Thursday, December 1, 2011



It used to be that a novel’s inciting incident came thirty or forty pages in, after the reader had settled into the world of the novel, met the major characters, & gotten a feel for whatever the norm was in the protagonist’s life. Over the years, the inciting incident has inched closer & closer to the beginning of the novel, so that now it’s not surprising at all (especially in teen lit) to discover the inciting incident on page one. We live in a world of immediacy – but that is another post.

The word incite came to English in the 1400s through Middle French (enciter) which came from Latin (incitare – to put into rapid motion). The in- can mean in, on, into or upon, while the –citare means to rouse, instigate, stimulate, urge, stir or encourage.

So while a novel’s inciting incident puts the story into rapid motion, the story as a whole incites much more. The year Carol Plum-Ucci’s compelling novel What Happened to Lani Garver first hit the stands, one of my 8th graders plowed through the book in a night, then rushed into my class the next morning, clutching the book to her heart and exhorting, “This book changed the way I see the world.” Wow. There’s a novel that did some inciting.

Few authors expect to incite that sort of internal riot, but most of us do dream of inciting something: the heart, the head, the aspirations, political awareness, action, reverie, appreciation, humor...

Good followers, what sort of inciting do you hope to do with your novels?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,, the OED,, &


  1. Oh, Charlie, I LOVE to incite and excite imagination and creativity!

  2. I like that word and the idea of incite! Maybe that's where my passion for writing really comes from?

  3. Ahoy Anne, Joan & Jean Ann,
    Thanks for stopping in. The three of you have incredibly disparate ways of inciting, but each of you do. May you be as fortunate as Carol Plum-Ucci, and actually change the way your readers see the world.