Pop a squat class, ‘cause Professor Xander is about to drop some knowledge!
Who loves edumacationableness? Professor Xander loves edumacationableness! You’re working on a fresh new idea for a screenplay but you can’t seem to figure out how to get your story started. Never fear! The inciting incident is here! What’s that? You already know what the inciting incident is? Well aren’t you an intelligent iceberg? Why don’t you go leave a comment below describing your iceberg sized brain and call your mother! She worries. Mention my blog’s name to your mom, and your invitation to Thanksgiving will be revoked. Anybody left? Alright! Let’s get started.
The inciting incident refers to the moment in a film that puts the story in motion. It disrupts the typical status quo of the protagonist or protagonists and sets them on the path to start their journey.
In an action/adventure story, it’s the hero’s call to adventure. A classic example is in Star Wars: A New Hope.
As the Jawas make their rounds selling droids, Luke Skywalker’s uncle Owen purchases C-3PO and R2-D2. With Luke stuck cleaning up the new droids, he stumbles across a message from a beautiful woman saying “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” This is the inciting incident. For if Owen never bought those droids, Luke would never had seen the message that incited him to go on his quest to find Obi-Wan, and sequentially join the rebellion.
Of course, not all movies have an action packed adventure. Let’s take a look at a romantic comedy like Notting Hill.
Will Thacker (Hugh Grant) is tending to his travel bookshop in Notting Hill like a typical day when all of the sudden, Hollywood superstar Ana Scott (Julia Roberts) walks into his shop. This is called a meet cute, the moment when two characters that will eventually engage in a romantic relationship meet for the first time. It’s an inciting incident for this film because if Ana didn’t walk into Will’s shop, their romance would never have started and there would be no story.
Sometimes, the inciting incident isn’t even some big event. It can be so small that it’s not even shown on film. Take The Breakfast Club for example.
The film opens with all five teens arriving for their detention on a Saturday. This is not the inciting incident for this film. That occurred before the film when the teens received detention. We learn how they all got their punishment later in the film, but we never actually see it. This demonstrates that while there is a necessity for an inciting incident, one does not have to be shown.
From messages from intergalactic princesses to the consequences of breaking a school rule, inciting incidents are essential to a story. It creates drama for our characters and obstacles for them to overcome. Without it, there would be no story.
But hey, what do I know? I’m just some guy on the Internet.
So what do you all think? Any favorite inciting incidents come to mind? Unsure where the inciting incident is in a film? Leave a comment and get this conversation rolling. Until next time, this is Professor Xander signing off.