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Author Topic: Inciting Incident
JoBird
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When do you prefer to place your inciting incident?

I've heard that it should happen at the twenty to thirty page point.

I've also heard arguments that it should happen at roughly the ten percent mark. If your story is, for example, 100k words then the inciting incident should happen at around 10k words. This supposedly gives time to reveal everyday life, establish character identification, work on sympathy, etc.

Other arguments have stated that the inciting incident should be revealed as close to page one as possible.

I'd be interested to hear any thoughts, or insights you might have on this.

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genevive42
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According to a literary (genre) agent I had the recent pleasure of speaking with, you have up to about page thirty in most adult oriented genre fiction. For YA, it needs to happen by page two.

So it's a combination of story and genre. It seems though, that sooner is never a bad thing.

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extrinsic
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Different terms, similar concept, an inciting crisis is the dramatic impetus that compels a protagonist to proactively take steps to satisfy a problem wanting satisfaction, or in the lexicon, a main dramatic complication.

When and where an inciting crisis ideally falls is a matter of how high-concept a dramatic premise is. A high-concept's inciting crisis theoretically can be on page one, line one. The back yard is ablaze is a high-concept premise. The setting situation is itself enough to start a dramatic freight train to rolling. Time soon enough thereafter to introduce a central character. Basic primordial human needs may span universal access and thus be high-concept: subsistence, immediate need for air, water, food; security, as in the back yard's ablaze, and sanctuary from the elements; and primitive social interactions. Me no want you be enemy.

The next-door neighbor doesn't respond to courteous pleasantries is a comparatively low-concept premise. A low-concept premise generally isn't as widely accessible on the face of it as a high-concept premise. A low-concept premise takes more real estate to introduce and develop than a high-concept premise. How much real estate depends on audience target and how low-concept the premise is.

A low-concept premise's inciting crisis should fall no later than the end of a first act. In the case of a three-act structure, no later than a fourth of the word count. For a five-act structure, no later than a twelfth of the word count.

Alternatively, a high-concept premise might be artfully developed for as long as it takes to develop a low-concept premise. If a protagonist is particularly slow to react to a dramatic complication, then he or she or it may need up to three compulsions to act before overcoming static momentum. Once is a coincidence; it takes two to tango; three's a party. Four? Me thinks thee doth protest too much.

[ August 06, 2012, 01:13 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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History
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As close to the first line as possible.

Admittedly, I am not a professional editor, publisher, or even writer...but as a reader, if I am not hooked by the first paragraph, I put the book back on the shelf among the hundreds of others from which I have to choose.

And there is no better hook then a cleverly worded opening incident. Jim Butcher, I find, does this enviably well in his Harry Dresden stories. And I have emulated him in my Rabbi Cane Kabbalist tales with similar positive reader response (e.g. Entry #6 Fantasy http://www.hatrack.com/cgi-bin/ubbwriters/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=7;t=000211;p=0&r=nfx ]

With all the competition, paper and electronic, and with the increasingly media-numbed short attention span of John and Jane Q. Public, your story need snare their attention and capture their interest or face book shelf oblivion. This requires "shock and awe" (in my humble opinion) by getting quickly to the inciting incident. Your book will then stay in their hand that crucial few seconds longer as they are drawn into your story.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Robert Nowall
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You could put it before the beginning, so your characters are already in the middle of the messy situation when you begin.
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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by genevive42:
According to a literary (genre) agent I had the recent pleasure of speaking with, you have up to about page thirty in most adult oriented genre fiction. For YA, it needs to happen by page two.

So it's a combination of story and genre. It seems though, that sooner is never a bad thing.

I've been mulling this over and decided to do a quick survey of some recently published YA fantasy.

If you define the inciting incident as the point at which the MC determines that not only is there a problem, but he/she is going to have to be the one to fix it. You know, the point where the MC becomes proactive, where they stop flailing around and start actually trying to do something constructive. [Wink]

THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, 2011 (and a debut novel): page 196. (This one was a William C. Morris Debut Award finalist, which really puzzles me since the ending was almost text book deus ex machina. Plus is has the stupidest visual in the climax I've ever read. Seriously, the image you want to leave me with is this stupid flower-shaped amulet spinning like a pinwheel on the MC's belly button. Really?)

PARANORMALCY, 2010 (another debut novel): page 174. It gets by on a really rocking voice up until then.

SUPERNATURALLY, 2011 (sequel to PARANORMALCY): never, since there isn't an identifiable central conflict. Near as I can tell, this book is just a bridge between PARANORMALCY and ENDLESSLY. I hate that.

ENDLESSLY, 2012: page 231.

EVERNEATH, 2012 (another debut novel): Never, because the MC never really does become proactive, but instead waits for her boyfriend to take the lead. I really, really hate that.

SERAPHINA, 2012 (another debut novel): Page 158. (I love this one. [Smile] )

I don't know who this agent is. Probably that's what he/she would really like to see. But evidence suggests it's not what's out there.

Now, I do agree that something interesting had better happen very early--and did in all of these stories.

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MAP
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I thought the inciting incident was the event that put the plot in motion.

In Paranormalcy, it was when Evie met Lend.

In Everneath, it was when Nikki chose to go back to the surface.

I haven't read the other ones. [Smile]

I agree with what genevive42 said. The inciting incident should happen as soon as possible. Page one if it works, but at least by page 30.

[ August 08, 2012, 02:36 AM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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MartinV
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I think what we can learn from all these is that you don't have to be good to be published. All you have to do is be interesting. Maybe we should stop worrying about plot and concentrate on quirky ideas to put in the story...
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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by MAP:
I thought the inciting incident was the event that put the plot in motion.

In Paranormalcy, it was when Evie met Lend.

In Everneath, it was when Nikki chose to go back to the surface.

I haven't read the other ones. [Smile]

I agree with what genevive42 said. The inciting incident should happen as soon as possible. Page one if it works, but at least by page 30.

I'm not disagreeing that it should happen early. I like the 10% rule, myself. However long the story is, the inciting incident should be no later than 10% of the way in.

And I don't really think the plot is set in motion until the MC starts acting in a goal-oriented way toward the central conflict of the story. Everything up until then is just set up.

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MattLeo
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Not getting around to launching the story is a very common fault with fantasy manuscripts I've critiqued. I think that is because world building is the primary attraction of fantasy for spec fiction authors.

There's a specific version of this fault which is worth mentioning, which is the first chapter which is too loosely coupled to the plot. Sometimes these function as a prologue (which are controversial in themselves), but other times these chapters are even more loosely coupled than a prologue, which at least gives you information that is useful in understanding.

One sign to look for that indicates a disconnected first chapter is dramatic action involving characters who only appear in that chapter. In writing coach Paula Berenstein's book "42 Mistakes Novelists Make", this is mistake #1, which she calls "The Tease". "By letting the scene go to waste," she writes, "you're missing opportunities to advance the story."

I think every rule is made to be broken, but before you break the rule about getting your story rolling quickly, you want to make sure it's an artistic choice, not your rationalizing a weakness in your writing. Find a way to get the story moving right away. If the long-winded version is better, go with it, but chances are it won't be.

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genevive42
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quote:
And I don't really think the plot is set in motion until the MC starts acting in a goal-oriented way toward the central conflict of the story. Everything up until then is just set up.
Actually, I think if you look at Dan Wells seven point story structure, this is about point three(?). It's either Plot Turn 1, or happens right after Plot Turn 1. Sorry, it's been a while since I watched it and I don't have time to go back through it right now.

However, the inciting incident is the thing that sets events in motion, whether the protangonist is along for the ride yet or not.

In Star Trek 2, the inciting incident is when Khan is discovered. He subsequently takes Chekov and Capt. Terrell hostage and takes over the Reliant which sets events in motion. Kirk doesn't even know this has happened until some time later.

In the story of Moses, the inciting incident is when he gets sent down the river in the basket as a baby. The point where he "starts acting in a goal-oriented way toward the central conflict" doesn't come until many years later because of the burning bush incident. But if he was never sent down the river, the rest of the story never happens.

Here's the link to the first of Dan Wells LTUE presentation on Story Structure if you're interested. I like it a lot better than the 3-act model.

http://youtu.be/KcmiqQ9NpPE

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Crystal Stevens
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I know when I read a book, I want to get to the point of the story quickly. There's nothing I hate more than a book that beats around the bush for two or three chapters and then gets into the heart of the story. I hate that.

And world building is getting more and more done with the point of the story and not done seperately. I tried to read a book by Niven that did that. Two or three chapters of how his universe worked. Maybe more. I stopped reading before the world building did. I just couldn't wade through all that. I should add that this book was written in the 1980s, I think, when this practice was more the norm for science fiction.

I'm also a big fan of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series and greatly admire how quickly Butcher gets to the heart of the story right now. He's got that down to a art.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by genevive42:
quote:
And I don't really think the plot is set in motion until the MC starts acting in a goal-oriented way toward the central conflict of the story. Everything up until then is just set up.
Actually, I think if you look at Dan Wells seven point story structure, this is about point three(?). It's either Plot Turn 1, or happens right after Plot Turn 1. Sorry, it's been a while since I watched it and I don't have time to go back through it right now.

However, the inciting incident is the thing that sets events in motion, whether the protangonist is along for the ride yet or not.

In Star Trek 2, the inciting incident is when Khan is discovered. He subsequently takes Chekov and Capt. Terrell hostage and takes over the Reliant which sets events in motion. Kirk doesn't even know this has happened until some time later.

In the story of Moses, the inciting incident is when he gets sent down the river in the basket as a baby. The point where he "starts acting in a goal-oriented way toward the central conflict" doesn't come until many years later because of the burning bush incident. But if he was never sent down the river, the rest of the story never happens.

Here's the link to the first of Dan Wells LTUE presentation on Story Structure if you're interested. I like it a lot better than the 3-act model.

http://youtu.be/KcmiqQ9NpPE

Okay. I can buy that. What he calls Plot Turn 1 would be the inciting incident. By that definition, though, it still is about page 45 in ENDLESSLY, to pick just one example--after Evie deals with plans for the winter formal and has a surprise birthday party.

Actually, it's closer to what I would have called the inciting incident not long ago.

So, now I have a different problem. Because I've had two recent critiques on different novels that both tell me I need to get to my inciting incident sooner. In both cases, what I would consider the inciting incident by this criteria happens before the end of the first chapter. But the critiquers are identifying a later point--one I might call Pinch 1 by this method, the point at which things start to get serious--as the inciting incident.

So, what do I do with that? Put another way, what other problem are they trying to point out that I'm not seeing?

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extrinsic
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I think a matter of defintions and purposes is called for. An "inciting incident" in script writing vernacular is generally defined as an incident that sets up all the action to follow.

The death of Potter's parents, for example, is what Aristotle calls the First Cause of the saga. That causal event happens prior to the saga's opening. The opening is in medias res: in the middle of the action, delivering orphaned infant Potter to foster parents. Never depicted subsequently, recollection mode gives an adequate sense of the First Cause scene as the saga unfolds. It is the "inciting incident" most significant to the entire saga.

Gustav Freytag, on the other hand calls the "inciting incident" an exciting crisis. The concept is the same as scriptwriters', as Aristitole's, as the one I know best, updated, inciting crisis. One writer, widely respected, writing on writing calls it a rooting interest feature. Wow, did it take me a while to decipher that one.

An object lesson I learned from the many similar but different terms in how a writer names the first dramatic structural feature; that is, to each and all their own lexicon so long as the outcomes succeed. But for discussion, an agreed upon term for shorthand purposes is a best practice.

Anecdote interlude. A writing workshop I was in, one writer kept saying "MC." Some of the writers thought the writer was saying "emcee." Things didn't become clear until the confusion came to a contentious head. I sat quiet, fully knowing the confusion caused strife, knowing what was meant and the cause of the confusion. Attempts by me to urge clarification were ignored until the pot boiled over. Then I interpreted the contentions and things became much less contentious.

A deeper appreciation of the term "inciting incident," whichever term a writer chooses and uses proficiently, derives from the causal event's dramatic purpose. Readers might realize a start of plot movement. Writers might intend starting plot movement. Exciting a change in emotional equilibrium is the core dramatic purpose of an "inciting incident." A crisis of proportionate degree upsetting emotional equilbrium, which is why I prefer the term "inciting crisis" and its relation to the other appreciable dramatic impetus; that of a problem wanting satisfaction.

An "inctiting incident" or first cause can happen before an opening; happen anytime during a setup act, or exposition act, meaning exhibit introductions act; or happen or be the first or next major turn or pivot of the action at the end of a first act, regardless of whether a single act, two-act, three-act, four-act, five-act, or more dramatic structure. Whether or not the initial emotional disequilbrium is a first major turn or pivot is open to interpretion. I think some narratives' "inciting incidents" that I've read are major turns; some are minor turns that escalate dramatic complication artfully as an action unfolds. Some don't turn, missing altogether that crucial "inciting incident."

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
I think some narratives' "inciting incidents" that I've read are major turns; some are minor turns that escalate dramatic complication artfully as an action unfolds. Some don't turn, missing altogether that crucial "inciting incident."

Thanks. Okay. So, applying this to my two stories, maybe the problem is that the inciting incident isn't dramatic enough? In both cases, it's something known only to the MC who initially tries to ignore it until the situation reaches a point where he/she can't hide it anymore.

Maybe what I need is to make that more emotional. Hmm. Something to think about.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:
Thanks. Okay. So, applying this to my two stories, maybe the problem is that the inciting incident isn't dramatic enough? In both cases, it's something known only to the MC who initially tries to ignore it until the situation reaches a point where he/she can't hide it anymore.

Maybe what I need is to make that more emotional. Hmm. Something to think about.

I would say the inciting incident you intend isn't adequately accessible.

The character ignoring a problem is what Vladimir Propp identifies as a refusal to act in a hero's journey. Also, Joseph Campbell's Monomyth. And others. One characteristic of each's theory is refusals come in sets of three, but sequentially escalating or amplified.

Making an inciting incident of the refusal kind accessible takes advantage of the principle of threes and a bit of dramatic irony, in that readers are in the know regarding the implications of the refusal, but the refusing character isn't due to denial, the first phase of the Kübler-Ross model of grief. Another of grief's connotations besides grieving for loss is annoyance. Develop the annoyance factor so readers can access its dramatic irony.

[ August 08, 2012, 04:23 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Inciting incidents can depend on what kind of story you're telling (M.I.C.E).

For example:

M--whatever it is that introduces the main character to the milieu

I--whatever it is that causes the main character to explore the idea

C--whatever it is that makes the main character change (or attempt to change) roles (sometimes this change isn't by choice, in which case it's whatever puts the main character into the unexpected and unchosen role)

E--this is the kind where the inciting incident is whatever it is that makes the main character decide to become involved in dealing with the problem/event

If you take this approach, not all inciting incidents would be the same.

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History
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Digression: I think I understand better your recent comment to me, Kathleen. What you write is true when the story concerns a "main character", as most today do. Sometimes (less common today) the story concerns a "main event" or even theme that impacts multiple characters' behavior.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Dr Bob, such stories tend to fit under the "event" category, or the "idea" category, most often. They may fit the "milieu" category, though that is usually for a character in an alien (to them) place/situation.
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Owasm
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I prefer to do it right out of the box:

Girl gets power from dying mage - first three pages

Girl's mother dies - she's at the funeral when book starts.

It doesn't always happen, but I'm more of a proponent of quick starts.

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JoBird
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I think there's often a lot of confusion between hook, inciting incident, and first plot point.

This is the way I understand them.

1. Hook: makes the reader want to keep reading, engages them, causes them to wonder what the consequences of an action will be.
-I believe that extrinsic often puts this as: problem wanting satisfaction.
-If it is a problem wanting satisfaction then maybe it can exist on a micro level? I assume, in other words, that the hook doesn't have to be the inciting incident of the entire plot. It would just have to fulfill a similar purpose on a smaller scale.

2. Inciting Incident: a physical act that initiates the plot, the event or decision that begins a story's problem, the introduction of the problem to be solved.

3. First Plot Point: further development of the problem (not the initiation of the problem), escalation of the problem, noticeable resistance to solving the problem.

Please correct me anywhere here where I might be wrong.

***

A few questions:

How many acts do you prefer in a novel? A three act story? Four acts? Five?

Do you think it makes a difference in the type of story that ends up getting told?

Do some genres react better to a certain number of acts than others?

And do you really pay a lot of (conscious) attention to that as you write your novels?

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extrinsic
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I know a hook as any circumstance that excites reader curiosity, sometimes a problem wanting satisfaction, but anything can work, voice for example. I recently read an introduction segment to a creative nonfiction work in which a New York writer receives a late night call from a Hollywood script agent requesting a talk about an invitation to write a screenplay. The writer says the agent's voice was "audibly tan." Exquisite voice characteristic and narrator/character marker that excited my curiosity.

I know an inciting incident as a circumstance or series of circumstances that let a protagonist know he or she or it has a problem needing effort and perhaps struggle to satisfy.

First plot point I know as a major turn, or dramatic pivot, when a protagonist makes a first active decision or effort to satisfy an identified problem. A rising action act follows and escalates efforts to satisfy the problem and escalating resistance forces in opposition arise to impede satisfaction.

I'm not partial one way or another toward three-act or four-act or five-act structures. I've read short stories of a few thousand words that are five acts, lengthy novels that are three acts, creative nonfiction that is one act, all equally dramatic.

I do believe long forms are more amenable to five-act structures and short forms more amenable to fewer acts. Understanding that an act ends with a major dramatic pivot or last act ends, period, with a return to emotional equilibrium, helps me process planning and reworking phases. Not much help for drafting, per se, except when I'm trying to wrap up or rethink and divide an act that's running long.

In a different sense of genre by plot features, there are simple plots and complex plots. A simple plot has a straightforward problem satisfaction arc or pyramid. A complex plot has the much admired and praised and misunderstood "twists." A major dramatic turn or pivot is a consequence of a problem satisfaction setback or advance, common to simple plots. A "twist" is a consequence of a profound, abrupt reversal or discovery or both of a problem and satisfaction's true circumstances, peripetia and anagnorisis, respectively, common to "twists," and defining features of a complex plot.

Though not universal or even a significant majority, convention-based and category genres favor simple plots. The outcome is signaled by earlier act outcome telegraphing and setup. They're easier to write but complex plots are more appealing. A critics' issue with simple plots is they have predictable outcomes. Keeping an outcome in doubt through peripetia and anagnorisis until at least an ending or denouement act is a much more appealing and artful "twist" and desired by readers.

[ August 10, 2012, 11:54 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by JoBird:
And do you really pay a lot of (conscious) attention to that as you write your novels?

Paying attention to acts and other types of structural constructs probably helps more if you are outlining first.

Writers who don't outline can also use such structural guidelines once they've completed their first drafts, because then they can figure out what the structure has turned out to be, or what it needs to be, and then pay attention to it in the rewrite(s).

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
Writers who don't outline can also use such structural guidelines once they've completed their first drafts...

Personally, I think that's one heck of a tall order. People who set out to write a story seat-of-the-pants with the intention of structuring it later are setting themselves up for a painful experience.

Lets use the three act structure as an example. I can think of a number of important points in that structure, the five principal ones being:

  1. Inciting incident: sets the MC in motion and comes near the front of act 1.
  2. Act 1 - 2 transition: the point at which the MC loses the choice of backing out. He is forced to deal with the complications of act 2. (typically at the 20% - 30% mark)
  3. Act 2 midpoint (optional): this is a good place to put an apparent turn in the MC's fortunes; either a peak from which he'll fall or a low point from which he falsely believes he can't fall lower. (occurs near the 50% mark)
  4. Act 2 - 3 transition: the lowest point in the MC's fortunes. Maybe he's learned the lesson he needs to learn, or maybe he's just run out of options, but from here he's on the path to success. (typically at the 66% - 80% mark)
  5. Resolution: this scene is where the MC solves the problem. Everything after this shows the results of that. (typically between the 90-100% mark)

Now imagine you've sat down seat-of-the-pants and churned out a 150K word novel. You then go back and try to squeeze it into this template. The problem is that all schemes like this are just idealized abstractions. You'l have multiple candidates for each plot turn, perhaps none of which fit perfectly.

You can easily fit the plot points above to any familiar story, such as Star Wars Ep IV. But if you compare your fitting to someone else, it will start a pointless debate because there is no right answer for how to do this (is act 2/3 transition when Luke finds his family fried, or when he escapes Mos Eisley with Han and Chewie on the Falcon?). The purpose of structure is to give the writer guidance in constructing the story. The earlier that guidance is taken, the less additional work a structure imposes. In fact it should save work.

So our author of the 150KW story shoehorns his manuscript into the pigeonholes created by these five plot points. What has he accomplished? What does the structure tell him to do?

It tells him to cut.

A genre novel is a commercial product sold by sophisticated (relatively speaking) businesses. They surely have spreadsheets telling them exactly how much profit they lose with every word above the 100K mark. Likewise these books are entertainment for the masses. A genre book has to deliver an enjoyable experience without taxing readers too much. You can choose to be artistically sophisticated if you like, but you have no choice about being reader-friendly.

What does this mean for our 150KW novel's author? It means he's exchanged the painful experience of outlining for the even more painful experience of cutting. If his act 1 - 2 transition occurs at the 75KW mark, he's got to cut enough from the first act to start that scene no later than the 33KW mark. If he's got 40K Words after the resolution, he's got to cut that to 10K or so (no Scouring of the Shire for you). That's what structure does for you: it makes sure you have all the part of a reasonably satisfying story in the right place to optimize satisfaction per unit of reader effort. Experimentally structured literary novels might offer *more* satisfaction than genre novels, but at the cost of relatively more reader effort.

But what if you can never seem to draft an outline you'd want to write? What if the only way to know what your characters ought to do is through writing scenes for them?

I'd say instead of outlining, start by writing the key scenes in your structure (e.g. 1-5 above), then proceed to fill in the gaps, keeping a close eye on the word count at which they fall as your MS take shape. When you approach your first draft it will be a more *structured* draft, and closer to a publishable size for a genre novel. You may have to replace scenes or even whole parts of the MS to get to the final draft, but that will involve more new writing (which is fun) and less cutting (which is not fun).

And then you'll still have to cut, but you're more likely to see your vision for the story survive those cuts.

[ August 11, 2012, 10:25 AM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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extrinsic
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MattLeo's excellent breakdown of a three-act structure applies to a classic Aristotlean comedy drama. Comedy meaning bad fortunes opening and good fortunes outcome or conflict resolution. An Aristotlean tragedy is the inverse, good fortunes opening, bad fortunes outcome or bad fortunes opening and worse fortunes outcome. Another comparatively modern drama has a mixed bad and good fortune opening and mixed bad and good outcomes. Bildungsroman, where a protagonist personally grows at great personal cost, is an example form of the latter. Theoretically, there is a degree of comedy and a degree of tragedy in bildungsroman.

But dramas are not solely "conflict resolution," or complication or problem solving. Audiences generally favor those forms. They come mostly in those categories, probably about nine in ten dramas. The other one in ten may be a revelation narrative, anecdote, vignette, or sketch. O Henry's aesthetic trends toward revelation outcomes. "Gift of the Magi" is his best known revelation short story with a classic peripetia and anagnorisis "twist" ending and a classic example of a situational irony drama.

Anecdote is another form, where an interesting or entertaining circumstance is portrayed. Roald Dahl's, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, "Man From the South" is a classic example of an anecdote narrative.

Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" exemplifies a vignette narrative. They are slice of life narratives that foreshorten a circumstance, like the lottery in Jackson's short story.

Sketches depict a closer foreshortened perspective, focusing on developing a persona, a setting, an event, an idea, or a voice discourse. Sketches tend to be parts of long or short narratives. The depiction of Della and James Young's home in "Gift of the Magi" is an example of a sketch.

A five-act structure has more major turns than a three-act structure. Still with an inciting incident though. And numbering eleven distinguishable parts, each with variable word count proportions.
  • Exposition act (introductions)
  • Inciting crisis bridge
  • Rising action act
  • Realization crisis bridge
  • Climax act entry
  • Climax crisis bridge peak
  • Climax act exit
  • Tragic crisis bridge
  • Falling action act
  • Transformation crisis bridge
  • Denouement act
The major turns or plot points occur at the crisis bridges. The climax act is the dramatic climax not the emotional climax, which is the transformation crisis bridge, which many readers and writers believe is the climax. A dramatic climax has several features. The point at which all is known about the complication and how to satisfy it, efforts to satisfy the complication are greatest, opposing problem and want of the complication forces are in greatest opposition, and outcome of the complication is most in doubt.

However, as has been noted, these considerations are for preplanning and reworking writing phases, Applying them during drafting phase can result in a formulaic, lackluster, soulless narrative or, worse, writer's block stall from overt self-editing focus.

[ August 11, 2012, 05:38 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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KayTi
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I write only genre, and pretty much exclusively for YA/middle-grade readers, so bear that in mind.

I aim for an inciting incident very early in the story -- usually within Chapter 1. Discovery of some object (or alien species), arrival at some new location, or bc I write kid fiction without murdering off all the parents - sometimes the inciting incident is sparked by the departure/stage exit of the parents (or happens immediately after, in which case I usually have a chapter or two of breathing room and scene-setting to use before I have to get things really moving.)

Meredith asked what her critiquers' feedback really meant --- first of all, if your critiquers are giving you feedback about "inciting incidents" then you are probably asking writers to read your work. Ask them to clarify, ask them to propose solutions to the problem(s) they identify - how would THEY write themselves out of this challenge/situation? You don't have to do what they recommend, but it would be informative to help you understand what they were seeing.

In general, I've moved away from having writers read my work. Now I rely on some avid readers instead and challenge them to "find my mistakes!" like it's an easter-egg hunt. I've had a much better time with getting feedback that's targeted and actionable - e.g., you changed the name of Character A in chapter 15, you gave the MC a knife in chapter 20 but in chapter 22 it's suddenly a gun, you misstyped your character's name in these three places, etc.

But another way to look at the inciting incident, at least as I see it, is the event which sets up the main Story Question. Will she marry the prince? Will he find the magic teapot before the evil mage? Will they decide to live on as pirates or return to society?

Again because I write genre and kid lit, I aim for early early early. You can't go wrong by giving your readers a question that you take the ENTIRE BOOK to resolve early on, because that's going to keep them motivated even beyond what hooks and bread-crumb trails you leave for them at chapter ends and the like.

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Meredith
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Thanks, KayTi.

I'm writing genre (fantasy), and mostly for YA/MG, too.

Of the two stories I mentioned, one is MG and the other is YA (WIP). In both cases, what I consider to be the inciting incident happens in Chapter 1.

I've gone back to one of the critiquers to get a little more info. I think on that one, which is still in first draft, I just need to make the event much more dramatic. It's meaning isn't clear to the MC yet, but I need it to feel bigger. That's probably the case in the other story, too.

On the first draft, I was mainly looking for feedback on whether I'd engaged sympathy for my MC and what things about the world might not be clear enough, yet. I got some unexpected answers on the latter. That's what happens when you immerse yourself in your research. Things make sense to you, but not to the reader. [Smile]

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
However, as has been noted, these considerations are for preplanning and reworking writing phases, Applying them during drafting phase can result in a formulaic, lackluster, soulless narrative or, worse, writer's block stall from overt self-editing focus.

I certainly agree worrying too much about structure when you are drafting is a recipe for trouble, but depending on the writer and his target market waiting until the reworking phase can *also* be a recipe for trouble.

I have one writer friend who writes "seat of the pants" and consistently comes up short. She wants to be in the 85-90K range but her first drafts end up 65K-70K. Her stories end up thin as well. Bringing in structure at the redrafting stage is quite practical for her. It tells her to beef up certain areas, to add complications and detail.

But not everyone finds themselves in this situation when they finish drafting. Often the result of seat-of-the-pants writing is that you've got to cut 20%, 30% or even more to meet a reasonable word count for your market. At that point bringing in some pre-defined structure only complicates your task, because you can't cut as freely as you can expand. You have to beware cutting preconditions you need for subsequent scenes.

What I'm suggesting is a compromise. When you have a story idea but outlining doesn't get your creative juices flowing, choose a structure that works for the story idea *then write the key scenes in that structure first*. When those are done, go back and fill in the gaps. The key scenes will probably amount to about 20% of your finished manuscript word count goal. You might find the idea or chosen structure don't work and you have to start all over, but throwing away that 20% of a finished manuscript is better than throwing away 150%.

This approach also gives you feedback as you draft to when you are going overboard in some place. If you hit 15,000 words in the opening and you still haven't come close to linking the opening scene to the inciting incident, you know that you have to trim if you want to keep the MS in the 100K range.

Another advantage of this approach is that it helps you avoid one of the most common problems, in fantasy manuscripts especially: starting the story in the wrong place. Typically this is far into backstory. When you sit down to write your opening scene you'll already have the inciting incident in your crosshairs.

Like every approach to finishing a manuscript, this one has its disadvantages, and having used it I'll point out the biggest one: it front loads your writing joy and piles up tedium at the end. Eventually you'll find yourself with only a handful of scenes left to link up the manuscript, but somehow getting through these scenes is a lot harder than it looks. That's because there's nothing left but utility scenes that put the all pieces in place for those marvelous set pieces you finished long ago.

No method is perfect, so this is really about choosing the problems you prefer to deal with: a boring outline, throwing out most of your work, or plowing through the least rewarding scenes all at once.

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