Inciting Incident: Definitions

Inciting Incident, Catalyst, Call to Adventure, Disturbance. All terms referring to the first crucial moment: the point where your story kicks off.

Michael Hauge closes the first of his six story stages with it, at the 10% point of the story (10mins in a 100mins movie).

Paul Gulino sees it as the end of the first of a typical eight sequence movie. Christopher Vogler says:

The hero is presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure to undertake. Once presented with a Call to Adventure, she can no longer remain indefinitely in the comfort of the Ordinary World.

This moment better be BIG. If it ain’t, it may go unnoticed and the audience will still be waiting for the story to start.

Michael Tierno, in Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters says:

It’s a self-initated action, a virtual “big bang” that sets the entire plot in motion, that can be committed by either the protagonist or antagonist, and that is an act of pure will.

According to Robert McKee:

The INCITING INCIDENT radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life.

And later he says:

The protagonist must react to the Inciting Incident.

I wish authors would develop a common terminology but, alas, they don’t. Here is Linda Aronson’s approach:

Early on in the film there will be an event which changes the normal scheme of things and forces the protagonist in a new direction, effectively starting the story. This is called a catalyst or disturbance.

Linda Seger writes in her book Making a Good Script Great:

The catalyst is the first main “push” that gets the plot moving. Something happens, or someone makes a decision. The main character is set in motion. The story has begun.

Next: Inciting Incident: Key Aspects and Examples >>

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