According to Robert McKee “the inciting incident radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life”. Brian McDonald in “Invisible Ink” describes the inciting incident as a curtain moment, a theatrical term denoting the point at which the curtain is dropped between acts. In theatre you have to get the audience back after the intermission “so acts end on the highest point, when the stakes are at their most desperate”.
While both descriptions tell us that something needs to happen at this point, neither give you any real insight into what needs to happen.
Personally I lean towards John Truby’s interpretation. He calls it the inciting event and describes it as a small step that “connects need and desire”. At the beginning of the story “when weakness and need are being established, the hero is paralysed in some way. You need some kind of event to jump-start the hero out of his paralysis and force him to act”.
Since starting the redraft of Carrion I’ve struggled to pin down the event that metaphorically takes Adam out of the frying pan and drops him in the fire. I had a whole slew of things going on in the fifteen minutes that lead up to this event.
Adam discovers Reiner murdered his daughter, prompting him to take action. Reiner making a direct attack on Christine, forcing Adam to step in to protect her. I’ve explored an infinite number of permutations based on this scenario ending with Christine attacked, forcing Adam to step in and save her.
In the end it all seemed too complicated, demanding of too much exposition. It wasn’t until I started to think about this section, and where it fits into the story, that I started to get a handle on what the inciting event should be.
Adam needs to see the kind of attack society is making on drug users, see what’s going to happen to Christine if he does nothing. Once I’d realised this, things started to fall into place. Adam and Reiner are part of the squad that is tasked with picking up drug users. When Reiner is particularly vicious in his treatment, Adam gets his first glimpse of the coming storm.
The actual event alluded me until the phrase “Adam has to choose Christine” came to me. The more I thought about it, the more I realise it’s the thing that connects Adam’s need and desire, the thing that takes him out of the frying pan and into the fire.
He’s given a choice, prohibition or Christine.
If he chooses prohibition he’s allowing her to die. From that point, Adam’s desire to save Christine kicks in, and the story is under way.