An inciting incident is key to the creation of a well-structured movie. Nailing yours can help lock your story into a crackerjack narrative trajectory. Let’s take a look at a few inciting incidents.
THE LOST CITY
THE LOST CITY is a vibrant, lively, and well-structured rom-ad movie. Now, some may knock its genre; and it might be considered very predictable because of its adherence to genre, but I’m going to make a case for delivering a movie that the audience wants to see. It’s big, fun, romantic, and delightful. It entertains.
The inciting incident is part of the structure that sets up the movie GOAL. It sets up and anchors the TRANSFORMATIONAL ARC and it sets the plot in motion. Not bad for one little structure scene.
The INCITING INCIDENT in The Lost City is the moment our protagonist, LORETTA, is kidnapped. She is challenged to fulfill an event in one of her own romance novels. Because it is early in ACT ONE, she refuses the call. She rejects the challenge. This is the first scene that defines the movie in terms of a structural GOAL.
With the following lines of dialogue, the inciting incident is set:
“Help me find the Crown of Fire; you can name your price.”
“I must respectfully decline.”
Let’s take a look at another movie for its inciting incident: THE WHALE.
This is a character-driven movie that’s introspective and emotionally fraught. The INCITING INCIDENT of The Whale is just after the OPENING HOOK, where the protagonist CHARLIE is hidden from view. Once the character is fully revealed, we see Charlie at 600 pounds and masturbating to porn. While masturbating, he struggles to breathe. It is clear that the character is at a life-and-death stage with his obesity.
When THOMAS enters the apartment and realizes the extreme physical state Charlie is in, Charlie refuses to allow Thomas to call an ambulance. He refuses help. This inciting incident sets up the movie goal and the transformational arc.
Now, let’s look at a third film. Guillermo del Toro’s PINOCCHIO. This is an animated movie that doesn’t back away from themes of death and grief. In fact, the inciting incident is the appearance of enemy fighter planes during WWII.
This scene brings death to Giuseppe’s doorstep. In a few short minutes on screen Giuseppe’s world is destroyed by war. The inciting incident kills the only thing in life that Giuseppe values.
His hope for family is decimated. This is the scene where the story of Giuseppe and Pinocchio begins. Giuseppe creates a son so he can attempt to regain what has been lost. Notice in these examples, the inciting incident sets up the REFUSAL OF THE CALL, and establishes a reluctant hero. The structure moment establishes film GOAL and anchors the TRANSFORMATIONAL ARC.