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A New Look At INC/INCs

crazyphoto_orig First off, I want to thank Tina Price, Margarita Sweet, and all of the wonderful people who came to my Master Class at the Center Stage Gallery on the 8th and 9th.  I’d also like to thank Scriptwriters Network’s Melessa Sargent, Erica Dozier, and all of the fantastic writers who joined me at CBS Radford Studios for my talk on Pitching.  I hope you guys had as much fun as I did.

Not to gyp those people, but I made a discovery while I was putting together the slides for the Master Class that I’d like to share with everybody else.  As you know, I’m all about the “5 Keystones”.  The INC/INC, MP, EA2, SB and S!  If you don’t know what those mean, click 5-Keystones and get up to speed.

Now, for years, whenever anybody asked me about Inciting Incidents (“INC/INCs“) the conversation would go something like this:

YOU:  Hey Rob, I’m curious about these Inciting Incident thingies.
ME:  Well, you’ve come to the right place.  What do you need to know?
YOU:  What are they?  What do they do?  And where do I find them?
ME:  Okay, so everything.
YOU:  Uh yes.  But lunch is on me.
ME:  Okay.  Inciting Incidents are the incidents that incite your characters into the action of the movie.  They take the characters from their happy inertia on page one and propel them to do the things that entertain us during the course of the movie.  You can find them just about anywhere in the first 30 or so pages but, if you twisted my arm I’d say you should start your search somewhere around page 12 (or minute 12 if you’re watching a video).

Then I drop the mic and leave the stage.  And thus, it has been since I started answering these questions.  Why have I answered it this way?  Mainly because it’s all I’ve ever read ever since I started reading about screenwriting and listening to scriptwriting gurus.

Have I always written Inciting Incidents like this?  No!

In fact, let’s look at the INC/INC for THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG.  Is it (A) when the Fenner brothers tell Tiana that they’re going to sell her restaurant to somebody else or is it (B) When Tiana kisses Naveen and turns into a frog?

Take a second and answer the question yourself before you continue reading.

2014-03-22ANewLookAtINC-INCsThe answer is both.  One inhibits Tiana from what she was doing before (working hard and saving all of her money to buy her restaurant).  It also propels her into the second action, kissing Naveen to replace the money.  When she turns into a frog it incites her into the action of the movie.  What?!  TWO INCITING INCIDENTS?!  This is heresy!

I did the same thing in TREASURE PLANET.  Jim Hawkins is a reckless young man who gets arrested for joy riding.  The arrest inhibits his previous behavior.  But it’s not until Billy Bones gives him the map that he’s incited into the action of going to space to find the treasure.

Here’s where everybody’s gotten it wrong for all those years.  There are such things as perfect INC/INCs that do both.  Those are the ones that books and gurus talk about but I can’t find a single book or guru who talks about it the other way.  Why is that?

It’s obvious.  Most of these books and seminars are by people who don’t write for a living.  They’re never sitting in front of a blank page trying to figure this stuff out.  And they’re never listening to the pitches of novice screenwriters and trying to teach them how to shape their stories into masterpieces.

Those guys don’t have to break stories every few weeks.  They’re not rewriting flawed screenplays all the time.  They’re not constantly trying (as we do here) to introduce dynamic characters who are doing the thing they most love to do, then stopping that action and propelling their characters into the action of the movie.  Maybe they just don’t know you can’t always do it in one scene because they’ve never tried to do it.  In either case, it’s dogma and it’s wrong.

For now let’s use the term “INC/INC” when we’re talking about a single incident but let’s use INHIBITING INCIDENT and “INCITING INCIDENT (INH/INC and INC/INC) when we’re doing it in two.

Here’s how they work…

When Andy puts Buzz on his bed and Woody falls to the ground in TOY STORY, that one INC/INC instantly changes the definition of Woody as favorite toy and propels him into the action of the movie (doing whatever he can to regain his status as favorite toy).

When Mother Gothel breaks her promise to take Rapunzel to the city to see the annual floating lights in TANGLED, it incites Rapunzel to use whatever means she can to leave the tower and go to the ceremony.

However…

In THE INCREDIBLES it’s done in two.  INH/INC:  Bob’s actions lead to legislation that makes being a superhero illegal.  INC/INC:  Bob gets an envelope from Mirage inciting him to come to Nomanisan Island to destroy the Omnidroid and relive his glory days. Those two events happen years apart but, together, they give us fun dynamics that let us fully tell the epic story of Bob’s journey to “be more than Mr. Incredible.”

In FINDING NEMO, Marlin is introduced doing what he loves the most.  He’s a great husband and an incredible father. In the film’s INH/INC, a barracuda eats his wife and children.  That pretty much brings his husbanding and multiple parenting days to a halt.  Years later, Nemo is ready for his first day of school and Marlin’s overprotective parenting leads to Nemo getting swept away to Sydney, Australia, and Marlin is incited to spend the rest of the movie “finding Nemo”.

I’m fond of saying, “You can learn how to use a screwdriver without forgetting how to use a hammer.”  Use this new tool or go back to the dogma.  It’s up to you.  The glory of using two moments to slingshot your characters into action is that each of those moments gives you a dynamic and entertaining sequence.  Knowing what they are means you won’t find yourself stumbling over these moments in your writing or fumbling through them in a pitch.

Got it?  As always, I sometimes feel like I’m blogging into an abyss so just type the words “Got it!” in the comment section below so I know you guys are reading this stuff.

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  • ChRiS

    A very interesting approach!

    I will put it to good use.
    SInce I sometimes have multiple characters that the reader can use as a “vessel” to vire the story, this is more than useful to me.

    On a side-note: The INC/INC for me, is when the “adventure” of the character starts (triggered by

    “something”).

    Sounds like your ‘Master Class’ was a full on success !

    Great to hear that.
    Thanks again, Rob!

    • Rob Edwards

      Bullseye! You’re dead on. The INC/INC triggers your protagonist into action. Preferably the action of the movie.

      And, yes, the Master Class was a blast. I hope you get to join us for the next one if you’re in town!

      • ChRiS

        Glad to hear that!
        Unfortunately, I’m across the pond. But maybe life treats me better…someday ;)

  • Brian Bullock

    Thanks Rob. Informative and insightful as always!

    • Rob Edwards

      Merci beaucoup!

  • Lauren Barnette

    Great entry, got it!

    • Rob Edwards

      Thanks!

  • Nicole briscoe

    Got it! I was wondering why my incinc was on page 12 but my character wasn’t suppose to enter the new world till page 30. To much time between, but if there is a second incinc then that closes the gap. Thanks!!!!! Much needed!

    • Rob Edwards

      Yep. One closes the door on the old. The other opens the door on the new. You can also invert them. Look at STAR WARS. Obi Wan asks Luke to come with him and become a Jedi like his father (the INC/INC) and Luke says no because he has to work on the farm. Then he gets home to find his family’s farm has been burned down and his aunt and uncle killed (the INH/INC) and he has no option but to go on the adventure with Obi Wan. Both sequences give you dynamics and fun and make for great writing!

  • Danielle

    Got it! Encouraging for those times when the story’s natural inc/inc doesn’t fall in line with the formula.

    • Rob Edwards

      Exactly! That’s why I hate formulas. You don’t need them. You just need tools to get you through different situations. And I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog!

  • Bree Woodruff

    My head is going to pop! Oh, this is so helpful! I am going to try that now.

    • Rob Edwards

      It will save you from a million boring first sequences, believe me.

  • Lerone

    Got it. Reading your blog and seeing you speak at OBS a while back has made my writing so much stronger, it’s ridiculous. Thanks for taking time out to help.

    • Rob Edwards

      Thanks Lerone. You made my day!

  • Holden Weihs

    Say, is there a larger version of that group photo? I wouldn’t mind a version I could download.

    • Rob Edwards

      I know. I just clicked it myself and was surprised that it didn’t blow up. I’ll get on that.

  • sidney

    Got it!!! Thanx.

    • Rob Edwards

      Gracias.

  • UPB13

    Rob, I’m really enjoying your blog, which I just found a few days ago. Your outlining articles are essential. HOWEVER! You stopped after the midpoint. I need to see how you sequence 2b and Act 3. You’re killing me here!

    • Rob Edwards

      Ha! Sorry about that. I’ll be continuing that series in a couple of weeks. Thanks for the kick in the pants.

  • Margarita

    Absolutely essential instruction! Following all your articles and sharing with my colleagues

  • Tina Price

    It was a pleasure having Rob Edwards at Center Stage Gallery. The energy and information packed into two days was amazing. Great stuff. Thanks Rob and everyone involved for a great session.

  • Oseremi

    Great tool! Two questions; kinda long…

    1. Would it be fair to say the “inhibiting incident” comes from an external force on the main character? I’m stumped trying to think of an example where an INH/INC comes from an internal conflict within the main character.

    2. I’m also wondering: if it does come from an internal conflict, would that be a missed opportunity to build “the world” and underlying motifs?

    By “the world,” I mean a sense that “the world is bigger than [the character] thinks.” A sense that reality pops the bubble the character has been living in.
    From your examples: in PRINCESS AND THE FROG, the INH/INC comes from a higher bidder (the reality of money and a reminder of the motif: rich vs. poor).
    In TREASURE PLANET, it comes from being arrested (the reality of rules and the motif: outlaws vs. the law/moral).
    In FINDING NEMO, inh/inc comes from family being eaten by a barracuda (reality of the sea, the world, and a motif of danger vs. safety).
    With THE INCREDIBLES, it’s the legislation (again, reality of rules and law, motif: ordinary/civilian vs. super).
    Even MULAN was inhibited by the law of no woman in the army.

    I feel like all the examples you listed build up the setting very well. There is conflict that comes with the characters living in those places/times/politics/cultures. Would I miss out on building the setting and building motifs towards the theme? Or would flipping the inc/inc to be external and inh/inc to be internal work as a simple solution [random example: inc/inc – character wins lottery, inh/inc – character has expensive tastes]?