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How to Write a Gripping Inciting Incident

How to Write a Gripping Inciting Incident that Captivates from the Start

How to Write a Gripping Inciting Incident

I don’t know about you, but I live for a good inciting incident. That exciting “hold my coffee, things are about to get interesting” moment… in stories, mind you. Not in my own life. In the real world, I prefer the safety and comfort of my cozy reading chair, where the most dramatic moment I encounter is within the pages of a novel. The only thing I want forcing me out of my everyday life is the urgent need for a coffee refill, or perhaps the occasional cookie. Or two.

As I write this, I wonder—what could serve as an inciting incident in an article about inciting incidents? Just as we’re settling into our discussion, something must challenge the peace of our time together. We need a moment that propels us forward.

So imagine, if you will, that you are standing at the edge of a cliff. Below, the vast unknown of your story awaits. And here, at this precipice, this article whispers a challenge: Leap.

This very moment, as you hover on the brink—this marks your inciting incident. It’s the call to adventure in our shared Hero’s Journey, urging you to dive into the depths of your own storytelling prowess.

With this call to action ringing in our ears, let’s step off the ledge together, plunging into the inciting incident.

What is an Inciting Incident?

To put it most simply, an inciting incident is the moment the protagonist’s world changes dramatically.

But a good inciting incident? Ah, there’s the rub! A fantastic inciting incident irrevocably alters your protagonist’s life. It’s not just any old change; it’s something big. Something that shifts the protagonist from comfort to conflict.

An inciting incident is important, not only because of its spectacle, but because of its impact. It’s like a domino that, once tipped, sets off a chain reaction throughout the entire story.

Crafting such a moment requires care. Your inciting incident must be dramatic enough to captivate, yet grounded enough to be believable. In a fantasy realm, it might be the discovery of a hidden power or a call to save the world. In romance, it could be a chance encounter that upends two lives.

But wait, there’s more! As writers, our task is to ensure our inciting incidents are more than mere plot devices. They should be gateways to character development and thematic depth. And that brings us to the Hero’s Journey.


What is the inciting incident in the Hero’s Journey?

A concept popularized by mythologist Joseph Campbell, the Hero’s Journey outlines a universal story pattern that resonates across cultures and eras. In the Hero’s Journey, the inciting incident is found within the Call to Adventure. This is when the hero is invited, challenged, or forced to leave their everyday life and step into the unknown. It’s a disruption the protagonist cannot ignore, a beckoning towards destiny that demands a response.

The Call to Adventure serves three key functions in the narrative:

  1. Disruption: It disrupts the hero’s status quo by presenting a problem, challenge, or opportunity. This disruption sets the stage for the story’s central conflict and the hero’s subsequent journey.
  2. Motivation: It provides the hero (and the reader) with a reason to embark on the journey. Whether driven by a personal desire, a sense of duty, or the need to restore balance, the inciting incident makes the hero’s quest necessary.
  3. Transformation: It starts the hero’s process of transformation. The journey that follows the inciting incident will ultimately change the hero, shaping them into someone capable of facing the story’s climax and achieving their goal.

The Call to Adventure, as the Hero’s Journey’s inciting incident, marks the beginning of the hero’s transformational arc. It’s the catalyst that not only sets the story in motion but also connects the reader to the hero’s plight. It’s a journey that echoes the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of the global human experience.

And it’s all set within something called a story arc.


What is a Story Arc?

To master the inciting incident, you must consider its placement. Too early, and you risk confusing readers who haven’t yet found their footing in your world. You don’t give the reader time to connect with the protagonist, to care about them. Too late, and you lose the reader to boredom. They may care about the protagonist, but they lose the plot.

The sweet spot? Typically within the first ten percent of the novel—just when the reader has gotten to know the protagonist, understanding their desires, fears, and world. Then, and only then, do we shake up that world.

How to Write a Gripping Inciting Incident that Captivates from the Start 1

The key to finding these plotting sweet spots is through the Story Arc. The inciting incident is one plot point in this arc. A story arc outlines the progression of a narrative through its beginning, middle, and end. It provides a framework for the development of the plot and the growth of the characters. Let’s explore the components of a story arc and how the inciting incident fits into this structure. (Oh gosh—does this mark the end of Act 1 of this article?)

Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is the catalyst that launches your story. As previously discussed, it’s the event that disrupts the protagonist’s life, compelling them to action. It’s essential for hooking the reader and setting the stage for the drama that’s about to unfold.

Plot Point 1

The first major turning point after the inciting incident, Plot Point 1 occurs at the end of the first act, pushing the narrative into a new direction. It deepens the conflict introduced by the inciting incident and fully commits the protagonist to the story goal—if in a bumbling, reactive way. This is the “point of no return” for the protagonist; their decision to leave their old life behind.


The middle plot point happens, not surprisingly, in the middle of the story. It’s where the protagonist faces a significant challenge or revelation. This moment shifts the narrative again, raising the stakes and often changing the protagonist’s understanding of what they need to do to succeed. Here, something shifts the protagonist from being reactive to proactive in pursuing their story goal.

Plot Point 2

Plot Point 2 is the second major turning point, marking the end of the second act and setting up the final push towards the climax. It typically involves a low point for the protagonist, where all hope seems lost. However, plot point two also provides a key piece of knowledge or motivation needed to confront their ultimate challenge. Because, after all, we don’t want the protagonist to give up now, do we? What fun would that be?


The climax is the peak of the story arc, where tension and conflict reach their highest point. It’s when the protagonist finally confronts the central conflict or antagonist, leading to a resolution of the story’s main plot. This is where the protagonist either achieves–or fails to achieve–their story goal.

What is the difference between climax and inciting incident?

At first glance, the inciting incident and the climax are clearly two very different things. The inciting incident kicks off the story in terms of the protagonist’s journey towards the story goal. The climax is the fulfillment (or lack thereof) of that story goal. In fact, these two plot points are opposites in many ways. Two sides of the same coin.

In narrative structure, we call this mirroring. Mirroring the inciting incident with the climax allows you to enhance the thematic depth and emotional resonance of your story. This narrative symmetry provides a satisfying sense of closure while also reinforcing the protagonist’s journey and the story’s theme.

Here’s how it works. The inciting incident introduces the central conflict and themes of the story. By bringing up these themes again in the climax—but through the lens of our new and improved protagonist—we bring the narrative full circle. By doing so, we highlight how the protagonist has grown, and how their understanding of the theme has deepened over the course of the story.

For example, in a story about overcoming fear, the inciting incident might show the protagonist avoiding a confrontation that leads to negative consequences. The climax could then mirror this moment by presenting a similar confrontation, but this time, the protagonist faces it head-on, demonstrating their growth and resolving the story’s central conflict.

Examples of Inciting Incidents That Hooked Readers Immediately

How to Write a Gripping Inciting Incident that Captivates from the Start 2

In storytelling, we’re often told to “show, not tell.” It’s one thing to discuss the mechanics of an inciting incident, but quite another to witness its power in action. So let’s do that here by exploring a range of examples from popular novels. Each genre, from romance to fantasy, mystery to women’s fiction, and young adult (YA), offers unique insights into the art of crafting an inciting incident that resonates deeply with readers.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

In the world of romance, few inciting incidents are as iconic as the arrival of Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. The news that a wealthy, single man has moved into the neighborhood sets the story in motion. It ignites the social dynamics and romantic entanglements that define the novel. Elizabeth Bennet’s initial prejudice against Mr. Darcy lays the foundation for one of literature’s most beloved will-they-won’t-they relationships.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The disappearance of Amy Dunne on her fifth wedding anniversary is the inciting incident that drives the plot of Gone Girl. This event thrusts her husband, Nick, into a maelstrom of media scrutiny and police investigation. This scrutiny eventually unravels layers of deception that lie at the heart of their marriage. Flynn masterfully uses this moment to peel back the veneer of their seemingly perfect life, leading readers down a dark path of twists and turns.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

When Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive at Bilbo Baggins’ door, he turns the poor hobbit’s quiet world upside down. The wizard invites Bilbo to go on an adventure to reclaim the Lonely Mountain and its treasure from Smaug. This unexpected visit serves as the inciting incident, propelling Bilbo from the comfort of the Shire into a world of magic, danger, and self-discovery. It’s the beginning of Bilbo’s transformation from a provincial hobbit into a cunning and brave hero.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

In Eat, Pray, Love, the inciting incident is Elizabeth Gilbert’s decision to divorce her husband and embark on a year-long journey across Italy, India, and Indonesia. It is a moment of self-realization. Gilbert’s subsequent quest for personal fulfillment and spiritual exploration offers a narrative of transformation that is both intimate and universal.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The inciting incident in The Fault in Our Stars occurs when Hazel Grace Lancaster meets Augustus Waters at a cancer support group. This meeting is the beginning of a love story that is as profound as it is heart-wrenching. Both characters are challenged to confront their realities and embrace their time together, however fleeting it may be. Their relationship is a catalyst for growth and change, highlighting themes of love, mortality, and the search for meaning.


Conclusion: Mastering the Art of Hooking Readers

And now we come to the end of our journey. We have explored the inciting incident, its pivotal role in the Hero’s Journey, the intricacies of the story arc, and the artful symmetry between the inciting incident and the climax. Now let’s take a moment and sit in awe of the transformative power of storytelling. Crafting a narrative that resonates, captivates, and leaves a lasting impact on its audience requires not just talent but also a deep understanding of the elements that make a story tick.

But even the most gifted storytellers can benefit from tools that streamline the creative process, providing clarity and direction amid the chaos of creation. This is where Fictionary can help.

Fictionary’s StoryTeller acts as a bridge between your creative vision and the technical mastery of story structure, offering a platform that analyzes your manuscript against key storytelling elements. From evaluating your inciting incident’s impact to ensuring the climactic moment’s resonance with the beginning, StoryTeller illuminates the path to a well-structured, engaging narrative.


About the Author 

Angie Andriot: Fictionary Certified StoryCoach Editor

Angie helps fiction authors make their books soar with developmental editing, book coaching, and soul care for writers. Her specialty is speculative fiction. She loves all things fantasy, sci-fi, and horror – though she has been known to indulge in a cozy witchy mystery or two.

As your editor, Angie will nurture your unique voice, guide you to uncover the essence of your story, and help you craft a fantastic novel. Find her and all the Fictionary Certified Story Editors here

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2 comments on “How to Write a Gripping Inciting Incident that Captivates from the Start
  1. Thanks for your great article, Angie. Your awesome information confirms that I’m on the right track with my novel Daring Decisions.
    I grew up with Grimm’s Fairytales and intuitively must have picked up the elements of a good story. At least that’s the feedback I get from readers.

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