Every single element between the first page and the very last page of a screenplay is arguably the most important, salable thing about it. In this article, the beginning of the plot takes the number one spot. However, the plot really can’t begin being awesome until it is set in motion.
That’s where the inciting event comes in.
A good plot is everything that transpires in the screenplay and, if it’s captivating, will have an equally captivating inciting event. But good inciting events don’t come easy. Let’s explore what one must do when coming up with a good inciting event.
First, the reader/audience has to care about the character they’re following. That character’s world has to pique our interest in them. The writer has to paint a picture of this character and their existence that is interesting enough that the audience can’t help but love, hate, or be interested in them and their goings-on. Without a strong and fascinating start, no inciting event will make the plot good because it would be about a boring or poorly written protagonist. So give your inciting event and plot a fighting chance by starting them off on the right foot with an interesting character in an interesting world.
Even if the main character isn’t all that interesting, the situations or surroundings that make up their world can be what keeps the audience engaged. Most animated features offer a cartoon person or anthropomorphic animal that isn’t interesting before the inciting event sets them in motion, especially with children being their target audience. So the world the main character resides in has to be elaborately created, sprawling, colorful, lively, and mind-boggling to the audience if the inciting event and plot are to have a shot at keeping the audience’s attention.
Now that we have a good starting point, we have to make the inciting event big. If it’s going to be the catalyst for the conflict of your screenplay, it has to be something that gets the main character (protagonist or antagonist) moving. The inciting incident has to get the main character out of their comfort zone and moving towards a new objective.
In Star Wars: Episode IV, the inciting event is Luke Skywalker discovering that his family has been killed. His discovery sends him on a journey to become a Jedi and battle the evil Empire. That’s about as big as inciting events get. So the more interesting, gut wrenching, and understandable an inciting event is, the better it will resonate with an audience. Most all of us don’t all know the pain of losing loved ones to murder, but many of us know how bad it feels to lose someone or something we truly care about. Make your inciting event big enough to pull your protagonist into action and the audience along for the rest of the screenplay. Make it a worthwhile journey.
The protagonist isn’t the only character in your screenplay so the inciting event should affect more characters than one. Have the inciting event put more than one thing in motion, for more than one person. That being said, your protagonist is priority.
In Disney’s The Lion King, Mufasa has a son who will inherit the throne from him. Mufasa’s brother Scar hates his nephew and his brother because he wants to rule Pride Rock himself. Simba’s birth can be considered the inciting event for Scar. The fact that Mufasa has a son that will inherit the throne sets two storylines in motion: Simba’s path to becoming king and Scar’s plan to get rid of his brother and nephew so that he can be king. The inciting event must do big things for the main characters at play to keep an interesting, layered screenplay in motion that pits their goals against each other.
There are lots of great story ideas out there and plenty more great screenplays that have yet to be written or produced. But they all require a great inciting event to get them going. Use these pieces of advice to get incredible plot lines moving that could incite riotous reels of film.