This week Judith Barrow gives us an insight into how she constructs her excellent storylines and the importance of having a key “inciting incident”
The Inciting Incident – a Must for Every Story
Every story needs an inciting incident; without that the narrative becomes fixed, without movement; it’s no longer a story, but just a series of events.
An inciting incident is an unexpected occurrence that upsets the balance of the plot, especially for the protagonist. It complicates the character, gives them a central motivation, and sets them on the path that they will follow throughout the story.
So it has to be a convincing inciting action, one that the reader will believe in, be drawn into right away. There are a couple of writing techniques that can ensure this:
It’s essential that it should drive the protagonist to think, to behave (whether intentionally or subconsciously), in a certain way throughout the story. And that the inciting incident starts actions for all the characters that are both believable and sustainable all the way through your plot.
It’s also crucial that the event takes place during the timeline of the story. An inciting incident that has taken place in the past, that is only referred to by the characters in the story, loses the impetus, the sudden dramatic element that should be the driving force of the narrative.
My book, The Memory, runs on two timelines; short sections which brings the reader into the life of the protagonist, Irene Hargreaves, in the present- a woman who is carer for her mother
And the main narrative, which is the story that has led her to that life; in which the inciting event happens.
Below are the two short narratives that build up to the inciting incident.
1971 – Irene
I ran, head down against the rain that trickled down my neck. Water streamed into the drains at the side of the road, passing cars sending it high in the air, drenching one side of me. It didn’t matter; all I wanted to do was to get home; to end this feeling of dread
Normally I’d burst through the front door and shout, ‘I’m home. Rose? Irene’s home,’ and wait for the squeal of delight and the thunder of her footsteps on the stairs or the crash of one of the doors as she flung it open. But the house was silent; there was no answer to my call.
And normally, Nanna would have lit the gas in the oven in readiness for the warming of the pies. The kitchen would be warm with the heat from the stove. But that day the room was chilled.
1971 – Irene
That evening wasn’t normal. The whole day hadn’t been normal. It would be a long time before anything was normal again.
It was as though the whole of my skin was crawling.
No answer. I pushed my wet shoes off and hung my coat on the back of one of the kitchen chairs to drip. I’d dropped my bag onto the kitchen table. One of the parcels for Rose had fallen out. I left it there. Slowly, I walked out of the kitchen into the front room. No one. ‘Nanna?’ No answer. ‘Mum? Rose?’ Silence. I went to the bottom of the stairs. Holding my breath, I listened.
The wooden banister was smooth under my fingers except for the small dents where Rose had bitten into it in when she was having one of her rare tantrums as a toddler.
I waited on the landing, breathing slowly so I could hear if there was any sound. But there wasn’t. Nanna’s door was closed. I found myself willing her to come out; to tell me everything was all right. But I couldn’t make myself knock on her door.
I could almost feel the silence all around, closing in. The door to my bedroom was partly open. Something was wrong. I didn’t know what. Ice trailed down my spine, but I told myself that if I breathed in and out slowly I – it would be all right.
I put the flat of my hand against the door and cautiously pushed.
Mum was standing by the side of Rose’s bed…
What follows is the inciting incident which completely changes the journey that Irene Hargreaves expected her life to follow.
Published by Honno (https://www.honno.co.uk/) in March 2020, The Memory was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year Award 2021- The Rhys Davies Trust Fiction Award.
Mother and daughter tied together by shame and secrecy, love and hate.
I wait by the bed. I move into her line of vision and it’s as though we’re watching one another, my mother and me; two women – trapped…
Today has been a long time coming. Irene sits at her mother’s side waiting for the right moment, for the point at which she will know she is doing the right thing by Rose. Rose was Irene’s little sister, an unwanted embarrassment to their mother Lilian but a treasure to Irene. Rose died thirty years ago, when she was eight, and nobody has talked about the circumstances of her death since. But Irene knows what she saw. Over the course of 24 hours their moving and tragic story is revealed – a story of love and duty, betrayal, and loss – as Irene rediscovers the past and finds hope for the future