October 20, 2020
What Does the Inciting Incident Actually Do? by Tim Storm
The inciting incident is often defined as “the thing that kickstarts the story.” And that definition can lead to some confusion about what the inciting incident is.
Take the original Star Wars film. What kickstarts that story?
- An oppressive emperor spurring a rebellion?
- Darth Vader capturing Princess Leia?
- Luke’s finding Leia’s SOS?
- Luke’s tracking down Obi-Wan Kenobe?
- Luke’s finding his aunt and uncle dead?
All of these could be said to kickstart the story, which is perhaps why even seasoned writers make claims that there can be multiple inciting incidents or that it can occur before the story even beings.
But only one of the events in that list above is the inciting incident. Of course, one might argue, why does it even matter which of those events we call the inciting incident? And I would tend to agree that obsessing over the “correct” labeling of structural components is mostly useless. But in this case, I think a misunderstanding of the role an inciting incident plays within a story is akin to a misunderstanding of story altogether.
(Check out Tim's upcoming From-Home Writing Retreat.)
T.D. Storm writes short stories and essays. His work has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Black Warrior Review, Copper Nickel, and Literary Hub. He he has been a finalist in a number of contests, including the International Literary Competition at Salem College, which he won in 2013. He has an MFA in Writing from Pacific University.
Tim lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where he works as a writing coach and editor. You can learn more about his teaching and editing at stormwritingschool.com. Prior to his current work, he taught high school English for 15 years and briefly pursued an Olympic rowing berth.
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