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


5 Reasons to Read Ray Bradbury

This week I wrapped up a six week unit on Fahrenheit 451 with my ninth grade students. Leading up to this unit every year I question whether I will be able to capture the interest of my students with the story. This novel is being categorized in the Classic Science Fiction genre these days which tends not to be the kind of stories students pick to read on their own. Not because they don’t enjoy it, but because it seems intimidating to them. Throw the word “Classic” in front of any title and you’ve lost many of my regular education students.

Each year upon the completion of the book, however, I am overwhelmed by the number of students who ask about recommendations of other books by Bradbury. Somewhere in the journey of complicated themes, verbose vocabulary, and metaphorical language the students begin to fall in love.

I do not have these fears prior to reading because I don’t think the students will be able to read his books, but I think I fear that they may shut down before Bradbury has a chance to WOW them with his art. I enjoy reading the many works of Bradbury for several reasons. Below are five reasons to grab a Ray Bradbury novel, screenplay, short story, or essay and allow yourself to fall in love as well.

  1. Ray Bradbury is timeless. Although most of his works were done in the early 1950s-mid 1970s the stories are still relevant to popular culture today. Nuclear war, extraterrestrial life, and time travel are all common ideas in his writing. Today, if you flip through the channels of prime-time television or Netflix you will find an abundance of shows on similar topics. Bradbury nailed popular culture fifty years ago. Throughout the reading of Fahrenheit 451 I had to continually remind the students that the book was written in 1953 long before Bluetooth, automatic cars, and cell phones. It’s actually quite surreal how well Bradbury predicted technologies of the future.
  2. Ray Bradbury is honest. I’ve read countless articles about how Bradbury was inspired to write based on his own fears. Growing up during the height of the Cold War caused Bradbury to voice some of his own fears and observations in the major themes of his books.
  3. Ray Bradbury challenges the norms of society. Along the same lines of honesty, Bradbury looked at society through a critical lens and made predictions and assumptions about the direction it was headed. He exposed the dangers of censorship and blindly following the rules of society. He aimed at provoking individuality and questioning of the world. “She didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why.” (Fahrenheit 451)
  4. Ray Bradbury causes us to say “what if…?” As I stated above Ray Bradbury was writing during the height of the Cold War. Living in this time period caused many people to ask the question, “what if…?” of the future for mankind. Today we are faced with similar questions for our world. What if nuclear war were to break out? What if there really is water and possibility of life on Mars? What if we don’t stand up for our rights? What if the government has too much control? What if technology takes over our lives? Bradbury challenges his readers to be critical of the world around them and to dare to dream about how to solve the problems that we face in our age.
  5. Ray Bradbury uses beautiful language filled with metaphors and figurative language. One thing I love about re-reading several works of Bradbury’s each year is that every time I read his writing something new stands out to me. Most recently I loved the way that at the end of Fahrenheit 451 that Bradbury compares society to a phoenix, a mythical creature which burns itself up only to rebirth itself from the ashes. As Montag stands outside of Chicago and watches it go up in flames, Granger, his new mentor, explains that the city is like a phoenix. It may be destroyed, but it was their duty to return to the city and help it to rebuild spreading the knowledge from the books that they possessed and had become.


photo credit: http://www.openculture.com/2014/05/ray-bradbury-on-zen-and-the-art-of-writing-1973.html