Inciting Incidents and Your Protagonist

My daughter, Heidi, 3 weeks old.
Today is my eldest daughter's birthday. Her arrival changed my life in a lot of ways, some anticipated, others surprising.  I'm the person I am today because of the journey I started as her mother.

Every story's protagonist must experience an inciting incident in their story.  Something that  changes their life and creates conflict, big or small. Because of this change, they ask questions, pursue different relationships, and try different things.

I doubt anyone who's had children would dispute the numerous shifts in their life story once their first child arrived, whether it occurred at birth, during the pregnancy or during attempts to become pregnant. Or maybe, they adopted a child. The inciting incident might be the journey to adoption, while the child's arrival is the conclusion of the story arc.

It doesn't matter what inciting incident you give your character, they must have one. Without it, the story doesn't hold the reader's interest. People want to read how events change someone's life.

Here are a few examples:

  • Harry Potter speaks to a snake in the zoo then the glass disappears, releasing the snake.
  • Dorothy's house lands in another world filled with colorful and unusual people.
  • The government asks Indiana Jones about the Staff of Ra and asks him to retrieve it.

Each of these incidents set up the rest of the story.  They, also, occur at the beginning of the story. But note, they don't have to be in the first sentence or paragraph. They just need to occur in that early scene.

What kinds of inciting events can you use when writing fiction?

  • Death
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Illness
  • Military Coups
  • Betrayal
  • Jealousy
  • Success
  • Failure
  • Criminal Acts
  • Moving

This is a short list, but I'm sure you can think of more.  What else would you add?


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