Monday, February 20, 2017

Strong Inciting Incidents Generate Strong Stories


Janet here. In my January post, I talked about the importance of strong inciting incidents to hook the reader. For those who might have missed that post, I’ll repeat the definition of an inciting incident.

An inciting incident is an event or situation in the story’s opening that brings change and spurs the character to action. This change should threaten the character or his goal or his self-concept or all three. The threat needs to be something readers can relate to, something that will make readers worry about the character, something that will lead readers to ask questions that will keep them turning pages to find answers.

In response to that post, Villager Vince Mooney pointed out that expanding on the inciting incident creates the story, eliminates the problem of the 'sagging middle' and brings a satisfactory conclusion. Vince's points are important. Important enough to merit another post. 


Strong inciting incidents aren’t just a gimmick writers use in the opening to hook the reader. Strong inciting incidents trigger the entire story. The event or situation that threatens the character forces him to act. His actions produce conflict that makes things worse. The character then must regroup and take another action, moving the story forward. This action/reaction is repeated time and time again, but each time the stakes need to be raised.  


I'll use the inciting incident in my novel The Substitute Bride to show how it triggers and produces the mail-order bride story I wanted to write. 

A strong inciting incident triggers the story. I wanted to create an inciting incident that would put the heroine between the proverbial rock and a hard place. So I gave Chicago debutante Elizabeth Manning a father who is determined to marry her off to an old geezer who promised to pay his gambling debts in exchange for his daughter’s hand. Set in 1899, the story opens on the eve of Elizabeth's wedding. The clock is ticking and since the groom turns Elizabeth's stomach, the stakes are high. If Elizabeth stays, tomorrow morning she’ll be trapped in a loveless marriage and her little brother Robby will be sent to boarding school. This is the “So what?” Dr. Mobry spoke about here.

With no money and not much of a plan, Elizabeth decides to run, promising Robby she’ll return for him in a month, before the bank forecloses on their house. Elizabeth’s promise to her brother becomes another ticking clock. I raised the stakes for her by taking away the little money she had (her father had taken it out of her purse) and the support of her aristocratic friends who turned their backs on the now penniless Manning family. Though the story is laced with humor, this inciting incident hopefully builds sympathy for Elizabeth, hooks readers and makes them worry. 

Strong inciting incidents involve hard choices, raised stakes, dramatic action and when possible, ticking clocks. 

So how does this inciting incident get Elizabeth into the mail-order bride marriage I want and trigger the entire story?

Elizabeth’s a strong, determined woman. She has no one to run to for help so she goes to the railroad station, figuring somehow she’ll find a way to board a train. After a night spent on a bench in the depot, Elizabeth comforts a weeping young woman and learns that Sally is a mail-order bride with cold feet. In exchange for the ticket to New Harmony, Iowa, all Elizabeth has to do is switch places with this homesick farm girl and marry her farmer groom. Elizabeth has no interest in marrying anyone, much less a total stranger who might be worse husband material than the old geezer she’s running from. So why would she switch places with Sally and give me the mail-order bride story I want?

Motivation is the key. To motivate Elizabeth I take away her options by bringing her father and the old geezer to the station. When Elizabeth sees them heading her way, she grabs the identifying silk flower, the ticket, and then boards the train, certain that once she arrives in Iowa, she won’t marry the groom. Do you see how a strong inciting incident and a motivated character creates the action? In this case, the inciting incident forces Elizabeth to choose between two bad scenarios.

This is a romance novel so what’s my hero’s motivation for marrying a stranger?

Widower Ted Logan can’t take care of his two young children and work his farm. With no eligible women in town, Ted advertised for a mail-order bride. In the letters he exchanged with Sally, she assured him she can cook, do chores and take care of his children. Ted has no idea that the woman stepping off the train is a pampered debutante who’s never done more than boil water.  

This "fish out of water" heroine is not what Ted ordered. This mismatched pair guarantees things won't go smoothly if Elizabeth marries Ted. Of course, Elizabeth plans to do no such thing.

Which brings me to another point…

Strong inciting incidents require strong characters. Except for his gambling addiction, Elizabeth is like her determined father. She’s capable of taking drastic measures to get what she wants, including lying. She’s got a lot to learn about God, but that’s not the point of this post. Except to say, strong characters are not perfect characters. They have weaknesses, make mistakes and fail. In fact, you’ll want to make sure they do.   

Now that Elizabeth is safely away from the trouble motivating her to run, how does the inciting incident keep the story going?

Again strong motivations make characters act. In the story’s opening, Elizabeth’s younger brother Robby yearns for life on a farm with animals, especially a dog. Elizabeth had promised she’d get him a dog once they are settled. Ted can give Robby both. Even if Elizabeth had the skill to get a job in this small farm community, which doesn’t appear likely, she’d earn only enough to rent a room in a boarding house. She wants to give her motherless, insecure little brother a good life. For Robby’s sake, she decides to marry a stranger, but can't go through with it until she tells the truth about her identity. Though Ted’s shocked and angry about the switch, he's desperate to have a caretaker for his children. He asks Elizabeth three questions. Satisfied with her answers, the town preacher marries them. Their wedding is one of the most entertaining scenes I've ever written. I still grin when I think about it. Desperate characters taking desperate actions can create a suspense or comedy, anything the writer chooses. To keep this story from becoming slapstick, I give Elizabeth and Ted deep-seated wounds. Wounds that create internal conflict and keep them from falling in love. Strong characters need depth. Their pasts need to cause them as much trouble as their present.


Though Ted is willing to wait for Elizabeth to love him, he’s stunned by her inability to handle his home and children. The strong inciting incident leads to Elizabeth’s daily struggles, especially with Ted’s daughter’s hostility, and ensures that the middle of the story doesn’t sag. Elizabeth’s goal is to keep the marriage going so she can bring Robby to the farm. But she keeps his existence secret until she admits her plan in the middle of an argument. Though Ted is keeping secrets of his own, he is livid. Things get worse when Robby arrives and doesn’t fit any more than Elizabeth. Elizabeth even takes Robby and moves out for a while. This "time out" is important to the story, as it gives Elizabeth time to heal, to find out who she is and what she wants. Both she and Ted miss each other, but still have a lot  to overcome. 


So how does a strong inciting incident make for a satisfying ending? 


The satisfying ending is the result of the characters overcoming the obstacles that the inciting incident created for them. Ted and Elizabeth married without love, without knowing one another, without sharing their pasts or secrets. Elizabeth was woefully unprepared to be a wife and mother. The inciting incident threw them together but the odds were against them, Through the actions they take and the lessons they learn, characters are forced to grow and change. That growth is the result of the inciting incident's strong call to action. 


Another point: The happily ever after ending works best when it mimics the inciting incident in some way. By that I mean, we writers can use the elements that forced the character to act, to now give them their happy ending. Elizabeth's father arrives, a changed man thanks to events that happen during the story so the man that created the situation is now the man who shares in their HEA. Ted proposes to Elizabeth and they will renew their vows. This time they know each other, are keeping no secrets and choose to marry because they're in love, not because the inciting incident forces them to. 

When we writers create strong inciting incidents, they will propel the characters through the book, eliminating a sagging middle and giving the satisfying ending we all want. 


Think of the inciting incident in your work in progress or in a book you’ve read. Did these situations or events move the characters to action? Trigger the entire story? Keep the middle from sagging? Bring about a satisfactory ending? 


Share an inciting incident that worked for you for a chance to win an eBook of The Substitute Bride.

I brought coffee and tea, fresh sliced peaches, homemade biscuits and crisp bacon. 

106 comments :

  1. Coffee's ready!

    Great points, Janet.

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    1. HELEN, thank you! Do you have an inciting incident from one of your books that you could share with us?

      Janet

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  2. Now I know some of the reasons for putting your poor characters through the wringer sometimes!! Keep the story going & reader invested, keep the middle from sagging and have a satisfactory happy ending that we readers long for! So cool to know the why's & wherefores. Thanks for sharing, Janet and giving me even more insight to the well crafted book :-) Please add my name for a chance at the ebook copy of Substitute Bride, sounds like a doozy!

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    1. TRIXI, I love that you like to be in the know. Have you read a book or maybe seen a movie that had a strong inciting incident that drove the entire story?

      Janet

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    2. I'm sorry Janet that I didn't get over here earlier in the day to answer this! I just got done reading the book "Stars in the Grass" by Ann Marie Stewart. It's about the McAndrews family of five (mom, dad & three kids) who lose one of the members due to a tragic accident. I believe that is the inciting incident that carries over the entire story because it shows how each of the surviving family members cope with the death. It carried me through the entire story without me losing interest. In fact, it kept me so invested, I didn't want to put the book down for one second. I found out that it is her debut novel & I was so impressed with how well written it was! It deals with some heavy emotional stuff & really clenches your heart! I can't recommend it enough. I think I'd have to label this one the best read of the year (2017) for me.

      Don't mind my gushing of this book, but wow, talk about inciting incidences in a book that carries strong all the way through!

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  3. Hi Janet:

    I really enjoyed your post today. I think it is the best and most detailed explanation of creating a strong inciting incident (II).

    New writers spend a lot of time and effort trying to come up with a catchy hook to open their first chapter with. This is good, of course, but much more important is the totality of the inciting incident that opens the story.

    Consider these questions:

    How many options does the II open for the story to take? Does it open only a few or does it open a great many?

    I call an II that opens a great many story possibilities an open ended II. An example is "The Wizard of Oz". The II is Dorothy being swept away by a tornado into a magical world. Her goal is to get back home alive.

    I wrote a 122,000 word version of 'Oz'. The II was the explosion of the universe releasing all the characters in novels into a new reality -- a reality in which real and fictional people are mixed together with there being no objective test to prove who is real and who is fiction. All characters have a goal to get back where they belong. Except a lot of fictional characters eventually desire to become real.

    Like Oz this was totally open ended. I could write a million words as each new chapter opened a new adventure.

    An example of very limited options is Nevada Barr's "Blind Descent" which is set almost totally in a series of caves and in the dark. The II here is closed ended. The caves are massive, unexplored and highly dangerous. They are real and are located near Carlsbad Caverns. Only the most advanced cavers are allowed to explore and map out the caves. Here all the drama takes place in the dark and in very restricted cavern areas. The II of getting trapped in the caves and hoping to get out alive offers only a limited number of possibilities. I felt this was the author's least successful book though I did finish reading it.

    Incidentally I believe that very open ended IIs help pantsers. (It's hard to pain yourself in a corner when there are so few restrictive corners.)

    My feeling is that if a writer creates a very strong II and it is also very open ended one will have the most possible ways of writing a great finish.

    It has been said that a romance always has the same ending -- the HEA. But that is not the key here. What readers want are lots of ways that the hero and heroine can be prevented from ever getting together. These ways to block romance must seem real. Having many credible blocks to the HEA makes the eventual HEA all the more pleasing to the reader.

    A strong II then might create multiple streams of conflicts to block the HEA. "In the Lawman's Second Chance" the heroine has very serious breast cancer. She also had her husband leave her when he could not accept her situation and all her painful cancer treatments. The hero had is wife die of breast cancer. He can not ever take a chance of having a second wife die of breast cancer. Not again. He could not do that to his young children who already lost a mother to breast cancer.

    There's lots of conflict here. Neither hero or heroine wants to be hurt again by marriage. The hero is a cop who might die any time he is on duty. There are many believable possible endings from this II.

    Yes, the reader is guaranteed an HEA but that is always the case so why even read romances? The reader wants to believe that the HEA might not happen after all. This is why it is so important to have a strong II which allows many believable roadblocks to romance.

    For all the reasons given in today's post, I think creating a strong II is one of the most important elements in writing success.

    Vince

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    1. Vince, so many good points! It's interesting how the film of Oz actually did a great initial set-up of the magical land by having the confrontation with Dorothy and the mean-spirited neighbor... and the workers.... Then the rest of the story made perfect sense, and the viewer was taken on a circus-style route to get back to reality.

      I found the actual writing in the original story very dull... Plain, simple sentences, little initial characterization, and little depth. I remember trying to read it as a kid and putting it aside several times. I found the idea of the story great.... but the reality was disappointing.

      And yet in the film, both the inciting incidents and the follow through, were exemplary... now that doesn't mean I love the film, it scared me! :) It's not a movie I show to kids until they're older, but oh, how I loved Dorothy and her quest to go home! Judy Garland was magnificent in the role.

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    2. VINCE, your Oz story sounds fascinating. The trick was probably trying to keep it from feeling episodic, but then it's multiple stories within a story so doesn't have the same restraints.

      I love your point that in a romance the Inciting Incident needs to create huge conflict or roadblocks that make the reader uncertain the hero and heroine will get together. Ruthy's book is a great example. To me those roadblocks don't come so much from the II as from the backstory, what happened to the characters in the past. Yet without the inciting Incident the characters wouldn't be on this journey at all.

      It's great fun to talk writing! Thanks for all your points.

      Janet

      Janet

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    3. RUTHY, You'll probably be shocked to know that I've never read The Wizard of Oz. Or if I did, I've totally forgotten it. LOL

      Janet

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    4. Janet, I'm not shocked at all... I think the film was so much better that no one introduced kids to the book. And this isn't criticism of Baum, it's the difference of how folks treated writing stories for kids in the 19th century and how they wrote them in the later 20th century.

      I much prefer the more modern kid stories!

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    5. Hi Ruth:

      Did you know that "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" was written as a political satire? Writing a children's book was the last thing on the author's mind. Its success with children astounded the author who kept writing follow up books in the series and making a good living for years doing so.

      All the events or episodes have counterparts in the American political scene of the 1890's. Shortly after the book was published it was made into a play for Broadway and was a hit. In the play some of the characters were given real names like Teddy Roosevelt and comments were made about John D. Rockefeller. But all the major characters and events had counterparts on the current political scene.

      As for being fun: the "Wizard" was the only book my father read to me and my two brothers as children who were sharing one big bedroom for a few weeks. We got one chapter a night and it was a wonderful experience. For years I thought the "Wizard" was the best book ever written. It was like my GWTW!

      I put the "Wiz" in the same category as "Animal Farm".

      All animals are equal except some are more equal than others.

      Great fun, nonetheless.

      Vince

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    6. Hi Janet:

      You wrote: "The trick was probably trying to keep it from feeling episodic,..."

      I think this is a very important point. A story can have episodes and not be 'episodic' in the bad sense. Think of "Downton Abbey". It has episodes but each is a continuation of the story. I think a key here is having each episode advance the storyline.

      Another test would be that the episodes must be in the correct sequential order. If the episodes can appear in any order, then the book is very episodic.

      The topic of episodes and episodic writing might make a good topic for a future post.

      Vince

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    7. I agree, Vince - both with your statement and "Downton Abbey" example, and that episodes and episodic writing might be a good future post. One thing that I think helps episodes not become episodic, is an overarching change. In Downton, the characters changed - mostly they became kinder, gentler. Also, the country changed HUGELY before, during, and after the war.

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    8. Hi Dana: Yes on change. And when the several changes going on all tend to mirror each other, then that moves the product into art and literature.

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  4. Fresh peaches??? And coffee???? Oh, the wise words are pure bonus, I've been dying for fresh peaches, Janet! How did you know????

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    1. RUTHY, fresh peaches can be dicey, but the ones I've had recently have been deliciously sweet and juicy. Dig in!

      Janet

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  5. Wowza. So many good writing tips in this post, JANET. I never thought about how the Inciting Incident can determine how the rest of the story turns out. I usually think of the Inciting Inciting as a way to get me to the next scene and as a way to get me to the end of Act I. Now I see it can determine the middle and the HEA also.

    One Inciting Incident that works for me comes from the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" where Will Smith's character, Chris Gardner, sees a guy leaning against a fancy red sports car in a busy city. Chris stops and says something to the effect of: "What do you do for a living to get to drive a car like that?"

    The guy says: "I'm a stockbroker."

    The rest of the movie is about Chris going through crazy obstacles, including a period of homelessness, to pursue his dream of being a stockbroker. His motivation? Chris wants to provide a better life for him and his young son, who is also homeless with Chris.


    Please enter me in the drawing for "The Substitute Bride" :-)

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    1. PRESLAYSA, you rock for sharing a great inciting incident!! Thank you! I'm awed that a fancy sports car just sitting there triggers the hero's goal and a great story. He had huge motivation, too, which is essential. Otherwise the roadblocks would stymie him. I must watch this movie.

      Janet

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    2. Preslaysa, I love that movie! Highly recommend.

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    3. As I recall, it was based on a true story. I heard the actual hero speak on one of the talk shows. Amazing determination!!!

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    4. I love that it's based on a true story, DEBBY!

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  6. Great points, Janet. And I see your inciting incident of the father coming to the train station as the change of plans per Hauge, who agrees with you. This second inciting incident is a must or the middle will sag. Great post. Thank you.

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    1. TINA, I also see the dog, as crazy as that sounds, as the change of plans or maybe it's just another turning point. Elizabeth hadn't planned on marrying Ted. All she wants is to escape a forced marriage. But she desperately wanted to give her brother that dog and a happy life and ends up in a marriage she forces on herself. Of course I made sure she had few options. :-)

      Janet

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    1. "Another Julie"??? Uh, not quite. Sadly, I still hold the record for ridiculous word count with approximately 170,000 words. But I am learning, I hope, especially when my Christmas "novella" A Light in the Window rounded out at 115,000 words. Sigh.

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Hi Tina:

      That 122,000 words came as a result of two NaNos and a Speedbo in between. It just took a lot of words to sort out the whole universe.

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  8. Fantastic tips, Janet! Being a lover of romance, one of my favorite inciting incidents is from Romeo and Juliet. When their eyes connect at the ball and they fall instantly in love. Thanks for the great post!

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    1. JILL, Isn't falling in love at first sight romantic? Sadly it didn't go well for poor Romeo and Juliet. I've known several real life people who say they fell in love with their spouse at first sight and those marriages had been very successful. Of course they didn't have feuding families.

      Janet

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  9. Hi Janet, you've given me a lot to think about this morning! Thanks for such a thought-provoking post. Definitely a keeper for me.

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    1. JACKIE, glad the post has your wheels turning.

      Janet

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  10. Great post, Janet! I always loved this story! I love how you take the inciting incident and keep building, building, building on it with an interlaced GMC. Bravo!

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    1. GLYNNA, I'm glad you loved The Substitute Bride. A few readers got mad at Elizabeth for refusing to fall in love with Ted, a really great guy. I think they didn't appreciate how wounded and distrusting Elizabeth was, but then, I'm the author. :-)

      Janet

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  11. This was an interesting post around an interesting-sounding story. It is definitely very important to keep motives straight and action going- and that's a good reminder for us all. Plus marriages of convenience are always fun...

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    1. BOO, I love marriage of convenience stories too! There's built-in conflict and characters are forced to be together, but to force characters to choose to marry without love requires a really strong inciting incident and strong motivations.

      Janet

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  12. Good morning, JANET! Love your fabulous points and you gave us a lot to chew on. Thank you! :-)

    I just finished reading Francine Rivers' Bridge to Haven. Without giving away spoilers, a baby is found underneath a bridge by a pastor. (As a former social worker, I looked at this opening with a discerning eye but considered the time period and the fact that state laws and circumstances vary from state to state. FR is a master at drawing the reader in.)

    Suffice it to say, the baby and the situation surrounding her discovery make for a great inciting incident and it's the catalyst that fuels the story. As the baby grows into an adult, we see how that opening affects the MC's self-esteem and her choices throughout life. The inciting incident worked for me. It made me keep turning pages. FABULOUS story, BTW.

    It's interesting to note that category romance works much the same way, only faster. The momentum rarely lets up because of the shorter word count. The inciting incident is always foremost in our minds because everything happens so quickly in the beginning (and in the rest of the story, too). And it takes a lot of finesse to write it!

    Thanks for the breakfast treats! :-)

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    1. CYNTHIA, I haven't read Francine River's Bridge to Haven but the story has a huge inciting incident and sounds fabulous. Not a surprise as she's a great author.

      Category books do require a faster pace to get the story told in a shorter word count. Do you think with the fast pace of real life today that readers want a faster paced story? Since I've been writing for LIH, the word count requirement has decreased by almost 20k. Not sure if that's because of readers or of controlling costs.

      Janet

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    2. I can't speak for others, but I do love a fast-paced story. That being said, though, when I'm knee-deep into a book and I'm really loving a story, I sometimes stretch out my reading to prolong the moment (if that makes snese). :-)

      I think the word shrinkage in novels today has more to do with the bottom line monetarily than readers wanting shorter reads. (Less paper = less expense). Just my two cents.

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  13. An excellent teaching post and follow-up to last month's, Janet! I agree--the inciting incident needs to have a solid connection with the rest of the story.

    A recent favorite from my own books is the opening scene of A Rose So Fair (Flowers of Eden, book 3, coming soon). Rose comes upon a vagrant stealing food from her vegetable garden and chases him off with her Winchester. Without giving anything away, that incident is the prelude for things to come, both good and bad.

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  14. MYRA, I love the sound of A Rose So Fair! The inciting incident is exciting! Can't wait to read the story.

    Janet

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  15. Hi Janet, I agree with Myra. Great follow-up. It always helps to remind ourselves of these basic premises. They are so important. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. SANDRA, can you share one of your story's strong inciting incidents or one from a movie you've seen?

      Janet

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  16. Janet, what a great post! I really needed to read this right now. Thanks for sharing the example of your story. I love especially that you tie the ending into the inciting incident. I really do like to circle back around so that the ending mirrors the opening.

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    1. MISSY, isn't circling back with an ending that mirrors the opening fun?

      I'm looking for examples of strong inciting incidents that will underscore the post. Can you share one?

      Janet

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    2. Janet, my biggest was probably in The Doctor's Second Chance. The hero has a baby left practically on his doorstep. :)

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  17. Janet, this is so good I'm printing it for reference. :) Question, is the inciting incident the same as the turning point?

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    1. SHAREE, the inciting incident is what triggers the entire story. Turning points are things that happen that force the character to act differently than they'd planned. Elizabeth's father appearance a the depot forces Elizabeth to switch places with the mail order bride. Then when she reaches her destination, she hadn't planned to marry Ted, but he's offering everything her brother wants and there's no other options for her in this town so she marries him. Once she says I do, that's the turning point when there's no turning back. Turning points keep occurring in the story. There's a turning point that makes Ted's daughter accept Elizabeth. Make sense?

      Janet

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    2. Great definition of turning points, JANET. I'm going to keep that in mind. Every turning point "forces the character to act differently than planned".

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  18. Here's the inciting incident in my story Winner Take All. The heroine's unsigned, written rant venting about the hero's competing business coming to town, and giving him a nickname, appeared in the small-town newspaper's Letters to the Editor by mistake. The hero figures out she wrote it and comes to confront her.

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    1. CATHY, that's a strong inciting incident that puts your hero and heroine on a collision path. Love it! Thanks for sharing. Now I want to know who wins. :-)

      Janet

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    2. Hi Cathy:

      Your inciting incident is one of my favorites. It's in P&P when Darcy insults the heroine's family at a ball and in Janet's book where the heroine insults the hero for being a snake oil charlatan salesman who should be driven out of town when he is actually a well trained doctor!

      There is just something enjoyable about watching how the person who created an injustice goes about eating crow!

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    3. VINCE, it's great fun to make our characters eat crow. Maybe one day I'll serve crow along with a post on the topic. :-) That particular example is from Courting the Doctor's Daughter. You have a great memory, Vince.

      Janet

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  19. This is a great post, Janet. I believe my inciting incidents have not been strong enough to carry the story - which is why I've faltered with longer stories. I do just fine with flash fiction, because of the limited word count. You've given me something else I can work on and it very, very helpful to me. THANKS!!!!!!

    Mary C always has bang-up inciting incidents - which is why I enjoy her books so much. I'd consider sharing one of mine - but reading the post has me figuring out already that it really isn't a strong one.

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    1. DEBH, can you figure out a way to beef the inciting incident up? Maybe you could strengthen the "So What?" Or perhaps one of the characters could insult the other, as Cathy and Vince are describing in the previous comment.

      Janet

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  20. Thank you Janet! You explained inciting incidents SO well, it clicked for me! Bookmarking this one!

    In my WIP, my protagonist rear-ends the hero on her way to a job interview. This man she hits is a contractor and is building his dream house. He needs an interior designer which is the job our heroine is applying for.

    I'm going to go back over it with my "So what comb?" and raise the stakes.

    Your book sounds so interesting! I love mail-order, fish-out-of-water tropes.

    Thanks again, Janet!

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    1. JOSEE, I love the idea of the hero and heroine meeting after she rear ended his car! Does she try to blame him? Get upset that the collision means she's missing her job interview? Raising the "So what?" is easier if she's a single mom, can't afford to fix her car or miss the job interview. Maybe he could have a single mom sister who struggles to make ends meet so he takes pity on her and offer an interview for decorating his own house when he really can't afford the additional expense.

      Janet

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    2. She is a single mother and she misses her interview. He's the super-compassionate, nurturer type and wants to help her. I didn't realize it until I was almost at the end of my book, oddly the irony in them meeting in a fender bender given that his ex-fiancée killed her husband in an intentional head-on car crash.

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    3. Whoa, there's got to be a lot of motivation for why he wouldn't want to fall in love with another woman. Especially one he met through a fender bender.

      Janet

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  21. Janet, this post really got me thinking about my Inciting Incident for the book I'm working on. The juices are percolating. I hadn't thought about the importance of a motivation to make a character act. LOVED this. I should have known this already, but your example helped me to envision what I can change in my I.I. to make it stronger. Thank you!

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    1. JEANNE, delighted this helped you strengthen your II and character motivations. The story is so much easier to write when these two are strong.

      Janet

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    2. Her examples using her book were SO good. *Click*

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  22. Great post, Janet.

    The inciting incident in Amish Refuge is a middle-of-the night carjacking on a mountain road. The heroine is kidnapped, along with her sister...and her life changes for ever.

    I'm working on book 3 and need to hone in on the opening for that story. I may need to tweak what I have to make it more satisfying. You're making me think...hard! :)

    Hugs!

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  23. You make it sound so simple, Janet.
    One of my historicals started when the heroine is stricken w/chlorea and her father leaves her to die in the hand of strangers. (Yes, it's a dreaded prologue!) But everything in that story reverts back to the inciting incident.

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    1. CONNIE, I'm sure your heroine will not trust easily after that inciting incident. Does she plan to seek revenge?

      Janet

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    2. Janet, she becomes an outlaw and finds the hero in her cave after he's been shot. He's a Pinkerton agent who's paid to investigate a crooked judge. When the hero learns she's the daughter of the judge, he realizes she's the perfect instrument to bring down the man. But yes, at the end of the story she's meets her dad again when she's stands trial in his court. He assumed she had died so it comes as quite as shock she's standing before him.

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  24. DEBBY, car-jacking, kidnapping is a huge, scary inciting incident, which is a perfect fit for a suspense story! I know you'll come up with a terrific Inciting Incident. You always do!

    Janet

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  25. Janet, very interesting follow up to your last post. I will keep all this in mind. I especially enjoyed reading how you used Substitute Bride since I have just recently read it. So no need to put me in the drawing. Whoever wins it will enjoy it!

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    1. SANDY, I'm glad you enjoyed The Substitute Bride. Thanks for the review! Wishing you all the best with your story.

      Janet

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  26. I did my police ride-along last night. In one night got to see an arrest for outstanding warrants, a search for a body in a ditch, half a dozen traffic stops, a few reports of disturbances. Oh I saw the temporary holding cells too. Oh and a K9 search for drugs.

    All might be cool inciting incidents.

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    1. Oh my gosh! I'm glad you lived to tell about it. :)

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    2. TINA, every one of your experiences riding along with police could be used as inciting incidents! Though I've got to say I'm relieved you didn't find the body they were searching for in that ditch. Shivering at the prospect.

      Janet

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    3. Gee ... couldn't you do something interesting with your time, Tina? ;-)

      Nancy C

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    4. LOL. Janet. The officer asked what I do in my spare time. Umm..nothing. I never leave my desk. LOLOLOL.

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    5. Hi Tina:

      But then how did you get your desk into that officer's car?

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  27. Another super teaching post, Janet! Thank you.

    I just finished reading a book that had an unusual inciting incident ... a sheriff finds a woman's boot in the middle of a highway. The quest for the owner of the boot leads to a lot of interesting events :-)

    Nancy C

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    1. ooh, cool, NANCY, sounds like a fun contemporary Cinderella story. VINCE would love the open ended possibilities for this story.

      Janet

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  28. I love inciting incidents. I wish I was better at them. Make them so compelling the reader can't stop turning the page.
    I try and no matter how hard I try, I can look at it and wish it'd been stronger.

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    1. MARY, I've decided you're never satisfied. I get that. Storytellers need to keep striving for excellence, but still your inciting incidents are great!

      Janet

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  29. Hi Janet:

    Yesterday you asked what other endings were possible for, "The Bounty Hunter's Redemption," because you were thinking only of the one ending that you wrote.

    Since I said this book had a very powerful and open ended inciting incident I'll list a few ways it could have ended without indicating if any of them were what really happened. (Note: I was thinking of all these different endings at one point or another as I was reading the story).

    1. The heroine's husband was not really killed. The body was not his.
    2. the husband was a bigamist with other wives before he married the heroine.
    3. it was the husband's twin brother who was killed. (Ala "Petticoat Ranch")
    4. the hero's sister marries the lawman and no longer needs to be cared for by the hero.
    5. the hero earns a very large reward and can just give the shop to the heroine.
    6. the husband had plans revealed in a letter to kidnap his son and take him to California.
    7. the husband was found dead by the hero and he just brought the body in for the reward as it was 'dead or alive' and the husband deserved a decent burial.
    8. the heroine's son is kidnapped by wanted men as a way to kill the bounty hunter who is too good at his job but the hero brings the son back safely.
    9. the shop burns down and the hero saves those inside and helps to rebuilt it.
    10. the judge rules a different way opening a new set of problems to solve.

    When the inciting incident is very rich in possibilities, there can be many different and credible ways for the story to end. Thinking of all these ways invests the reader deeper into the story similar to a mystery fan trying to solve a crime with many suspects but few clues. It makes reading more fun...at least for me.

    Vince

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    1. VINCE, I'm blown away by all the ways you thought of that could've ended the story. The first two were fascinating. I have decided after reading your list that I'm a passive reader. :-( I'll get some thoughts about what might happen but nothing like this list. You are good!

      Thanks for not making the real ending evident. Just in case some of the Villagers haven't read the story.

      Janet

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  30. JANET, as a reader I appreciate a powerful inciting scene. It gives such depth to the story.

    Please enter me in the drawing.

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    1. CARYL, you're in the drawing. Thanks for your interest.

      Janet

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  31. Inciting incidence: I just finished Ruthy's Back in the Saddle that starts with a shotgun pointed at the returning prodigal son, by a housekeeper who knows how to use it.
    Thanks for a great article Janet! Wonderful information. I'm looking forward to speedbo next month. I appreciate everything that Seekerville does. Please throw my name in for the drawing.

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    1. Incident....love that auto correct.

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    2. BETTIE, Ruthy's story had a great inciting incident!

      Your words have blessed us here in Seekerville. Thanks!

      Janet

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  32. Thanks, Janet! You've given us a delightful inciting incident!

    Wondering how many of us have experienced real life "inciting incidents?" LOL Thinking we're going in one direction....and then boom...a decision HAS to be made...and now we're headed on a NEW path!!

    Spent some time this morning reflecting on President's Day and how decisions made by Washington and Lincoln dramatically changed the story of our nation...no sagging middles in this narrative!

    Janet, you and the Seekerville crew contribute so much to all of our lives...thanks for taking the time and effort to share and to encourage us!! You all BLESS us!

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  33. KATHRYN, you have made a terrific point. We have a lot to thank Presidents Washington and Lincoln for. It's mind boggling to think what this nation would be like without them.

    I, and all the Seekers, thank you for your encouraging words! You've blessed us mightily!

    Janet

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  34. Tina, you're more involved than I am. The only thing close to a ride-along that I've done is when I asked a cop at a bagel shop if I could sit in the back of his vehicle for research purposes.

    Janet, I already have a copy of The Substitute Bride.

    I have, in one of my novels, where the hero is contemplating committing a crime at the outset and then is pulled from it when he saves the heroine's life. Still writing this one, so I don't know if the middle sags.

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    1. WALT, saving the heroine's life is a huge inciting incident! Doubt that middle will sag.

      Janet

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  35. The II in my biblical fiction, "Rain", Aban, a young Samaritan boy, prepares for the temple ritual "first rites". Son of the high priestess, his future is assured--some day he will become high priest of Ba'al Melqart. But in the middle of the festivities, a stranger storms into the temple, confronts the king, and curses all Samaria with drought. His name is Elijah, and he claims to serve the living God.

    Aban is shocked at the man's bold and foolhardy actions--he seems only a rough shepherd. So when he strides out of the temple, Aban follows. Later he misdirects pursuing soldiers, putting his own life in danger, but making a new friend. When he has to flee the city with his mother and young brother, an adventure begins that takes him to a new life Zarephath.

    Please enter me in the drawing for your novel. I love mail order bride stories and also love humorous historicals. (Maybe because of the alliteration?) :)

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    1. DANA, your inciting incident is powerful to trigger a novel, as you already know. Great job!

      You're entered in the drawing. There's heartache as well as humor but it ends happily so all's good.

      Janet

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  36. Janet, this post was overflowing with great advice and, I must admit, I can hardly wait to read your book after reading these teasers. Many thanks and blessings to you!

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    1. REBECCA, thanks! Blessings to you!

      Janet

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  37. I just wrote the inciting incident for my WIP yesterday. Here it is: My characters are all sitting around, relaxing and recovering from what they've been through when the guy who got them all in the mess they are in from the first book shows up with a warning. The emperor they just found out they had to defeat has sent assassins to hunt them down and well... assassinate them. That sends them packing and leads into the rest of the book where they have to split up in order to help throw he assassins off their trail as they travel to the different countries of Amar trying to garner support from those countries in fighting the emperor, and all the while they've got to stay one step ahead of the assassins and the emperor so as to not end up dead.

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  38. NICKI, nothing like assassins on your heels to make characters take action! Great Inciting Incident. Wishing you all the best with the story!

    Janet

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  39. Fantastic meaty post, as usual!

    And that ticking clock... :D

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    1. KC, thanks! Always good to see you and May in Seekerville.

      Janet

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  40. Thanks for a great post!
    Connie
    cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com

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