The Immediate Inciting Incident: The Irresistible Novel

As I dive into the week five topic from The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke I want to refocus on a few ideas that I tried to make clear earlier in the book study. Throughout this series on my blog I am simply reading and summarizing the ideas presented by the Writer’s Digest author, Jeff Gerke. At no point in time do I mean to come across as saying his thoughts are absolutes for all writers. To be honest, I’ve disagreed with him more times than I’ve agreed. However, as a writer I see the value in dissecting some controversial arguments in order to better my writing.

Through this study I am being forced to look at things I may not otherwise have thought about (-ly adverbs, purple prose, prologues, description, etc.) As some one with little formal training in the art of creative writing I am finding it refreshing and learning a lot.

In each chapter Gerke discusses the topic from two viewpoints (those opposed and those in favor.) After the dichotomy of the subject he does offer his opinion. On my blog, I have skipped over this portion and instead I explain my current book and where I stand on this topic for that work. Again, not all writing is the same. What I choose to include in a novel is completely different to a poem or short story. To be honest, I am not a fan at all of any writing rules becoming absolutes. Writing is a creative work which I feel should not be limited by a set of dos and don’ts.  I don’t like to feel claustrophobic when I write. I want the limits to be endless and the liberty to write in whatever way comes naturally.

I say all of this because over the past couple of weeks I’ve had some interesting conversations, emails, and comments where the purpose behind this series I fear has become lost. I’m examining one chapter a week from this book as a long book review. At no point do I feel that any book on writing is 100% prescriptive. The purpose of books on writing (in my opinion) is to give writers things to think about to help them develop their own voice. I have never agreed wholeheartedly with any author. That’s because I have my own voice (as do all writers.) So please, take this for what it is. A short discussion on writing viewpoints. Now, enough of my rambling. Let’s dive in to today’s thoughts about the immediate inciting incident.


The Immediate Inciting Incident

“The inciting incident is the thing that gets the story moving.” (Gerke 41)

In order for a reader to fully engage with characters in your story action needs to be a big part of the opening scene(s). The argument lies in whereabouts the action should begin.

Some believe that the inciting incident should be visible on the first page of your novel. Those in favor of placing the event right at the start see the inciting incident as the necessary hook to get reader to continue your book. I can think of a handful of books that I’ve enjoyed where this was the case. There’s no time to question whether or not to keep reading or abandon the book when you are sucked into the action on page one. You thought you were giving the book a quick try and before you know it you are emotionally and physically tied into the plot. A sample read becomes a fifty page reading and once you’ve made it that far there’s no turning back. Speaking from experiences this tactic works. However, it doesn’t always work for everyone every time. There’s an art to using the inciting incident on page one and if it seems too forced or hard to follow without background knowledge it can cause a book to crash and burn.

Others argue that a connection to the characters must first be present before the inciting incident occurs. That debate is rooted in the fact that the inciting incident may lack the intended reader response if the reader does not already have reason to care about a character. Those who write primarily in this camp find it beneficial to show a character in their usual element before throwing a wrench in their predictability.

“Establish normal before violating normal.” (Gerke 45)

It is important to your writing that no matter where you decide to place your inciting incident that you begin your book in an engaging way. You may choose to do that through action, inciting incidence, or another powerful hook technique. The introduction should draw your readers in and introduce them to the conflict of the story in a quick manner no matter which side of the above argument you favor.

My Current Project…

I’m not going to lie I’ve re-written my first chapter about six times.

My first draft like all other authors’ first drafts was a word vomit to put it illustratively. I had all these ideas I wanted to get down on paper, and so I did. And it was poorly written. Edits round 2 led me to readjust my first chapter. With a clearer vision of where the story was headed I was able to polish it and make it better reflect the rest of the story. However, it took several tries for me to get beyond simple character and setting descriptions to bringing conflict from the get-go.

My inciting incident is present in my first chapter.

It isn’t completely unraveled until later chapters, but it is present. My current draft of chapter one shows my character doing something uncharacteristic for himself and his own internal conflict in the event is how I’ve chosen to describe my main character. (I know that breaks many rules. It’s still a work in progress.) From that internal conflict he is thrust into a situation which reveals the inciting incident.

So, that being said, I’m currently looking for some qualified readers and editors to help me with my first chapter. If you are interested please comment with your email or email me directly.

I had a chance to sit down with a best selling author this week and I became a sponge which soaked up her wisdom. Those discussions are going to really help me as I move forward with my book and it was so encouraging to hear that it took years for her first book to be written and published. Mindy McGinnis is amazing. You should read her books and meet her in person. She’s a walking resource for how to be successful in the field. (More on this meeting next week on the blog.)

The Ameri Brit Mom

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