Writing Raven


Burning Down the House – The 4th Beat in Fiction

This year, Writing Raven Author Solutions is breaking down the 15 beats of writing a bestselling novel based on the three-act structure for you.

This week, we’re delving into one of my favorite story beats: the inciting incident. I think of it as burning down my protagonist’s house. Their old, comfortable world is gone, and now they have no choice but to build a new one

The inciting incident serves as the catalyst for change in a character’s life. It shatters the status quo, thrusting them onto a new and unfamiliar path. Think of it as the spark that ignites the story’s engine, setting events into motion and forcing your main character to embark on a transformative journey.

To execute the inciting incident effectively, be sure you’ve showcased your MC’s routines, relationships, and aspirations in the set-up. Then, use the inciting incident to disrupt this equilibrium, plunging them into chaos or conflict. In other words, show their original ‘house’ and then burn it down.

The inciting incident is a crucial plot device. By upending the MC’s ordinary existence, it creates tension, stakes, and a compelling narrative arc.

Moreover, it hooks the audience from the outset, captivating their attention and propelling them into the heart of the story.

Examples of catalysts include:

Discovery of Hidden Identity: The protagonist learns they are not who they believed themselves to be, uncovering a family secret, hidden powers, or a double life, thrusting them into a world of danger and intrigue.

Natural Disaster or Catastrophic Event: A devastating event, such as a tsunami, earthquake, or pandemic, strikes the protagonist’s community, forcing them to confront their vulnerabilities, forge unlikely alliances, and navigate the chaos to survive.

Encounter with a Mysterious Stranger: The protagonist crosses paths with a stranger who challenges their beliefs, offers cryptic guidance, or presents them with a life-altering opportunity, setting them on an unexpected journey of self-discovery.

Unexpected Loss or Betrayal: The protagonist experiences a profound loss (like their actual house burning down!) or betrayal, whether it’s the death of a loved one, a betrayal by a trusted friend, or the collapse of a cherished institution, forcing them to reassess their priorities, confront their demons, and seek redemption or revenge.

Need some inspiration?

  1. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling: The Inciting Incident occurs when Harry receives his acceptance letter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This revelation turns his mundane life with the Dursleys upside down, introducing him to a world of magic, adventure, and destiny.

  2. “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins: Katniss Everdeen’s life is forever altered when her younger sister, Prim, is chosen as a tribute for the brutal Hunger Games. In a selfless act of love, Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place, thrusting herself into a deadly arena and sparking a rebellion against the oppressive Capitol.

  3. “The Matrix” directed by The Wachowskis: Neo, a computer programmer, experiences the inciting incident when he encounters Morpheus, who offers him the red pill to escape the illusion of the Matrix. This choice challenges Neo’s perception of reality, leading him on a journey of self-discovery and resistance against the machines.

In each of these examples, the inciting incident serves as a pivotal moment that propels the protagonist into a world of uncertainty, adventure, and growth.

It’s the first domino in a chain reaction of events that shape the course of the story, captivating audiences and leaving them eager to unravel the mysteries that lie ahead.

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In the realm of storytelling, the inciting incident is a fundamental beat that sets the stage for the protagonist’s journey.

By turning the main character’s everyday world upside down, it injects vitality, conflict, and intrigue into the narrative, captivating audiences and kicking the plot into gear.

Mastering the art of the inciting incident is not only essential for crafting engaging plots but also for captivating readers and keeping them invested in the protagonist’s journey from start to finish.

To your success,

The Writing Ravens


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