Types Of Inciting Incidents

Inciting incidents set the trajectory of a story. They are major events in the main character’s life which forces them to action.

Such a moment generally comes at around page 12 of a traditional length screenplay. It consists of a big new problem, challenge, or conflict, which the main character will have to spend the entire rest of the story trying to solve.

Here is a list of common types of inciting incidents according to Erik Bork:

  • The thing that has defined you and/or supported you (key to your identity, mission, sense of self, well being, etc.) is suddenly taken away or threatened. eg. Jerry Maguire, Toy Story, Bridesmaids, About a Boy, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Legally Blonde, Elf, Enchanted, The Godfather
  • A new mission emerges to help someone which seems like the necessary and right thing to do, but will clearly come with some major challenges. eg. Clueless, The Sound of Music, Erin Brockovich, The Sixth Sense, Schindler’s List, The Hangover, Dave
  • You get an opportunity to possibly do the thing you’ve always wanted to do – which may seem too good to be true, and will be really difficult to succeed at. eg. Almost Famous, Boogie Nights, Working Girl, Tootsie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
  • You meet (or have a first real interaction with) someone who seems like they could be your perfect counterpart, and somehow change your life for the better – but it will be incredibly hard to win them over, or make a relationship work, long-term. eg. Wedding Crashers, There’s Something About Mary, Pretty Woman, Twilight, Brokeback Mountain
  • When you’re facing a painful life passage, an opportunity or challenge emerges that seems to you (if not anyone else) like it will be “just what the doctor ordered” eg. 10, The War of the Roses, Lost in America, We Bought a Zoo, Superbad
  • A problem, challenge or issue that you share with others (whose stories are also explored, interwoven with yours) builds to a head, with the emergence of some new fact, opportunity, or crisis. eg. The Big Chill, Crash, Love Actually, Traffic, The Kids are All Right
  • You join, try to join, or are taken in by a coveted group or “institution” which will offer potentially great rewards but also great costs. eg.  Goodfellas, Platoon, The Devil Wears Prada
  • Your deepest darkest secret is made public and/or thrown in your face, wrecking your “comfortable” existence, and forcing you to face this underlying thing that haunts you. eg.  The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Good Will Hunting, Casablanca
  • An enemy of some kind emerges – threatening and/or challenging you and those close to you, in some basic and important way. eg. Ghost, The Matrix, Witness
  • An unexplainable magical situation makes living your normal life in its normal way impossible. eg. Liar Liar, Field of Dreams, Big
  • You realize a fact about your life (or past) that changes your understanding about everything, and also threatens what you want right now (and presents fresh, life-changing challenges). eg. Rain Man, The Princess Diaries
  • You are seemingly rescued from a pressing crisis situation, but thrust into a new one that might actually be even more challenging, in its own way. eg. Sunset Boulevard, Working Girl
  • In the middle of your most vulnerable low point over a relatable life passage, you’re thrust into a challenging situation that rubs your face in it. eg. Swingers, Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  • Something about your normal present life situation, group, workplace, family, etc. becomes unbearable, and makes you want to take action. eg. American Beauty, Office Space
  • You are forced to undergo some big challenge in order to have the life you want. eg. Meet the Parents, The Proposal

6 Comments Add yours

  1. MarkC says:

    Thank you for this JG, I was watching my favourite film last night after reading this, its called ‘Charley Varrick’ I dont know if you know it, anyway I love stories where all the principle characters are amoral but with just varying levels of badness about them and I was wondering where Charley Varrick would fit in the list of inciting incidents, particularly where all the players are actually ‘antagonists’ when viewed from the other characters point of view, Don Siegel was great at creating grey areas of morality in his Films.

  2. mypenandme says:

    Excellent article. Thanks for all of your fine articles during the year 2012. Wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous new year. 🙂

  3. karenlovestv says:

    Hi JG,
    I love your blog and have been following you for about a year, so I thought it was worth it to mention that the snow across the article is distracting and makes it hard to concentrate on the topic. Just my opinion, do with it what you will. Karen

  4. icywiz says:

    Thank you for writing so many articles that are so easily accessible to my overworked brain.

  5. Henri says:

    Pretty! This was a really wonderful article. Thank you for supplying these details.

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