Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Fiction's Inciting Incident and Point of No Return: Life Changing Events, by Kristin Holt

In fiction, “Life Changing Event” (LCE) is often referred to as the Inciting Incident, the situation/occurrence that kicks the story ball into play. Overlapping with the Inciting Incident is a component of fiction called the Hook—action/situation that snags the reader’s attention and holds it long enough for the reader to care about the hero and what he wants.

We’ve all read one too many books where the supposed Hook and/or Inciting Incident were not inherent to the story and plot. A random, disconnected, flashy beginning or an attention-grabbing action scene that is not an integral part of the story is a rip-off and one of the big reasons why readers abandon books.

All readers know what comes after the initial story set-up (Hook and Inciting Incident). Circumstances get worse, pressures on the hero grow, and before too many pages pass by, he reaches the Point of No Return.

Some might argue that this is actually the LCE. Personally, I don’t think it matters if it’s one or the other or both.

The Point of No Return is the event/catastrophe/circumstance that our hero cannot ignore, plunging him into the quest. The character’s life is irrevocably changed. His world is kicked out from beneath him and nothing will ever be the same again.

The character figures out merely reacting to circumstances is no longer enough.

It’s not a “hey, if you get a chance…”, not a suggestion. It’s not an invitation.

He’s provoked, compelled, 100% in.

He must engage.

Otherwise, the event would not be a LCE (Life Changing Event—emphasis on the changing).

LCE’s demand a character to take action. No more simply floating along living day by day, reacting to the conflict the bad guys (and good guys) toss in his way.

The best of fiction shows us the character—belief system, capacities, flaws, strengths—by putting them through a LCE and allowing readers to see them react and act. The reader hears the character’s thoughts and words spoken.

The writer might have the character do something tremendously risky or illegal, mean-spirited or callous—but that’s perfectly okay because the reader understands the character and exactly why he does what he does.

Make the stakes high enough, crank up the pressure, and readers find themselves rooting for the character, caring about what he cares about, turning pages well after midnight, and vested in the character’s success and eventual triumph.

The reader “falls in”, lives and breathes the story through the point of view character. The reader lives vicariously, experiencing the emotional highs and lows, the risks, danger, falling in love (all the best parts of the selected genre).

It’s all connected. The character’s LCE is the Hook, Inciting Incident, Point of No Return. Plot points and huge setbacks (such as death of a mentor) will inevitably count as more LCE’s. Everything matters, is woven together, and nothing extraneous detracts from the thrill of the roller coaster ride. The reader’s recliner disappears under the power of the written word. Bedtime comes and goes, and despite the fact she must get up in a short six hours, the reader can’t set the book down.

Gifted, highly skilled, experienced authors make it look easy.

I know it's not.

What authors do you enjoy reading because Life Changing Events at the beginning of their books bring characters to life and make for a powerful read?

Kristin Holt, USA Today Bestselling Author writes Sweet Victorian Romance set in the American West. She writes frequent articles about the nineteenth century American west--every subject of possible interest to readers and amateur historians. She contributes monthly to Sweet Americana Sweethearts (first Friday of each month) and Romancing the Genres (third Tuesday of each month). 


Diana McCollum said...

Enjoyed reading your post and how authors write the wonderful stories we all enjoy! One who always draws me in is Nora Roberts. Regency era would be Mary Balogh. Great post!

Judith Ashley said...

Skillful description of what makes a book something a reader is compelled to read. And you are correct, it isn't as easy as it looks!

I've loved Jo Beverley's books for over a decade when I first started reading romance. Most recently, Peggy Bird's "Sparked By Love" was a delightful read. While I want to be swept away on a tide of emotion, I don't want to be up reading a page turner. If the story is too intense, I put it down and may give it another shot - but if it really is a thrilling page-turner, it does into my donation bag unfinished. There is already too much drama in the world for me. When I read, I want to escape from the drama and sometimes horror in the world around me, not take it to bed with me.

Kristin Holt said...

Thank you, Diana McCollum and Judith Ashley for your thoughtful contributions to the conversation. Excellent examples, both of you, of authors whose books captivated your attention and whose writing draws you in.
I agree, Judith, with your preferences of fiction to be an escape, rather than mirror too much the drama in the world we live in. You're so right--many of us read as an escape and we want fiction to be a good read, an interesting and compelling read, without wearing us out with more of the same stress we live with day in and day out.
I think that's why I read and write romance. I want resounding joy. I want a couple who earns their happily ever after and who overcome their challenges because they're stronger together.
Thanks for commenting, ladies--