Can You Say “Inciting Incident”!?

Doesn’t this sound like the start of a movie to you?


With a well-oiled WHIRR, wrought iron gates glide open.

A giant black Escalade rockets out into the leafy street. The SUV slides through a corner, rocks as it tries to regain control, slips sideways and can’t scramble back on the road — SMACKING a tree. CRASH. Airbags. Then, silence.

Nothing happens.

The heavy gates begin to swing shut.

A figure sprints out of the shadows. A gorgeous woman, NIKI FINDERGUN, 30s, clever, high-spirited and furious, barefoot, wears a tee shirt and carries a 9 iron.

She reaches the silent SUV and swings the golf club like a pro, SHATTERING the driver’s window.


Okay, apologies to our golf hero. But look at how fast this story has mushroomed, from a late night traffic accident to, within days, voice mail messages played on national television, giant cash offers to the wife to stay in the marriage, etc. etc.

If the scene above is the start of a movie, look at how much is NOT there… we FIND OUT later that the guy in the car is a sports hero. We FIND OUT later what relationship he has with his wife. We FIND OUT later about the first girlfriend, then the second, sluttier one, and wow, his true love, another dude on the team.

You don’t have to include heaps of backstory in the first act. You start with action and fill in the blanks as needed.

As FADE IN: is when the gated community gates open… you have wasted zero time on backstory — and there’s all the time in the world for action and story development after you hit the ground running. With a golf club.



Filed under Inciting Incident

5 responses to “Can You Say “Inciting Incident”!?

  1. Pingback: Screenwriting Best of the Web | The Story Department

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Precisely. You deal with the backstory a tad later. A giant problem with many screenplays is telling the backstory before the story starts. Set up. Set up. Set up. That’s what happens, and it bogs your story down in stuff you think you have to include. Nope. Get it rolling and then salt in the few crucial bits and forget the rest.

  2. Excellent advice. Easy to forget if you read too many books that tell you the inciting incident has to be on p. 29…

  3. Hopefully, the books are saying the End of Act I has happened by p. 29…

  4. I was looking at Source Code the other day, and I really like how it just starts with a guy on a train with amnesia. Bam! Right into the story – no 10 pages of his boring day job, bickering family, whatever. (Okay, I guess in an amnesia story you can’t really do that without giving away the mystery.)

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