In Sanity Snippet #10 we determined our first-act break (AKA, the first plot point). Today, let’s consider the inciting incident.
This may appear backwards. For sure, you can plan your story, step by step, starting with the inciting incident (which normally comes around the 12% mark). The important thing to remember is these two key points in our story—the inciting incident and the first-act break—are causally connected. The inciting incident causes the first act break. So, if you know your first act break you simply ask yourself, “what could have caused X to happen?”
In The Boaz Stranger (my WIP), Lee (protagonist) leaves his job and home in New Haven, CT and returns to his North Alabama hometown. This is the first act break. Lee returns for two reasons. His in-laws asked for some legal help, and he wants to investigate something he just learned.
And what is that? Secret journal recordings Lee discovered in his deceased wife’s well-hidden diaries. This is the inciting incident. It causes Lee to take a break from teaching law and travel a thousand miles to his hometown to investigate a fifty year old cold case (disappearance and death of his high school friend in 1970), and the details concerning an abortion his wife had that ultimately caused her suicide.
Note, a physical change of setting often occurs as part of the first act break.
Even though Lee returned to North Alabama to assist his in-laws with a legal matter, his primary reason for doing so was to investigate what he’d discovered in his deceased wife’s diaries. It’s likely, without this discovery, Lee wouldn’t have been motivated to travel that far. He could have simply associated a local lawyer to assist with the required local court appearance.
Now, for your story. Whether you work backwards from your first act break or forward from your inciting incident, make sure the two events are connected. In fact, make sure that connection is causal. If not, your story won’t have the draw it needs to motivate readers to continue.
In the real world, humans look for connections. Often we conclude there is a causal link between A and B when there may be none. However, in fiction, causality must be more certain.
Take a pencil and paper and start doodling. Draw lines, stick figures, maps, and landscapes. Whatever, to brainstorm A causes B, keeping in mind that A (the inciting incident) gets the story going, and B (the first act break) is the point of no return for your protagonist.