The Inciting Incident: Is Your Character Unlikable or What Are You Missing?

Don’t you hate criticism that leads you to a lot of head scratching, but little to no idea how to fix the issue?

I had a beta reader – yes just one, tell me my character was nearly unlikable.  I sort of wanted to cry.  That wasn’t going to get me anywhere though.  I had to stop and think.  Why did beta reader A think that. The character is cynical and she has every right to be that way.  She is throwing around  sarcastic comments like they are as common as air. She can’t see anything for what it is and men, well men just drive the nail into her emotional coffin of mad.Incite

So I asked myself: is her entire outlook unlike any other woman scorned?  No.  She is who she is and she isn’t happy.  What I had to do was make it more apparent as to why she was so sarcastic about everything around her that day.  I had to figure out why it is the reader couldn’t identify or at least see why it is that she was acting out in her emotional tornado.  That’s when it hit me.   I was missing the inciting incident!

It better be apparent to your reader sooner  rather than later what the catalyst is to your characters actions.  The middle of a story is too late to explain why Fred is up and leaving, or why Sally was running in the rain, or why Ted just robbed a liquor store.  You can have undesirable traits in characters – heck they are supposed to be someone real so they better not be perfect.  The issue is making the cause for the not so positive traits visible to the reader.

In the first 3 chapters your inciting incident better be apparent.

Have you had any experiences with this confusing the reader because you didn’t make it clear or put it in too late?

2 thoughts on “The Inciting Incident: Is Your Character Unlikable or What Are You Missing?

  1. jamieayres says:

    1. Agents/Editors say give us the stakes first before the inciting incident. The Hunger Games is a GREAT example. *Spoiler Alert incase you haven’t read* Prim gets picked at the reaping, Katniss takes her place. The author doesn’t start at the moment her name gets called at the reaping b/c that’d confuse the reader–they’d have no clue what was going on. It starts the day of the reaping–not weeks or days ahead of time–so we have a few pages to get familiar with Katniss, know what the Hunger Games are, know the odds of her getting picked and how she protected her sister so Prim’s name is only in the drawing once. This makes the moment when Prim’s name gets called even more powerful, in a way it wouldn’t have if we didn’t know the circumstances leading up to that event. That’s the inciting incident, and she hits it by page 20. I don’t think any novel in this market today should put off getting to the inciting incident after p. 20. We live in a world full of people with very short attention spans (myself included!). They think everything can be incapsulated in a Twitter or text message;-)

    • M. Ziegler says:

      Great example!! Thanks for that. I realized after I wrote the post that a few examples would have been beneficial. Maybe I will do a part 2. The sad truth really is that people lose interest if you can’t capture them right away. Oh where have patience gone.

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