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My novel starts with the three heroes joining a cattle drive. When they talk among themselves, it's obvious that they have some kind of hidden agenda. We'll learn more about thier secret mission over time.

In this story, the inciting incident, refusal of the call, and start of the quest are all backstory. I probably shouldn't be trying to break the rules this soon in my writing career, but I'm sure I've seen stories that start with the hero's mission in progress.

What's the best way to pull that off?

(This is similar to Is starting In Media Res compatible with a Three-Act Structure?, but even that author is willing to put the inciting incident at the start of the story).

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I highly recomend reading the novel "Holes" (the 2003 film is probably the only film to break the "book was better" rule, being 99% faithful, but I still recommend a read through). Long story short, the novel basically has three stories running through out, and the first starts in media res and the "inciting incident" of that first story is told concurrently with the present day first story and flashback second story. Later a 3rd entirely seperate flashback story expands upon a minor plot point mentioned in the begining.

With In Media Res stories, your "Inciting Incident" is not going to be the backstory, but the events that happen as a result of the heroes meeting up. Consider Star Wars (A New Hope) which opens with Vader's ship attacking Leia. The inciting incident isn't "Leia has the Death Star plans" and we don't get to see that story for nearly 40 years. Rather it's Luke receiving her "Help Me Obi-Wan Kenobi" while repairing R2-D2 (and they are focused on so heavily because at the time, George Lucas was homaging the Japanese film "Hidden Fortress" which is an epic Jidi Geki (lit. Period Piece, basically a Samurai Film. Also the origin of the word "Jedi") told from the point of view of the comic relief duo.).

Another film you should look for inspiration is Rashamon (also a Japanese film, but I you've probably seen the basic plot... Hollywood loved this film). Here, the story starts almost at the end, with a priest and a wood carver, reflecting on a disturbing series of events that took place. A samurai was recently murdered and at the trial, three separate witnesses tell an incompatible tale of events leading up to the murder. Not unusual accept each witness confesses that they and they alone killed the samurai (and one witness is supposedly the spirit of the samurai himself!).

  • "probably the only film to break the 'book was better' rule". No, many films are better than the book. Planet of the Apes (1968, Rod Serling script), and Psycho (1960, directed by Hitchcock) are two obvious examples. – Ray Butterworth Nov 7 at 13:37
  • In Star Wars, what if Luke didn't exist, Leia was the hero, and it still started with her ship being fired on? What would be the incitiing incident? – Shawn V. Wilson Nov 7 at 15:58
  • What is the inciting incident of Rashomon? The priest and the woodcarver are the framing story, really, so I doubt it has anything to do with them. – Shawn V. Wilson Nov 7 at 16:00
  • @raybutterwort: I vote to elect a baseline. We need a film everyone agrees was equal to the book. Then we can talk which film was better than the book or not. – Mindwin Nov 7 at 16:32
  • @Mindwin: I nominate Holes... it's 99% faithful to the book and the one difference was the the director and author of the book refused to let a then-teenage Shia leBouf put on then lose the weight required for his character. Plus Sigorny Weaver as the Warden and John Voit as Mr. Sir was perfect casting of the characters. – hszmv Nov 7 at 17:13

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