One of the first things young writers learn is the necessity of the Inciting Action.
Getting the plot moving, putting pressure on the characters, establishing a time limit, creating a conflict: it’s the job of the inciting action to get all these things moving.
When someone is reading the story, the inciting action usually doesn’t seem like much. If you’re a good writer, the reader may not even notice it, but they WILL notice it eventually.
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…”
So begins the beloved children’s tale The Hobbit by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.
(So I know his full name. Sue me…)
(Also, isn’t Reuel a TERRIBLE name? Poor little John Ronald. It’s probably Welsh or something.)
However, this opening line is not the inciting action. If nothing had come along to change his mind and his view of the world, Bilbo would have kept on living in his comfortable little hobbit hole for the rest of his life, and who could blame him? He would have lived a nice, quiet life in the beautiful Shire, and all would be just dandy.
He wouldn’t have ever gone on an adventure, or made amazing friends with the dwarves, or seen mountains, or learned that he had more courage than he ever dreamed of, or become pen pals with a 10,000 year old ELF.
Now THAT’S a story!
So what happened in the middle? How did a stubborn, little hobbit go from being comfortable in his hole to sleeping in caves and killing goblins?
Change came in the form of a wizard named Gandalf the Grey.
See Gandalf needed Bilbo’s help. He knew that hobbits were very skilled burglars when they wanted to be, and Gandalf also knew that Bilbo had a bit of spitfire and adventure in him, if only someone were to bring it out.
So what did he do?
He incited the action of Bilbo’s story by approaching him on a very ordinary morning and asking him to come adventuring.
That was it.
So calm, so simple, so ordinary.
And yet so extraordinary!
Of course, things get more interesting when thirteen dwarves show up at his house uninvited, eat all his food, and tell him about gold and dragon-slaying; but the real spark that starts the flame of plot in Bilbo’s story is his conversation with Gandalf because it opens up a world of possibility and action that could never have existed before.
So what does this have to do with you?
Well, here’s the deal:
We’ve been talking for so long about being the protagonist of your own story, but in order to have a story at all there has to be something that kickstarts the plot.
Something has to change about your life – how you view the world, where you live, what you do, how you dress. It can even be something so simple as walking home from work instead of driving.
Whatever it is, heroes take action. They move the plot forward, not because of fate or destiny or some rubbish like that, but because of their choices.
Great stories don’t just happen from living safe, comfortable, repetitious, ordinary lives.
A comfortable hobbit hole does not a good story make.
Now, in Bilbo’s story, he had someone else who was kind and wise enough to get him up out of his chair and drag him out the door, but not all of us are so lucky. Most people have to find an inciting action for themselves.
Again, it doesn’t have to be anything insane. Often the craziest conclusions come from the tiniest of changes and the smallest of choices.
All Bilbo had to do was say “Good Morning” to a wizard, and his life was changed forever.
What will your inciting action be?