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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Which domino fell first?

Inciting Incident
Photo by Sigurd Decroos,
available at sxc.hu
This is where it all begins. This is the thing that set everything in motion; it's the first domino to fall. And it can be surprisingly difficult to pin down. Is it when two characters met? When something broke? What?

You need a clear grasp of what the conflict in your story is before you can dig out its deepest roots. You need to know why the conflict exists and what will be needed to solve it. This can get into some deep psychology -- or it can be as simple as "You killed my father. Prepare to die."

Hopefully, having started at the climax and worked your way back has clarified your conflict and what goes into it. Often, you have an idea where it all started already and it's creating the steps in between that's difficult. You may find yourself dealing with several inciting incidents for several plot lines. Or maybe by the time you get here your first idea won't work and the inciting incident was something else entirely.

I often have an idea where the story begins, when I start plotting, because that can be a dramatic scene too. Something traumatic happens, or something is discovered -- it's an oh, crap, we've got a problem moment for the characters and those can be fun.

The journey begins
All stories boil down to a journey, however small or abstract. Let's stick with Inigo Montoya as a good example of this. (If you don't know who I'm talking about, go rent and watch The Princess Bride IMMEDIATELY. We'll wait. Heck, we'll watch with you.) His plot is simple: he intends to kill the six-fingered man. Sketching this out, we get:

Inciting incident: Inigo's father is murdered by the six-fingered man
First plot point: He begins to study fencing
Other plot points: He searches for the six-fingered man
Other plot points: He learns the identity of the six-fingered man
Other plot points: He helps storm the castle so he can get at his enemy
Climax: Inigo confronts the six-fingered man and kills him
Resolution: He is offered the job of being Dread Pirate Roberts

If we were working backward from the climax, the first thing Inigo needed to do was get to his enemy. Therefore, he needed to know who his enemy was and where he was. Those could have been easy, but then what would the challenge have been? The writers decided that Inigo didn't know his enemy's identity and learning that would be a significant plot point. Why do it this way? Probably so it would integrate well with the other plots in The Princess Bride. (If he'd known, how might his plot have run to still get him to the climax?)


Angela Brown said...

Excellent analysis regarding root-causing to the inciting incidents and plot points. Using The Princess Bride as an example helped a lot. This can also help while doing revisions to work backwards and find those places where additional points can be added or removed to thicken plot or add moments of tension.

Thank you.

Liz said...

Ah yes, where to begin? That is a hard one. I struggle with it.

mshatch said...

Thankfully I seldom have trouble knowing where to begin; it's how to get from point a to point b that gives me pause. And that was an excellent example as well as one of my favorite movies - ever!

DEZMOND said...

I love domino effects both on film and in books. 360 is a very nice domino effect film with a stunning cast including Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and Jude Law.