What is the “Inciting Incident” – writing and story structure advice
I’ll be writing about the video What is the Inciting Incident? SPOILERS The Matrix. Writing hack on how to start writing your book, from the Writing, Talking, And Dog Walking series I’m doing on YouTube with Jonathan McKinney.
I’m going to explain what the “Inciting Incident” is in your story, where to put it, what it’s used for, and how to write it. I’ll be referencing the film The Matrix as an example of a really well written inciting incident.
The inciting incident is the event that triggers the start of your story. In The Matrix, it’s when Trinity sends Neo the message to his computer telling him to follow the white rabbit. You can have events that happen before the inciting incident, which can vary in length, but the actual story itself is started the moment Neo gets that message, or whatever form it takes in your story.
The inciting incident serves to lock the conflict between your protagonist and your antagonist. The conflict is the point of your story, the events you are following. Because Neo is the Protagonist, the conflict that is launched by the inciting incident is the conflict between Neo and The Matrix itself. The Matrix is essentially a character in it’s own right.
The conflict lock between Neo and The Matrix is triggered by Neo being sent on the journey to discovering The Matrix so he can do something to change it and expose it, and The Matrix which does not want anything to change and wants to carry on as it has been. They both want something, but they can’t both have it.
You want your Protagonist to be a person, or at least a robot, so the inciting incident causes them to make a choice to pursue a goal. Until the inciting incident in The Matrix, Neo following the girl with the white rabbit tattoo, he is not involved in the story. He has no knowledge of The Matrix, he has no connection to anything that is happening. He has not been set against The Matrix. But the moment he goes to follow the white rabbit, he is on his path and we are following his story.
You can spend some time with your characters prior to the inciting incident if you want to. You can show them existing in their lives and what may be missing from their lives, so when the inciting incident happens you understand why the make the choice to go after that goal. Why they become active now. But you shouldn’t spend too long prior to the inciting incident, because that’s not your story and that’s not why your audience has come to your work. Your inciting incident needs to go in the first act; in a book it should go in the first couple of chapters, in a film it should go in the first ten pages.
A lot of stories will spend time with the antagonist or with the villain of the story before going to the protagonist’s inciting incident. For instance, in The Matrix you start with Trinity fighting agents and going out of the window. This allows the audience to see what is at stake for the Protagonist when their story is started.
The Matrix is a really well structured story, and the inciting incident is clear and easy to follow. So it’s worth studying that film as a story teller.
You can find more writing advice on our YouTube channel where we’ll be releasing a piece of writing advice every day to help you become a better and more confident writer. If you have any writing questions, comment below and we will try to do a video for every question we get!