Your inciting incident or story catalyst is the event or occurrence that change’s the main character’s existing paradigm and allows the story to take place.
Everything before the inciting incident is setup or backstory.
Indiana Jones grabbing the skull and being chased by a boulder. Awesome stuff, but it really had nothing to do with the story of retrieving the Ark. It was introduction to the characters, mood/tone building, backstory, etc.
The real story of Indy going after the Ark starts (going from memory here, it’s been a while) when the G-men come to the college and recruit him.
Actually, I think I have the Raiders script handy… Ok, so in Raiders, it starts on page 13 at the bottom;
BRODY I brought along some people today.
INDY What kind of people?
Moves into the another classroom where Indy and the G-men talk and ends on page 19.
So this inciting takes place on page 13, which out of the 104 page screenplay is at about the 12% mark.
This is pretty on point.
You generally want your inciting incident to come off in the first half of the first act, I’d say between 5-12% in.
On a one shot comic that’s the first 3 pages.
(On a 64 page graphic novel that’s the first 3-8 pages.) Well you can do the math (I’m writing this late at night).
If you’re story requires a lot of setup, you can push for a late inciting incident, in the 12-25% range. But you must realize, at this point you’re starting to sacrifice active story, the real engaging part of the story.
When you push your inciting incident into the second act, not only have you sacrificed a whole quarter to half of your issue to backstory, but you’re now stressing the story structure to catch up in the remaining pages.
Truth be told…
many writers who aren’t paying attention and accidentally push their inciting incident back, often don’t bother to cram the remaining core story beats to deliver genuine story. In these cases, they let the story fall however it falls and these stories always FALL FLAT.
These stories come across like something is missing, because things are, in fact, actually missing…
Inciting incidents late to the party are always tricky, even when purposely brought in later, stories often come across weak and not reflective of the core story concept.
For example, let’s say you have a story about a NYC cop who’s killed and comes back as a ghost to fight crime.
So the story concept boils down to Ghost Cop Fighting Crime.
In your first issue you deliver 11 pages of backstory setting up the Cop’s life before he dies. Then the last 11 pages are the cop coming to terms with the fact that he’s a ghost and required to go back and fight crime as a spirit.
Do you see what happened here in this issue?
You have a story concept of a Ghost Cop Fighting Crime, but in your first issue, you don’t actually have any (or very minimal) Ghost Cop Fighting Crime action.
Instead you have explanation as to why you’re gonna see Ghost Cop Fighting Crime in future episodes.
In indie comics this is wasted opportunity. And in indie comics, you don’t usually get a second chance to convince a reader to buy your book.
(Coincidentally, the concept I just illustrated is why I often advise folks not to start a new comic series with an origin story. Very similar situation.)
When scripting comics, always be aware of where your inciting incident is falling—take note of the distinct start line to the race. Keep it early on. If you do, you’ll be leading the pack, instead of trying to keep up. ▪
About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S. Visit NickMacari.com for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.