Inciting Incident Definition and Examples in Literature

Everything happens for a reason. Well, when it comes to fiction it does. An inciting incident is a  pivotal moment that sets everything else in motion. Learn what an inciting incident is and how it’s used through examples. 

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What Is an Inciting Incident? 

Have you ever noticed there is always some sort of incident to set the story in motion? This incident doesn’t just happen by chance. It was an intentional move by the author, playwright, or screenwriter. An inciting incident is an episode or point to start the plot into motion

What Happens in the Inciting Incident? 

In a good inciting incident, you get hooked into the story and learn the path the character will take. Everything that happens, the good or bad, is tied into that moment. For example, the moment Effie calls out Primrose Everdeen, Katniss chooses to volunteer. The choice she makes in that moment of The Hunger Games book was the inciting incident. 

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Hagrid showing up to tell Harry he’s a wizard is the inciting moment. As a reader, you were given a new realization and clarity that led you on the journey to Hogwarts. 

When Should an Inciting Incident Occur?

Since an inciting incident propels everything in the story, it should happen quickly. Typically, you’ll see an inciting incident in the first act or first chapter of a story. However, it isn’t always the first incident to occur. 

For example, you might have built up to the inciting incident like in The Hunger Games. You learn about the games and Katniss’s life before the inciting incident occurs. This gives you a solid grounding in the world you’re entering before the inciting innocent happens. 

Inciting Incident Examples in Writing

Whether it is a play or a book, inciting incidents are necessary to get us invested. Top authors and playwrights are famous for their intriguing inciting incidents. 

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!” thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet … A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time, with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air.

Lucy’s journey into Narnia takes the reader into a whole new world, literally. Much like when Dorothy wakes up from being sucked into the cyclone, when Lucy steps into the snow, readers know they have left Kansas. The world they’ve walked into is new and exciting. 

The Great Gatsby

“This is an unusual party for me. I haven’t even seen the host. I live over there — ” I waved my hand at the invisible hedge in the distance, “and this man Gatsby sent over his chauffeur with an invitation.” For a moment he looked at me as if he failed to understand. “I’m Gatsby,” he said suddenly.

Not all inciting incidents happen in the beginning of the book. The Great Gatsby is a perfect example of this. All of the main characters are fully fleshed out when you finally find out who Gatsby is. 

Romeo and Juliet

ROMEO: [To a Servingman] What lady is that, which doth

enrich the hand

Of yonder knight?

Servant: I know not, sir.

ROMEO: O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!

It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night

Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear;

Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!

So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,

As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows...

Young or old, you know who Romeo and Juliet are. They are ingrained into fiction and life alike. However, did you realize the inciting incident to start Shakespeare’s whole tragic love story rolling was the moment Romeo secretly spied Juliet? Without that first look, he might have still been obsessed with Rosaline. 

Inciting Incident Examples in Movies

Movies need action too. Therefore, a good inciting incident is pivotal for a screenwriter to get their movie off the ground. Explore a few fun inciting incidents found in loved movies. 

Monsters Inc. 

While she gets them into trouble, without the appearance of the little girl, the action would be pretty stale in Monsters Inc. The moment she comes into their world, you can see that everything is going to change. 

Willow 

It could have just been a normal day for Willow in the 1988 movie Willow. However, the moment the human baby washes up onto the shore, you realize an adventure is about to take place. 

Frozen

In the hit Disney movie Frozen, there was a moment when the relationship between Anna and Elsa changed. Prior to hitting her sister in the head with her ice power, the two girls were inseparable. However, after that moment, Elsa became scared of her power, leading the sisters down an icy path. 

The Importance of an Inciting Incident

Every story needs a moment where the action of the story starts. In this inciting incident, the reader is sucked in and you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. See just how the plot of a story works by looking at the plot of a story example. You can learn about the essential elements of a story too! 

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