Last month, we compared and contrasted WANT vs. NEED. Again, we’re using Jami Gold’s beat sheet as a basis for these articles. This month, we’re moving on to the Inciting Incident.
If you research “inciting incident,” you’ll find that most definitions include the idea of thrusting the protagonist(s) forward into the main action of the story. It’s the event that hooks both the readers and the characters. Note: The term is most often used in the Hero's Journey plotting. In the beat sheet it says, “Give a glimpse of how right the characters could be for each other (Essence), but they’re not ready yet (identity)."
In a romance, this is usually the first time the hero and heroine cross paths, the first time they meet. It is generally found in the middle of Act One.
This scene can be a reflection or bookend to the Final Image/Resolution of the story. It can happen in the same place, or use similar words. Note: How much fun is it to actually see that Final Image that was used in the beginning and see how perfect this pair of lovers is for each other? If you’re thinking about doing the reflection/bookend thing, feel free to write both scenes right now. That doesn’t mean that last scene is set in stone. It probably isn’t.
Remember, this scene is all about the possibilities. Why should these two be together? What attracts them? Why might they want to fall in love?
I hate, hate, hate to throw this monkey wrench in here. But I have to. Since we’re using Jami’s beat sheet, I’m sticking with the point-by-point within it. But don’t get me wrong. It is not the ONLY way. How many of your favorite romance novels have the inciting incident be volatile and negative? Before they get out of the room, these two detest each other? That’s certainly a valid “inciting incident” as well. Then, they have a mountain to overcome right off the bat.
But let’s say you do it Jami’s way. Does that mean there’s no mountain? Well, shoot, no. There has to be a mountain. It just comes a bit after that first meeting, that first inciting incident. After they’ve met and smiled at each other and left that place with that warm, fuzzy feeling. After they’ve maybe even smiled for the rest of the day and fantasized about that perfect person.
It won’t be long until they find out who that person is - the guy that holds the mortgage to the ranch - the girl that got the job he wanted. Conflict! But for now, there’s that amazing moment in the coffee shop when they are perfect for each other. The realization that crashes the dream is so much sweeter then.
This inciting incident will be a scene you want to work hard to get right. Whose Point-of-View should it be in? What will the characters remember from this moment? The lighting? The music that’s playing? What he’s wearing? Her perfume? It’s important to get the details right. The takeaways for each character.
Craft this scene. Make it sing. Is that easy? Not really. But who told you writing a great book was easy?
Oh, and by the way, you don’t have to get it right the first time. You can write that scene and keep going - as a matter of fact, you should. If you get hung up with your inner editor making that scene perfect the first time through, you may never get the book written. Just know that it’s an important scene to get right.
Your homework is to take a few favorites off your keeper shelf and study the “inciting incident.”
Until next month - remember, Campers, BIC-HOK. Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.