Is it possible for the Inciting Incident to happen in backstory?
Technically, ‘backstory’ is not in the movie. It is the history of your characters before the time the story starts. Because we need to see the Inciting Incident and how it affects the protagonist, it cannot happen in the backstory.
However, the inciting incident can happen ‘in the past’, as long as we see it.
Let’s look at Sweeney Todd. The barber’s wife was taken by the judge in the past. Because we see it in a very brief flashback shot, I guess you could still call this backstory. Todd returns to London and the Inciting Incident occurs when he learns the details from Mrs. Lovett about what happened to his wife and daughter .
As a result, he plans on taking revenge (end Act One).
Let’s assume a different order for a moment: say the exact details of how the judge destroyed the barber’s wife had been known by Todd at the time he was deported (Inciting Incident). He could still only take revenge after returning many years later. It could have worked, but it wouldn’t have been so strong, I think.
The Inciting Incident in the film really happens ‘in the now’, where it should be.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.
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