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This week, let’s talk about your inciting incident. The inciting incident is what sets your story in motion.
In classic screenplay structure, this happens around page 12. Frankly, anywhere between pages 10 and 15 and you’re golden. If the setup is complex (e.g. a period piece) it tends to happen on the later end of that window and if the setup is simpler (e.g. a comedy or horror film) it happens on the earlier side of that window.
The inciting incident is the monkey wrench in your protagonist’s life. It’s the event that can’t be ignored. Without this event, your character would go on in the exact same way as they have before. After the inciting, they cannot. That is no longer possible.
Below is the poster of a movie you may — depending on your age — never have heard of: ROMANCING THE STONE. If you’ve ever seen an ’80s movie, you know they usually don’t hold up. We may think fondly of them… until we make the mistake of rewatching them. ROMANCING THE STONE is one of the few that holds up completely. One of the reasons is its structural perfection. Watch it! And not only for its inciting incident.
What does an inciting incident look like? The mousy, boring accountant returns from her lunch break, and on the way back to her office she gets mistaken for someone else and is kidnapped. The bullied, geeky high-schooler spends yet another evening alone in his room with his physics homework and somehow manages to open a portal into another dimension. You get the idea.
And, by the way, the inciting incidents don’t need to be as big as the aforementioned ones. It depends on tone and genre of your script. They can be as small and character-specific as a lonely man’s parakeet dying, a mother’s promotion to work in another city, the return to town of an old flame, or getting the first ever D in school. Throw that monkey wrench at your protagonist and get the story moving.
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