What incites you to read? Why that book, that magazine, that comic? Why keep on reading?
With comics and magazines there are the graphics, photos, drawings , knowledge of the type of magazine and its content that you are buying; the same goes for comics. But what makes you choose a particular book? Read that particular story?
There are so many to choose from and not just the printed version (which I prefer) ebooks, audio books. Books, books, books.
When faced with rows of books, table of new arrivals, three for the price of two offers, the reader faces a daunting prospect which can at times be off-putting. Unless you follow the author and all they write, have seen the reviews, read suggestions written by the bookshop staff, the other options at your disposal are: -The book cover which can initially attract you to it. -The blurb on the back of the book. -The first line, paragraph, page, to see if you are hooked and reeled in.
I’m a terror for reading the first line and paragraph to see if it interests me. One of my favourite first lines is from a children’s book, Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend
‘The journalists arrived before the coffin did. They gathered at the gate overnight and by dawn they were a crowd. By nine o’clock they were a swarm.’
What a terrific hook. It offers so many questions to be answered that it makes you want to read on.
So I’m hooked. I buy the book. I read on. Why?
a) because I’ve bought it and b) to see if the hook fulfills it promise.
Now this is the exciting, inciting bit and, the point of this blog – sorry if it’s taken me too long to get here…. but have I hooked you enough to read on?
A story needs characters, a plot, subplots, an arc, a theme, and what we are going to look at here – the inciting incident.
The call to adventure.
What causes the hero to start their journey/quest/adventure.
There may be minor inciting incidents along the way but there has to be the main, major incident that sets the protagonist along their journey.
Without the inciting incident there is no exciting story, no drama, no jeopardy for the protagonist to face and allow them to change. And without those elements, without a bold, thrilling, inciting incident, a reader may be lost.
Classic examples are:
Harry Potter finding out he is a wizard, but that is a minor inciting incident, the main one is when Harry chooses to leave his world to face the unknown and thereby increase the adventure and his jeopardy. Harry could have chosen to stay at home and conform, but he didn’t, thank goodness.
Katniss Everdeen takes the place of her sister, Prim, in the Hunger Games, changing Katniss’ fate and entering her into a dangerous arena where her very existence comes into question. Katniss had a choice. She could have refused the call to adventure and, long story short, Prim dies and Katniss lives a life of regret. Not much of a page turner by comparison.
An inciting incident leaves the protagonist with a choice to enter the adventure or, not. If the protagonist takes up the challenge, you have a story, a story in which they must learn and change because of their journey. The conclusion does not have to have a happy ending but change should be evident in the protagonist by the end.
In a three act structure (story formatting) the inciting incident should happen in the first act (first third of the book) to hold the reader.
In my novel, ‘Anne, a Queen for a King’, Anne of Cleves’ main inciting incident is her acceptance of a marriage between her and Henry VIII. It may not have been of her choice and she had little say in the matter but it was her journey to England to consummate the marriage that incited the rest of the story. Similarly an inciting incident, was Henry’s first disastrous meeting with Anne at Rochford which damned the marriage and changed Anne’s life forever. But this is a minor incident as she is already upon the chosen path. In all this, she, as a woman of her time, had no real choice but, in her acceptance, her choice lay in how she dealt with it and how she learned and evolved and survived.
The inciting incident may drive the plot but it has closer links with the theme. It is the theme that drives the inciting incident rather than the plot.
In Harry Potter it is building friendships, belonging, doing what is right. That is the drive to accept the inciting incident which is theme rather than plot based.
In Katniss it is family. She is protecting her family , her sister, even at the cost of her own life
In Anne she is supporting her family, her country. It is a matter of loyalty to those she holds dear.
If the promise of the hook, within the first opening lines, is not kept because the inciting incident is not strong enough to hold the complete novel together, you will not hold your readers.
For more on inciting incidents see Jerry B Jenkins video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOSP7yM1fQs
Happy writing. Happy reading.