Class notes from April 6, 2022 Carol Brennan King
As you know, those of you who have been in class this spring, I had a little accident four weeks ago when my treadmill and I had a little fall-out. This is sort of a pun though I shouldn’t have to tell you. One minute I was vertical, the next horizontal, cast off by the treadmill. With a broken kneecap!
So here I am, a month later trying to play catch up with lots of things, one of them, my blog and class notes.
Now back to last week’s class: we were talking about the importance of catching your reader’s attention very early in the life of your story or book with what we call an inciting incident.
You can find lots of information online about inciting events at https://thewritepractice.com/inciting–incident/. They define an inciting event as an unexpected event in a story that upsets the character’s status quo.
Your goal as the writer is to hook the reader early on with a character that they care about in some kind of trouble, either a conflict they are in the middle of or one they must clear up.
Another good site to explore as you are thinking about inciting incidents is https://storygrid.cominciting-incident. Tim Grahl says there are two categories of Inciting Incidents.
- Causal – when one person causes an unwanted outcome: for instance, someone breaks into the office and steals a computer, one with critical information stored there.
- Coincidental, when something unexpected or random happens: for instance, a wedding dress is in the truck that ran off the road in a snowstorm.
In class, we talked about how these incidents or hooks must come very early in the story to draw the reader in. We also talked about the three places where you might write your inciting incident into the story.
- Right away: think first page, even first paragraph. For instance: When they asked her what happened all she could remember was that one minute she was deep in sleep, the next she was sitting straight up wondering what that loud noise was.
- Another approach would be to delay that incident long enough to introduce the main characters and put them in their everyday environment. Then something blows up. For instance: It had been a long day at the newspaper, and Serena was looking forward to relaxing with her fiance that night. Her shower over, she was finally feeling like a human being again, and looking at the clock, realized Brad was late, and Brad was never late. She pulled on clean jeans and a red cashmere sweater; Brad liked that outfit on her. That’s when she heard glass break in the living room, and running to the now broken window, she saw a man tear across the street, hop on a motorcycle, and in the seconds she stood there paralyzed, he disappeared around the corner.
- The third approach is to open the story in media res. We talked about that a long time ago in class. In media res simply means in the middle of things. Here it means the inciting incident happened not long before you opened that first page and now the adventure or drama is on. For instance: Nelly Smith arrived home from work at 5:30, as she had for the last fifteen years. She picked up the paper on her way up from the train. She dead-headed the flowers in her front garden, as she had every day since early summer on her way up the sidewalk. And she tried to decide whether she felt like chicken noodle soup or beef barley soup for supper. She did have a piece of chicken left from Sunday that needed eating. Maybe she could have that. She bent over and carefully unlocked the front door, pushed it open, and screamed as she stepped into a puddle of water streaming from the shattered fish tank. That was the moment she looked up and saw that the fish tank was not the only thing broken in her apartment.
In class, we then chose one of those options to begin a new story or to write a scene from a work already in progress. We talked, as well, about the fact that we do not use inciting incidents only in the first pages of our book or story. They are a necessary component of each chapter or scene in our story, depending on the length of what we are working on. They serve as a tool to develop the story and keep the reader engrossed, caring about the characters, and invested in the outcome enough to not want to lay it down.