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?