Inciting Incident: How to Begin Your Screenplay or Novel and Captivate Audiences Right Away (While Accomplishing Your Long-Term Plotting Goals) – Revised & Expanded edition
Beginnings are agonizing to write.
So much is at stake.
Although you may’ve intrigued audiences with your ironic premise, query letter, book description, or gorgeous cover, once they encounter the first few pages of your screenplay or novel, all bets are off.
If you start your story in the wrong place, if it’s boring or bogged down by exposition, audiences will abandon it, right then and there. They’re not going to read further to see if your story gets better down the road.
They don’t have to.
Whether a studio executive, agent, or bookworm, they’re spoiled for choice. They can make quick judgment calls, instantly forsaking your story for one that grabs them right away.
In other words, a well-written beginning is a vital tool in your marketing arsenal. It helps you sell your story.
But…it has to do more than that.
It also has to set up your plot.
It has to lay down the groundwork for your premise (i.e. its basic rules & credibility). Plus, audiences have to get to know your protagonist. They have to get to know the stakes.
Unfortunately, setting your pieces in place (especially the character stuff) tends to be slow. It doesn’t tend to grab audiences. At the same time, it doesn’t do you much good to grab audiences at the beginning of your story…only to lose them later on.
To sum up your internal dilemma: if you approach the beginning of your story while solely focusing on its marketing appeal, then you won’t get your pieces in place, and you will lose audiences later.
But if you approach the beginning of your story while solely focusing on your plotting needs, then its pace will be too slow, and you will lose audiences from the outset.
This is the marketing-plotting conundrum.
And boy is it a doozy.
Happily, this writing guide will provide you with two tried-and-true solutions:
Want more details? I’m happy to oblige…
Solution #1: The inciting incident
Starting your story and getting it started are two different things.
You start your story on page 1. But this page, along with the ones that follow soon thereafter, can be filled with loads of material: backstory, exposition, “info dumps,” random details.
These pages can go on and on.
Yet, they may go nowhere.
See, when you first sit down to pen your story to paper, you’re still finding your way into it. You’re still figuring out what it’s about. You’re learning who your characters are (this holds true even when you write out lengthy character sketches in advance).
All of this material is essential for you, the writer.
However, not all of it is (in fact, very little of it may be) essential for audiences, who’re waiting for your story to get started.
Thus, you’ve got to make an incision. You’ve got to excise the nonessential.
By doing so, you reassure audiences.
By doing so, you let them know that you understand that this—the beginning of your story—is about them.
It’s about their experience, not yours.
So, in recognition of that, you’ve gotten rid of what was essential for you (but not essential for them). As a result, audiences immediately draw positive conclusions. You’re not going to regale them with unnecessary backstory or other details.
You’re going to do what you promised you would: you’re going to tell them an honest-to-goodness story.
Having been thus reassured, audiences will keep on reading your screenplay or novel instead of putting it down.
The question for you, the writer, then becomes: Where to make this incision?
Happily, the inciting incident will tell you.
With this writing guide, you’ll learn how to use the inciting incident to determine whether your story beginning has the kind of pacing and momentum that will attract audiences—or repel them.
However, the inciting incident isn’t the only way to inspire audience confidence…which brings us to:
Solution #2: Genre
Why do audiences seek out stories?
Audiences are looking for a particular emotional experience, i.e. genre.
They chose your story for its action or romance, its fantasy or thrills, its horror or humor (or a combination of these).
When you deliver this experience to them right away, they become reassured that you know what you’re doing. You are worthy of their time.
Because you’ve earned their trust and their patience via genre, they’re willing to extend you the benefit of the doubt when you transition into the slower (but vital) character stuff that follows.
While genre is effective, to get it upfront where you need it—well, sometimes that requires using “controversial” story openers (e.g. prologues, flashforwards, in media res). You might think these openers are artificial or gimmicky. But if you dismiss them out of hand, you could be doing your story—and yourself—a huge disservice.
Without them, you might not ever be able to solve the marketing-plotting conundrum.
That said, there are plenty of opportunities to go astray. If you don’t use genre carefully, you’re not going to achieve the desired effect. Instead of solving a problem, you’ll be creating new ones.
Rest assured, with the help of this writing guide, you’ll know if this solution is the best way to begin your screenplay or novel.
With this book, you’ll learn—
How to use genre and the inciting incident to keep readers hooked to your story
You’ll be able to craft a beginning that sets up your premise and addresses the “slow” stuff (i.e. likeability and stakes)—but which, at the same time, captivates audiences.
We’ll cover topics like these:
- how much “everyday” world to include before the inciting incident—and when reducing these pages can really backfire (plus 5 tips to make your protagonist’s everyday world more interesting)
- how to time your inciting incident for best effect, including how to delay it without aggravating audiences…and also why it might be wise not to show it at all
- the secret ingredient that made Liam Neeson so appealing in Taken and Ryan Reynolds so attractive in The Proposal (it’s not what you think)
- how to fix a story that starts too fast (rather than too slow)
- 8 ways to start your screenplay or novel (and why some “controversial” beginnings might not be as bad as you believe)
- how to tell if your prologue is justified (and the simple labeling trick that may save you loads of grief)
- 7 principles for evaluating the merits of the flashforward opener
- an easy fix to organically weave in exposition and avoid those “as you know” conversations that drive audiences crazy
Learn how to start your story in the right place
Buy Inciting Incident today…
…and learn how to craft a story beginning that (a) hits readers’ “buy buttons” and (b) gets your plotting pieces in place.
* International prices may vary.