The first guy to write down that a story needs a beginning, middle and end, was Aristotle. About twenty-four centuries ago. But his beginning is not the same as our Act One; it is the point in this act where the story kicks off.
What Aristotle was talking about, in screen story terms we call the inciting incident. Anything before that, he called the prologue, which we know as the setup, the normal life of the protagonist or ordinary world of the hero.
The inciting incident is the first point in the film something happens truly out of the ordinary. It is often a surprising event, both to the audience and the protagonist. At that point it is clear: the story has well and truly started.
After the inciting incident, do we know what the story is about yet? No. For this, we need to wait until the end of Act One, until we understand what the protagonist’s mission, objective or outer desire will be for most of the story.
To be a successful screenwriter you really need to fully understand this first crucial moment in the story. Let’s look at what it means, what others say it does and what essential aspects you need in order to make it work.
One thing is absolutely certain: without a strong inciting incident you will have a hard time getting your audience glued to their seats.
Next: Definitions of Inciting Incident >>
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.