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.
The 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.
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.