Last month we eased into the New Year with some (I hope!) inspirational posts about committing to your writing. Now let’s move on to the nuts and bolts of story structure: the crucial Story Elements that are part of the DNA of any story.
This is just as important for those of you who are in your second or third drafts! No matter how far into your book or script you are, you need to make sure these elements are working in your story.
And let’s start by reviewing one of the absolute most important elements of your story or any other:
Inciting Incident, Inciting Event, Call to Adventure
Yes, I’m skipping right over essential elements of your protagonist for the moment, because your main character is generally the aspect of your story you know the most about. There’s plenty we’ll talk about to help you deepen your character and create a killer CHARACTER ARC. (Start here.)
But in the beginning, it’s even more important to set up other elements of your story.
The Inciting Incident, Inciting Event, or Call to Adventure is the real start of your book or script. It is a life-changing event (even if it may not seem so at first) that will challenge your protagonist to take action to get their heart’s DESIRE.
It is crucial to the success of your writing for you to understand what an Inciting Incident is and how to make it play effectively for your reader/audience.
SOMETHING HAS TO HAPPEN, IMMEDIATELY, that gives us an idea of WHAT YOUR STORY IS ABOUT.
You can do this to some extent by setting mood, tone, genre, hope and fear, and an immediate external problem, but I also strongly suggest that you get to your INCITING INCIDENT as soon as possible. Especially if you are a new writer, you cannot afford to hold this back. It can make or break your submission, so find a way to get it into the first few pages or at the very least, strongly hint at it.
So: what is the action that starts your story?
The corpse hits the floor and begins a murder investigation.
The hero/ine gets their first glimpse of the love interest in a love story
A boy receives an invitation to a school for wizards in a fantasy
This beat is also often called the CALL TO ADVENTURE (from Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces), and that’s the phrase I actually prefer; it’s just more — more.
There is no story— book, script, or TV series—without an Inciting Incident/Call to Adventure. Period.
But when I ask writers I teach what their Inciting Incident is, it’s often a real struggle for them to just clearly state it. And if you’re confused about it, you can bet that your reader/audience will be just as confused! You need to tell them where the story is going.
Also this week: