The Inciting Event

Every event, every plot point in a story should matter, and that especially goes for the Inciting Event. Sure, maybe it’s not the most significant plot point or even the most noticeable, but it’s still important in your overall story structure, which is why I want to talk about it today.

What exactly is the Inciting Event? Basically, it’s the very first plot point that sets your story in motion. It could even seem incredibly insignificant in the lives of your characters, but it’s what tips over that first domino in a long line of dominoes. Essentially, it should change your character’s life forever, no matter how small or big your Inciting Event is. You’ll hear some writing advice say that the Inciting Event needs to be huge and dramatic to change your character’s life forever; I don’t believe this is true. The Inciting Event can be one small notch in your character’s life, but it should be one that they can’t come back from.

Now, the Inciting Event can even happen before the story begins. In The Days Without You, the story opens with Kylie dreading a concert she agreed to attend with her best friend, and there, she meets Adam by mishap. While this is the beginning of the story, the inciting event would technically be Kylie agreeing to attend the concert with Cat, even though this happens before the start of the story. And, your character/s may not even realize that their lives have been ultimately altered! It’s important to remember that the Inciting Event doesn’t have to be realized by your protagonist.

In many cases, however, the Inciting Event happens within the realm of the story. Bear in mind, too, that it may not be the very first thing to happen in your story. in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, we have character building and world building before the Inciting Event happens. Similar goes for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone. Before the Inciting Event happens, we learn all about what horrible people the Dursleys are, not to mention we also see Dumbledore leaving Harry at the Dursley’s doorstep after being rescued from the wreckage of his home.

Some examples of the Inciting Event:

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    In the Hunger Games, we learn all about the dark, evil “game” called The Hunger Games, in which one teenage boy and one teenage girl from each District is selected to compete in a battle to the death, and the winner shall be bathed in riches. Katniss, who is our narrator and protagonist, is devastated when her younger sister, Prim, is selected as the next tribute. In desperation to save her sister, Katniss volunteers as tribute to take Prim’s place. This act of volunteering for her sister is the Inciting Event, as it changes Katniss’ life forever. She can no longer go back to her old life; she must now compete in The Hunger Games, fighting for her life.
  2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
    As previously mentioned, there’s a ton of backstory in this novel before we get to the Inciting Event: when Hagrid, a half-giant who barges in upon the Dursleys and Harry in their off-shore hut, tells Harry, “Yer a wizard, Harry.” (Can we all agree that this is a classic line of dialogue?) We identify this as the Inciting Event because it changes Harry’s life forever. Why isn’t the event of the never-ending letters the Inciting Event? Because Harry could have chosen to ignore them, or the Dursleys could have kept them hidden from Harry, thus not setting into effect the dominoes to Harry’s learning that he’s a wizard.
  3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
    Can I just say this is one of my favorite books, and has been since I was in, like, fourth grade and I’ve read it a bajillion times? Favoritism aside, we open the story upon Jonas, a 12-year-old boy who lives in a futuristic community that seems like a utopia, but really is a dystopia where babies are “Released to Elsewhere” if they don’t weigh enough. He’s nervous about his career assignment, which he is to receive at the Ceremony of Twelves, because he’s worried he doesn’t fit in anywhere. The Ceremony itself is our Inciting Event, because Jonas learns he has been selected as the next Receiver of Memory, in which the Giver passes down memories of the past world so he can advise the community when it needs to make decisions.

So what should your Inciting Event be? Technically, it can be anything! But, it should make sense with your First Plot Point. That is to say, the Inciting Event should be the first domino that knocks over another, then another, and another, leading to the First Plot Point. In my work-in-progress, The Sound of Snap Dragons, the Inciting Event is that Kylie gets hired as an investigative journalist at The New York Star, a major newspaper in her city, leading her to be assigned a story about a serial killer.

I’d love to hear what the Inciting Event is in your manuscript or published books! Tell me, what are your thoughts on this important plot point?

Enjoying the Craft

I thoroughly believe you should enjoy your writing (or any craft that suits your fancy). Just like those who enjoy mathematics. Personally, I hate math. Gets too complicated for me, and I end up frustrated and feeling stupid. Now, show me a study guide for Latin, and I’m all over it. Foreign language classes were my favorite classes in school, and I took every language my high school offered: Latin, Spanish, and French. Do I remember anything other than “Quelle heure est-il? Il est huit heure et un”? Nope, I can barely speak a lick of French, but I enjoyed learning about the grammatical rules of the language. Latin was probably my favorite language to study, as we didn’t study it conversationally but rather learned about the grammatical building blocks that made up the dead language. That has helped me a great deal in my own writing. (Not to mention we also studied ancient Roman culture, and that is a fascinating subject.) Spanish has been most useful, and I still remember enough that I can read and write some Spanish.

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I suppose what I’m getting at is that you should enjoy what you do. Not necessarily your work—sometimes you have to do what’s necessary in order to get by. But your hobbies? I’ve tried a lot of hobbies that I thought I enjoyed, and even dropped some money on—yoga, crochet, video games…the list goes on. The one hobby I’ve maintained over the years? Writing.

Writing isn’t a craft that can be forced, I feel. Don’t get me wrong—there are times I hate my own writing, and I get so exquisitely frustrated with it and want to hurl my laptop out the window. But for the most part, I love it. I love rereading some of my older works and critiquing what I could have written better.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you should love your work. Yes, you should want to grow as a writer and improve over time, but you should also love what you write, even if you dislike certain aspects of your writing. In fact, disliking certain aspects of your writing is even a good thing — it means you recognize your weaknesses and areas where you can learn and grow. But if you don’t love your work, what reasons are there to want to make it the best that it can be?

If you enjoy the craft of writing, you’ll actually want to make time to sit down and write. That’s why I believe writing cannot be forced. Write because it’s a way to express yourself. Write because you have a story to tell. Write because there are worlds you want to visit, people you want to meet, experiences you want to explore. Write because you have something you want to say, and the only way to express every single emotion inside of you is through words.

Write because you love it. Write because you love the craft, because you love the beautiful structure of a sentence, because only words can come close to expressing what’s inside of you.

The Crutch of Show, Don’t Tell

We hear it all the time: show, don’t tell. It’s repeated over and over and drilled into us as writers. But, I don’t believe in “showing” instead of “telling” in every single instance in your writing. Plenty of blogs give advice on how to show instead of tell, so I’m not going to do that here. Instead, I believe in the importance of both showing and telling in your writing, because if you show all the time, in every sentence of your story, your manuscript will end up ten million words long, and who wants to read a book that’s ten million words long? (Okay, maybe there are some people…)

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Some of the greats included telling/exposition in their work. As I’m currently rereading the Harry Potter series, I’ve been enjoying the explicit amount of exposition in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But it’s placed so well, so artfully, that you barely notice it. Rowling had three books-worth of information to catch you up on, but she leaves the exposition and telling to the important stuff, like explaining why Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, isn’t in his life.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not saying you shouldn’t show at all. I’m all for showing. Showing emotionally charged moments can help draw your reader in. There’s a big difference between “Her eyes stung with tears, but she blinked them away and swallowed the lump rising in her throat.” and “She was sad but tried to hide it.”

Description is important… in the right amount.

For example, there’s no need to give every little detail of a character turning on a light switch, unless, of course, that light switch has significant meaning to your story. No need to describe in detail a character getting changed out of their day clothes. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with description.

Save your highly detailed descriptions for the story-significant parts. Save showing for the emotional moments, the moments that will draw your reader in and leave them feeling raw. If you’re writing in first person POV, really think about the details your character notices as they move about your story and setting. Think about your own POV, in your own life—you wouldn’t notice details about every little motion you make or about every little thing in your setting. If we tried to describe on paper every single thing in a room, we’d have twenty pages of paper filled with insignificant minutiae that nobody cares about.

So, where exactly does “telling” fall in all of this? Think of it as a continuum. On one end is showing, on the other end is telling. Exposition would fall towards the telling end, while a particular moment that is significant to the plot and emotionally charged (and, therefore, full of detail) would fall towards the showing end.

Ultimately, the amount of description you put into your work is your choice. But finding the right balance between showing and exposition—that’s the real challenge.

Best Writing Resources

There are a ton of writing resources out there, and it can be difficult to know which ones are actually useful for your writing. The truth is? Many of them can be useful, depending on what your needs are as a writer. That is, whether you need help with things such as plotting, characterization, description, prose… The list goes on. A lot of blogs on writing exist (including this one!), but how do you know which resources are good? Well, I’ve put together a list of my favorite writing resources that have helped me.

(Note: None of these are affiliate links, nor do I make any money when you make a purchase or click a link. These are simply resources I have found useful in my writing journey.)

Best Website for Novelists

HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com

This site, run by author K.M. Weiland, has a plethora of great resources in and of itself. She outlines how to plot a novel through the Three-Act Structure, and a recent addition to the site is a long list of character archetypes and how to write them. She has several books out for plotting your novel and creating character arcs, as well as a new program to help you plot out your novel.

Best Book for Perfecting Style and Prose

Dreyer is the copy chief of Random House, one of the “Big Five” publishing houses. He gives his thoughts on common writing mistakes that he sees constantly in manuscripts and mentions how to fix them, such as superfluous or redundant words. This book is both witty and instructive, with a solid dose of humor. Definitely a great read if you plan on submitting to agents.

Best Book(s) for Characterization/Description

Puglisi and Ackerman have a series of thesaurus-type books, including one on negative traits and emotional wounds. These books are great for building characters and crafting more detailed descriptions, rather than just saying, “She was angry.”

Best Necessity for Those Looking to Publish

The CMS, or Chicago Manual of Style, is the standard style guide for the publishing industry in the U.S. It’s a great reference tool when you’re not sure whether or not to use that comma or whether or not you need spaces around your em dash. If you want to publish, traditionally or not, I believe every writer needs this in their library.

Best Program for Novelists

Out of all the writing software and programs I’ve tried to use over the years, from Novlr to Dabble, Scrivener remains my favorite. It is a mountain of features and customization, whether you want to simply change the theme or move around that one particular scene that doesn’t go. It has templates and more for you to get your novel started. I’ve been using Scrivener for years, and it’s a program I can always count on.

And that’s it for my favorite resources! What are some of your favorite writing resources that have helped you in your writing journey?

Writing Tips for Beginners

It’s possible to learn how to write. Writing is not some inherent skill you’re born with. Let me correct that — writing well isn’t a skill you’re born with. It takes a ton of practice, patience, and perseverance. You know why well-known authors are famous? They didn’t give up. They believed in themselves and their work. J.K. Rowling was rejected countless times before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published. Now look at the success of the series!

If you’re thinking of getting into creative writing, let me forewarn you: it’s not an easy thing. And, it’s more than a small hobby; it’s a lifestyle. That’s just my take on it, however. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot. Getting a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing helped my knowledge of the craft. Not saying you have to have a degree in it to be successful, just saying it helped me, personally.

Already into writing? Going back to your roots as a beginner can be helpful, I’ve found. I try not to be overly confident in my writing nowadays, like I was when I first starting writing novels. When I finished the very first draft of my very first manuscript, I thought it was a masterpiece. I was so proud to have finally written a full-length novel that I rushed into self-publishing. Looking back on that manuscript, I cringe. It’s now safely stored away in the vaults of my computer files, locked away for my eyes only. Perhaps I’ll revisit it one day.

  1. Practice, practice, practice.
    Practice is essential. Think of the adage “Practice makes perfect.” It’s almost like playing a sport or a musical instrument — you have to practice if you want to be any good at it. You don’t just wake up one day as Joshua Bell and play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 61 on a multi-million dollar Stradivarius violin. The same principal applies to writing. You have to practice writing to grow as a writer.
  2. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike.
    Good writers write each and every day. They don’t wait for inspiration to strike; they just sit down at their computer (or tablet, notebook, etc.) and just get it done. If you wait for inspiration, you may be waiting for a long time. I’ve found that figuring out my plot structure before I start writing a story helps me get moving a little more quickly.
  3. Read. A lot.
    As the great Stephen King put it, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.” Being a good reader is essential to being a good writer. Writing in a particular genre? Read that genre. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to limit yourself to that genre — variety is the spice of life — but be sure to read in your chosen genre.
  4. Have some patience.
    A quality story won’t just happen overnight. Writing a book is a long haul. A good novel takes lots of rewrites and editing, and that’s all part of the writing process.
  5. Start out small.
    This goes along with practice. Don’t start out trying to compose your opus magnum. Start out small. Try writing short stories or scenes, or play around with building worlds or characters.
  6. Try to set aside time each day for writing.
    By making writing a regular habit, it’s easier to stay in the groove of it. I know, I know. Some days, life just gets in the way. It happens to all of us. But no matter what, try to write each and every day.
  7. Set goals.
    I find it helpful to have a word goal when I sit down and write, as opposed to writing aimlessly. It gives you something to aim or shoot for. If you’ve never done (or attempted, at least) NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNoWriMo, try it sometime! It’s an easy way to set simple goals for a month at a time.
  8. Play around with POV.
    Try writing in various styles and POVs to find your groove. The first manuscript I wrote was in first person, preterite tense, but quickly realized I prefer to write in third person limited.

What tips do you find useful as a writer?