to help her sort everything out.

  • However, at the end of the day, something happens. You are under attack. Surprisingly, the MC manages to save the situation against all odds. The following day, something seems clear: this is not longer a safe place. X wants to talk to the MC, after seeing how how you managed to save everyone, she’s pleased, she explains what’s going on, she gives you one last mission, commands you to assume a leading role (at least for a while) and tells you to accompany Y to travel somewhere else. MC might be hesitant but X is dying, she can’t keep being the one leading you. They don’t seem to have other choice, so the journey starts and the adventure begins.

Soooo, yeah. The story follows a somehow episodic structure, so this isn’t going to be the only thing I could call an inciting incident, but I think it’s not bad as a starting point. What do you think? I feel that it can sound a little cliche at some points.


My story actually has two inciting incidents, one that serves that purpose for the story being told now and one that serves this purpose for the entire series.

Inciting Incident for the story:

1a: The inciting incident for the story takes place in secured room in a military base, Bavaria, Germany. The MC’s close friend, a German Intelligence Officer is running a Black Ops operation against a known terrorist organization in a nearby city.

2a: It takes place in a prologue helping build the world in which the story takes place by introducing both plot and character elements that run consistent throughout the entire story. I chose this spot to set the pace and intensity of this story right away.

Inciting Incident for the (planned) series:

1b: The inciting incident for the series is a dive mission off the coast of San Diego, Ca. during which the MC will be entangling themselves with the terrorist organization mentioned in 1a.

2b: It takes place in the last scene of this story. I chose this as the location for the inciting incident to build up everything related and incorporated in a “season finale” for a series of multiple parts. Everything from the cliff hanger ending to the answers given and questions raised designed to draw my audience to the next installment.

I can’t really answer the why, except to restate the obvious: It is fun to write the story this way and it works. My first few attempts at writing the inciting incidents were muddled and not very focused. Instead of adding to the whole they detracted from the whole and confused the audience. I was forced to refine what I was wanting to do and how I was doing it.

My inspiration for structuring my inciting incidents the way they are were a couple of movies (one being “No Way Out”) and a couple of t.v. shows that ran multiple seasons (one being “Quantico”). All my inspirational works had the pace and story development I was looking to achieve with my own project.

Whether I will succeed in my goals, time will only tell but I’m happy with the reactions I’ve gotten so far by my guinea pigs… err I mean testers :smile:


Abysm’s Veil

  1. So…What is your story’s inciting incident?
    You kind of die. That’s pretty inciting isn’t it ?

  2. How far into the story does your inciting incident take place? Why did you choose that spot?
    Right near the beginning. I figure it doesn’t make sense to include story line before that if it’s not relevant to the story at that point and hopefully improve pacing. (I know I’ve read lots of books start with the MC going about their normal everyday lives to establish there’s nothing strange about it, but if it’s not important to the story line I find I’m skip reading it going “Come on, when are we going to get to something more interesting?”)

Sea Maiden

  1. So…What is your story’s inciting incident?
    Deal with the mermaid/ Character’s birthday.

  2. How far into the story does your inciting incident take place? Why did you choose that spot?
    Prologue (before the real story starts) and into first chapter because you need to know the reason why this is all happening for the rest of the story to make sense.

  1. The inciting incident of my first project is the violent outbreak of an infectious disease called the “Red Fever”. The population of the Empire took a large hit and it basically destabilized major parts of the capital. There are different character pathways planned for the project, so there will be multiple endings. You might get partial resolution, no resolution, full resolution, or your character can even choose some other path entirely.

  2. Takes place in the beginning for some of the character builds depending on the nature of your character’s occupation.

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My stories inciting incident is when Rycon (the protagonist) ends up shooting an innocent person on accident, while practicing at the shooting range. This happens very early in the story, since I want to focus on the protagonists change into a morally gray character, who joins the FBI for all the wrong reasons.


I tend to always plan certain “events” for most of my stories so a lot of times there are multiple “inciting incidents” rather than just one.

But I probably did quite a bit of it for Eternal where there definitely was a major status quo in place. (The Empire still standing)

The first inciting incident is the first choice. How you react to your instructor is going to determine one of the 3 major different story paths and the choices from there. I felt it would be much more interesting to write completely different stories for the same setting. How different events, people you met, places you went and such changed entirely and the best way to do it would be to start right at the beginning.

At some point though in most of the branches the Empire will fall and how the character deals with that depends on further major incidents. This part typically happens just before one of the third chapters of the story.

The outcome of the second major incident depends on choices and can range from becoming a mercenary to trying to salvage the crumbling remains of the Empire.

Why I did it the way I did is how the character deals with the severe change (Either upholding the Empire or fighting against it) takes the story in a new direction. With the Empire gone, his major purpose is also gone and so he has to figure out how he’s going to deal with that.

Of course depending on what you chose during the first incident, you might have managed to achieve the path where you actually managed to save the Empire from falling at all by the third act, so that creates yet another incident of how he’s going to go about keeping his own legacy alive.

I’d say the other story where I did it a lot too was Suzy’s Strange Saga. With that one though I had to keep in mind Suzy’s own predisposition to mental instability. The “status quo” for that one was her sanity.

So based on where she goes (and who with) to survive the oncoming apocalypse, she may or may not be placed in situations (the inciting incidents) that lead to a more violent nature. So the endings become very varied like they were for Eternal.


I also enjoy these threads, they give me all kinds of ideas.

I tried for a bit of a fake-out in the very beginning of my WIP, but the real inciting incident comes when the MC gets arrested after accidentally coming into contact with an interstellar fugitive.

This happens at the end of the first chapter, about 7,000 words in. It’s always a debate for me whether or not to start immediately with the action, or to try to do a bit of world-building first. In this case I went with the latter to try to establish a baseline for the MC’s life before turning it upside down on them. The challenge for me then becomes introducing the setting without overloading the beginning with exposition, I’m not sure I’ve struck the right balance yet. I could spend all day describing ramshackle orbital space stations and unappetizing lichen-based food, but I’m probably the only one that finds that interesting.


The inciting incident to my book, The Kepler Colony: Evacuation is the discovery of an asteroid headed towards Earth. This takes place both 5 years before and 20 years after the start of the story. Confused? It’s a complicated story and you’ll have to wait until the prequel to understand it (no hurry @Samuel_H_Young)!