We touched on the Inciting Incident briefly in Tip #2, The Bones It Hangs On. The Inciting Incident (sometimes called the Catalyst or the Inciting Event) is the trigger that starts the story. It's not necessarily the first thing that happens in the book, but it should occur within the first 30-50 pages depending on the total length of the book. It's the completion of the statement: It all started when….
In HUNGER GAMES, the inciting incident happens when Prim’s name is chosen to fight in the Hunger Games, and Katniss volunteers to take her place.
The inciting incident in the first HARRY POTTER book happens when Hagrid shows up to whisk Harry away to Hoggwarts. If this event didn't happen, Harry would've unhappily grown up living with the Dursleys and the rest of the story wouldn't have unfolded.
In PERCEPTION (young adult dystopian), the inciting incident happens when something doesn't happen – Zoe Vanderveen throws a surprise party for her brother only he doesn't show. This leads to her futile search for him and to her reluctant plea for help from the last person she thinks she can trust.
In SUN & MOON (inspirational romance), the inciting incident is when Katja’s wallet is stolen and she can’t make her rent.
In GINGERBREAD MAN (mystery thriller) the inciting incident happens in chapter six. Marlow warns Teagan to be careful, that a girl on campus has been raped, but when Teagan searches for news of the attack she can’t find anything. Though Marlow’s warning makes her wary of going on her coffee date with Jake, she goes anyway. Jake leaves her and shortly afterward someone announces a rape just happened on campus.
So, it all started when… a rape happened in Marlow’s world before it happened in Teagan’s world. Since no one realizes this is the case yet, it sets up a lot of tension and mistrust between Teagan and Marlow.
Here’s how it reads on the page.
>>>Before she could leave, a girl Teagan didn’t know blew into the café and screeched to a group of girls at a booth across the room. “You won’t believe this! Someone was just raped in the park behind the library!”
Teagan’s blood cooled, pooling at her knees and she slid into a nearby chair. She grabbed at her chest and swallowed dryly, trying to process what she’d heard. Someone was just raped. So, how did Marlow know? How could he possibly know about something before it happened?
Unless? Teagan could barely cope with the next thought. Unless he had planned to commit the crime himself? Blood rushed from her head and she felt faint at the thought.
Teagan ran home and locked the door to her dorm behind her. She would remove herself from the chat forums and never talk to Marlow again. Oh, God, how she wished now that she’d never given @averagegeek99 her name!<<<
Think about the book you're reading now. Can you pinpoint the inciting incident? What is the situation where you could say, if this didn't happen the story couldn't have unfolded? What about your current WIP (work in process)? Do you know what your inciting incident is? Is it easy to identify? At least to you?