inciting incidents - when should it be?


Well-Known Member
May 4, 2007
Context: I'm on draft 2 of my WIP trying to pin down the structure which is involving some rewrites.

I know there are likely as many answers as writers, but when one source of advice says 'It should be way earlier than advised, about 5% in ' and the other says it must be 10-15% of the way through. I'm also still a bit confused about what it is. The book I'm reading at the moment has the character's routine broken by news of a journey very early in the book, then the journey starts at the 10% mark. I'd have defined the initial news as the inciting incident. Is that right? I've seen this sort of pattern quite a bit.

Perhaps after others have read my draft, the first few chapters will expand. The news of an unusual event comes 7% ish into my draft at the moment. The two protagonists rush off to deal with this, instigating some try/fail cycles that results in a really unorthadox and risky approach being taken. I have the decision to take this approach pinned as the 'break into two'.
What are your thoughts? Do you stick to the precise numbers of an outline/beat sheet or wing it?
I don't work to any sort of outline sheet, but I would be surprised if I got to 30% of the way into a book and I didn't have a decent idea of what the story was going to be about, which probably requires some kind of inciting incident to have occurred by then. It also depends what you consider an inciting incident to be: being sent on a mission might seem like it, but the real inciting incident might be that the mission goes wrong and some new aspect is introduced.
I've never used a beat sheet or work to an outline, so this may not be of any help.

I'd define "inciting incident" very loosely as something that takes the main character out of whatever he's doing/his usual routine and which the plot hangs on -- ie if that incident didn't happen, nothing else would. So I'd almost certainly count going on a mission as such an incident. Even if it is his job/normal routine, I think I'd still probably count it as the incident, rather than when it goes pear-shaped, but I suppose it depends on exactly what it is.

Anyhow, for me it ought to be happening as soon as possible, and within the first scene/chapter if at all possible.

(And I've just realised of the 4 WiPs I've completed, only one of them actually has such an incident happening to the MC in the first scene, and only just in the first chapter for 2 of them, so that tells you exactly how helpful my advice is when I can't even follow it myself!)
I think in chapters and, for me, I feel the inciting incident should occur in the second chapter. The first chapter consists of revealing the genre, the main character, and the world. By the second chapter, I hope to created reader interest in the main character so that the reader cares about the character when the inciting incident occurs.
What is the inciting incident for this story?

I confess I have trouble with the whole terminology. Every incident should incite something. All should contribute to the main plot. Looked at one way, the inciting incident is whatever I as author say it is.

But don't pay too much attention to those percentages. There are two variables in er there outside your control. One is the perspectives, experience, and preferences of whomever you are reading. The other is, these percentages don't actually say what you should do; they are summations (probably not actually reliable e done, statistics that a statistician would take seriously) of stories already published. In other words, they reflect what others have done, not necessarily what you ought to do.
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