The Inciting Incident and Key Event

I find a lot of writers aren’t clear on what the inciting incident is, and in those cases, they’ve seldom heard of the Key Event. Both are plot points in the Dramatic Structure, and both usually occur in the first act. It’s possible that the inciting incident occurs before story-time, or at the beginning, but before we get too confused, let’s define exactly what each point is.

Inciting Incident

Photo by John Cameron

The Inciting Incident is plot-related. If you’re a Star Wars nerd, you’ll remember where Princess Leia sends R2-D2 and C3-PO away with plans and a call for help. That’s considered the Inciting Incident. Or when the games are announced on The Hunger Games. The main conflict in your story hasn’t affected the MC yet, but that’s a job for the Key Event.

Key Event

Photo by Markus Spiske

The Key Event is character-related and draws your MC into the plot, oftentimes smacking them in the face. Luke and his uncle’s purchase of R2-D2 and C3-PO draws him into the main conflict, even if he doesn’t know it yet. When Katniss volunteers in her sister’s place is her key event. That one is a bit more in-your-face.

Where do they belong?

Photo by Jacob Miller

As I said, the inciting incident can take place before story-time, such as the setup up the games long before Katniss. This is just a moment where the reader tastes what’s to come. The choice is yours where in the first act you wish to place it, but it often comes before the key event.

The key event takes place half way through the first act, around the 12% mark.

Keep in mind that the Dramatic Structure is more of a guideline than a hard-fast rule. You need to do whatever is best for your story, and if you trust yourself, you’ll often find you put them right where they need to be.

Humans have an innate drive for story-telling, and it’s often only when we overthink it do we mess it up. Also, keep in mind that it all depends where your story starts. If you have no set-up of the ordinary world, you’ll find your two plot points will happen sooner.

My suggestion is to plan them in advance, regardless of where you start. You’ll often go back and change the beginning anyhow. As long as you know what they are, you’re good.

Comment below your favorite inciting incidents and key events!

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