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What The Inciting Incident Of A Story Really Is

> The subjective nature of the Inciting Incident prevents it from being an effective tool for structuring a story.

The"Inciting Incident" of a story is not what most people think it is. With the Inciting Incident you want to make sure you're simultaneously setting up the Overall Story Goal with that first major Plot Point. If you don't, you really haven't set anything up as much as you may have tied one Throughline to another.

The Inciting Incident of a story is usually felt as the moment when the Overall Story and Main Character Throughlines kick in--yet, the Overall Story Throughline can happen several minutes or pages before that moment.

Think Story Driver Instead of Inciting Incident

The Dramatica theory of story doesn't even bother with the Inciting Incident for two reasons:

  • One, it's completely subjective when it actually occurs
  • Two, it really does nothing to the actual narrative drive of a story

Instead, Dramatica singles out a Story Driver as the instigator and motivator of a narrative. The initial Story Driver sets up the inequity of the narrative within the Overall Story Throughline while at the same creating a Goal for the characters to focus on as a means of resolving that inequity.

For instance, the initial Story Driver for the Overall Story Throughline in Star Wars is Vader's illegal boarding of a diplomatic ship during the opening sequence. This initial action disrupts the balance of things and sets the Goal of whether or not the Rebels can figure out a way to fight an overarching Empire.

This runs counter to what most people think of as the "Inciting Incident" of Star Wars--Luke's retrieval of Leia's message from R2. This really doesn't do a thing to the Overall Story or affect the balance of things as much as it ties the Main Characters personal Throughline with the problems in the Overall Story Throughline.

Most analysts/gurus only see the Main Character and Overall Story Throughlines and are so steeped in Hero's Journey mythology/nonsense and Save the Cat! that they misread what is really going on. They think that the Inciting Incident starts a story--but it really starts nothing.

The same thing happens in How to Train Your Dragon--most think the Inciting Incident to be when Hiccup shoots down Toothless. But as with Star Wars this really doesn't disrupt the balance or create problems for everyone within the Overall Story Throughline. Instead, it ties Hiccup's personal Main Character Throughline with the Overall Story Throughline--which hasn't quite started yet.

The inequity of that film really starts when Hiccup's antics destroy the town of Berk. That action forces his father Stoick to decide to begin to train these kids to become dragon hunters. And that in fact becomes the Goal of the first Dragon's movie--Training the Next Generation of Dragon Killers.

Think Story Driver instead of Inciting Incident, and the structure of your narrative will become clear.