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I've noticed that my novel is missing a really strong inciting incident and I can't think of anything strong enough to suffice. The only inciting incidents I'm familiar with seeing in nearly every book is having the protagonist's family be taken or in a position of danger or dump the character in a new environment that they have no choice but to go through. Neither idea works for my novel so I have no idea what to do and can't find any more ideas anywhere.

My original incentive was to have my character go on this quest because he was having debilitating visions that he couldn't control and going on this quest would give him answers and a way to stop it. But I've found that this is way too weak to work. (By the way, his quest is to go and find a goddess who has been captured because only he has the knowledge to find her) (Also, the world is at stake but they don't know that)

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    Why do you think the original incident is too weak to work? Do you mean to say that if you had 'debilitating visions' and someone told you that going to 'place X' could help them stop, you would rather stay in your hometown wallowing over the problem instead of taking action? People in pain will try nearly anything (which is why so many get tricked) to make it stop, but your MC prefers to wait? I don't think those visions are debilitating enough. – Sara Costa Sep 4 '18 at 19:57
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    I agree with Sara. Try making the debilitation worse. He can't speak. He can't go to work. He can't bear bright light. He believes he is dying. A vision tells him he can be free of the pain if he leaves. – DPT Sep 4 '18 at 23:30
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Greed can be an inciting event. People go looking for treasure, to escape poverty.

Knowledge can be an inciting event. Suppose the MC knows she and her village are powerless to confront an evil overlord, but in having these dreams of a trapped goddess she believes are real visions, the MC realizes if she can save the goddess and unleash her power, the goddess will owe her a favor and help fight the evil overlord oppressing her village. (And also save the world.)

Restless curiosity can be an inciting event; for men or women. They are bored with the village and the sameness of it all, they aren't interested in ANY of their romantic prospects, they are about to be forced to choose an empty life: They run away.

Love or Altruism can be an inciting incident. In The Hunger Games, the girl volunteers to take her sister's place, out of love. Altruism can work similarly, our MC loves somebody, relative or not, that needs something or wants something they cannot get themselves. Medicine, a magical amulet, whatever. Our MC for the sake of their friend's well-being or happiness chooses the quest. ("Friend" could instead be a parent, grandparent, a mentor, a teacher, a sibling, anybody they love that cannot go themselves.)

The quest is to get something. It could be a physical thing, a favor, some kind of knowledge, or just excitement, or justice, or power, or to find love.

It can be a personal thing, or a thing on behalf of somebody else. Give your character something they want and want very badly. That is why they risk their lives on this quest.

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    Yeah, basically. +1 – Fayth85 Sep 4 '18 at 20:28
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    Dreams, visions and voices are good motivators, +1 – David M Sep 5 '18 at 1:45
  • Sorry to be nit picky. Poverty is not having what you need. Greed is wanting more than you need. It doesn't make sense to attribute greed as the motive if poverty is the motive. – Matt Ellen Sep 5 '18 at 8:00
  • @MattEllen In stories, few people go on a treasure quest so they can survive ever after on peanut butter sandwiches washed down with water. They go on a treasure quest for a dramatic reversal of fortune, in the literal sense. To become rich, wealthy, and often as a consequence gain power and social standing. That actually IS wanting more than they need. Even in modern times, the vast majority of people taking risks to escape poverty actually do want more than they need and would not be satisfied with guaranteed day-by-day survival. – Amadeus Sep 5 '18 at 10:11
  • Your statement is saying they're the same. People can want two things. People who want to leave poverty can be greedy. Wanting to leave poverty is not greedy. – Matt Ellen Sep 5 '18 at 13:12
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Remember, even in fantasy we're looking for situations we can relate to. For that reason the most compelling inciting incidents change for different phases of life:

  • For a young child, curiosity is enough for an active entry into the narrative (Alice in Wonderland) and being unwillingly placed in an unfamiliar situation is a relateable passive one (Spirited Away).

  • For an adolescent, the overall theme is almost always growing up, which can mean different things for different people. So almost any inciting incident can work for this age including feeling dissatisfied or suffocated, or even seemingly random decision making (Catcher in the Rye).

  • For a young grownup, ambition, competition, adventure and the promise of romance are compelling (Master of the 5 Magics).

  • For a more established grownup, one with a family, the stakes need to be higher. The family would need to be in danger (Taken), or maybe the family is penniless and starving, or perhaps some larger big picture situation calls. Maybe there's a war, or the world is in danger (Independence Day). Or maybe it's just all part of the job (Lethal Weapon).

  • For an elder adult, the storyline might be re-entering the world after losing a spouse, or recommitting to living life to the fullest, or deciding to have one last adventure (any recent Morgan Freeman movie), or being forced out of comfort by circumstances beyond one's control (Remains of the Day).

Of course, these are not hard and fast rules, but they make your job easier. Let's assume, for instance, your hero is a young man without a family of his own. You've got a golden opportunity here with the visions. They aren't just debilitating, they're about something. Is it a golden palace, with a temptingly empty throne? A beautiful woman (the goddess)? Exotic lands? You've got both the carrot and the stick here, something to pursue (the content of the visions) and something to try to avoid (the visions themselves).

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If your character has no reason at all to go on the Plot Quest, then you're missing more than an inciting incident - you're missing a functional antagonist. The antagonist is often (not always) the force behind the inciting incident. It's literally the antagonist's job to be the thing that drives the protagonist forward. If you don't have an antagonist, your protagonist has no reason to move.

So consider: What is preventing your character from finding the goddess? If nothing is preventing him, why not?

My own beta described this phenomenon as "someone in this story needs to want something". Either your protagonist needs to want to find the goddess despite obstacles standing in his way (in which case whatever alerts him to the existence of the goddess and the benefits of finding her is your inciting incident), or someone wants to stop him from finding the goddess badly enough to take action to prevent him (which would result in your inciting incident, as your protagonist narrowly escapes whatever the antagonist does to stop him).

Figure out what's standing in your protagonist's way. Once you know that, you'll be able to craft an appropriate inciting incident based on that antagonist.

  • I think there's a circular argument hiding in there. The antagonist is, quite by definition, what stands in the way of the protagonist achieving the goal. If the protagonist needs the antagonist to be "the thing that drives the protagonist forward", you're essentially having the nominal protagonist be the nominal antagonist's... antagonist (ergo, the nominal antagonist is actually the protagonist, which of course poses the problem of what drives him/her in the first place) – Digital Dracula Sep 5 '18 at 5:49
  • One of the first things taught when I got my screenwriting degree was that without an antagonist, you have no story - you just have the protag accomplishing their goal, with no tension to make it interesting. The antagonist drives the story. The protag reacts to the antagonist, whether the antagonist is a person, an external force like weather, an internal force like disease or self-doubt, etc. Yes, you can argue that it's circular - every antagonist is the protag of their own story - but the writer chooses the protagonist. Whoever the protag is, you need an antagonist to have a story. – thatgirldm Sep 5 '18 at 15:36
  • I don't disagree with that, but in my opinion that's not what you presented before. You need an antagonist to have a story, yes. But the protagonist doesn't. What I mean by that is, you, the writer, need the tension but from the protagonist's perspective s/he doesn't and the quest cannot possibly be predicated on the antagonist. Or it can, but it would create a very thin, uninteresting protagonist. – Digital Dracula Sep 6 '18 at 3:04
  • I don't follow your argument, I'm afraid - you say you agree in the beginning, but your final statements specifically disagree. I'm not sure if we're talking past each other or just have different writing philosophies. – thatgirldm Sep 6 '18 at 3:46
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    It's possible, and I don't mean to come off as argumentative. So, let's say that (worst case scenario!) we agree to disagree, and readers can reach their own conclusions. Disagreements are useful too, as long as they are argument-based. Cheers! :) – Digital Dracula Sep 6 '18 at 3:55

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