Mistake 22: Not Having an Inciting Incident

from 70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes by Bob Mayer from The Writer’s Digest Writing Kit

Why this is a mistake: The inciting incident is the event that upsets the protagonist’s everyday world. The resulting story, then, is an attempt to restore the natural order. At the end of the book, the old order will be brought back, or a new order will be established. Novice writers often fail to create an inciting incident to get their story moving. Too often, their characters just wake up one day and decide to change their lives or do things differently on a whim. This will strike astute readers as false and unrealistic. Why?

The solution:
Readers need to clearly see the event that starts the action of the story. However, this pivotal event does not necessarily need to be the first event of the book. Keep in mind that it’s even possible for inciting events to occur long before the start of the book. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, for instance, the Ring was around for a very long time—well before Frodo Baggins was even born. In fact, the inciting incident for the trilogy actually occurs when Bilbo finds the ring in The Hobbit. The thing is, though, you have to have a clear handle on what this event is before you start writing. If you don’t really know what event kicks off your story and causes your protagonist’s life to turn upside down, then how are readers supposed to figure it out?

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