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How to write a good inciting incident

Last updated on 22/06/2023

The inciting incident is a critical element of any story, as it sets the plot in motion and hooks the reader’s attention. It’s the event that disrupts the protagonist’s normal life and forces them to take action to resolve the conflict. Here are some detailed steps on how to write a good inciting incident:

Establish the protagonist’s ordinary world

To make the inciting incident impactful, it’s crucial to establish the protagonist’s normal life and routine. Introduce their goals, aspirations, or challenges that define their everyday existence. This establishes a baseline against which the inciting incident will have a greater impact. By presenting their ordinary world, you create a contrast that highlights the disruption that is about to occur.

Create a disruption

The inciting incident should be a significant event or situation that disrupts the protagonist’s ordinary life. It should be unexpected and grab the readers’ attention. This disruption could take various forms depending on your story’s genre and setting. It might be a sudden natural disaster, a shocking revelation, an encounter with a mysterious stranger, or an unforeseen conflict. Whatever form it takes, it should immediately captivate the readers and make them realize that the protagonist’s life is about to change.

Make it personal

For the inciting incident to have a strong impact, it needs to directly affect the protagonist on a personal level. This personal connection could involve a threat to their well-being, the loss of a loved one, the shattering of their beliefs, or a realization that challenges their perception of the world. The more personal the inciting incident is for the protagonist, the more emotionally invested they become, driving their actions and decisions in the story.

Raise questions and create conflict

The inciting incident should raise questions and introduce conflict that propels the story forward. It should create a gap between the protagonist’s current situation and their desired goal or the resolution of their problem. This gap could be an external obstacle or an internal struggle. By introducing conflict, you create tension and a sense of urgency that compels the protagonist to act and drives the narrative.

Set the stakes

Establish what’s at stake for the protagonist as a result of the inciting incident. Convey the potential consequences of their actions or inaction. The stakes should be significant, resonating with the readers and highlighting what the protagonist stands to gain or lose. It could be the survival of their loved ones, the fate of their community, the pursuit of justice, or the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. The higher the stakes, the more invested the readers will be in the protagonist’s journey.

Create a clear cause-and-effect relationship

The inciting incident should have a direct cause-and-effect relationship with the main story. It should connect to the larger conflict or plot that will unfold. Clearly establish how the inciting incident sets the protagonist on their path, driving their motivations and actions throughout the story. This helps readers understand the significance of the inciting incident and its role in shaping the protagonist’s journey.

Engage the reader’s curiosity

The inciting incident should spark curiosity in the readers, enticing them to continue reading to uncover how the protagonist will respond and what consequences will arise. Pose intriguing questions, provide hints about future events, or introduce elements that pique readers’ interest. This curiosity will encourage them to invest in the story, eagerly anticipating the answers and developments that lie ahead.

In summary, writing a good inciting incident requires establishing the protagonist’s normal world, introducing the conflict, making the inciting incident unexpected and believable, making it personal, raising the stakes, and setting up the rest of the story.

By skillfully incorporating these elements into your inciting incident, you can captivate readers from the very beginning, propel the narrative forward, and establish a strong foundation for your story’s main conflict.

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Published inWritingWriting tips


  1. I have a tough time between the hook and inciting incident. If I start my story establishing the protagonist’s ordinary world, then won’t it be kind of boring? If the hook is at the beginning, it should be interesting enough to bring the reader into the world. Hopefully my question makes sense here.

    • I definitely understand the question and it is quite a difficult part to write well. The protagonist’s ordinary world needs to be set up otherwise we would have nothing to go on when the inciting incident happens. We wouldn’t know why they have been pushed out of their comfort zone. But yes I do agree that the hook at the beginning must be interesting and enticing for the audience to want to keep turning the page.

  2. The inciting incident is so important to grabbing your reader’s interest. This is a great checklist of things to keep in mind when writing an inciting incident.

  3. Really liked this as I often read how to write better stories. Would love to see some examples in the future if possible. thanks for sharing!

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