At the beginning of a story, the protagonist enters from a place of normal – the world as they know it. There’s a level of familiarity to all of it, and whether it’s good or bad doesn’t really matter. They have no idea how much change they are about to experience in the story. What does matter is that it’s their current resting pulse, which won’t stay the same for much longer.
The Inciting Incident is the first real moment where the protagonist is aware of the conflict. It is the event that propels them forward into the plot. Additionally, it is the beginning of the story phase I refer to as the Fear of Change.
Protagonists notoriously resist the narrative arc of the story they are in. Even more cooperative protagonists who have previously accepted their role as a hero (such as in a series) will resist some aspect of the narrative. This gives birth to their emotional arc. Both arcs will be established and linked together through the first half of the story. Around the mid-point of the story is typically when a protagonist will stop fighting the narrative, which marks the end of the Fear of Change.
The Mid-point, or Turning Point, is when the protagonist stops being reactive in favor of being proactive.
Between the Inciting Incident and the Turning Point, there’s a lot of resistance from the protagonist. They don’t like moving away from that sense of normal, the familiar. There will always be a moment, though, where the protagonist passes the point of no return – when they can’t go back to the normal. Some story structure discussions will call this the Key Event. (If you want to identify your Key Event, remember that it’s not what gives your protagonist the opportunity to do the thing, it’s the event itself. One of the most concrete examples of this is in Peter Pan when Wendy leaves for Never Never Land – leaving is the Key Event, or the point of no return, whereas Peter Pan using pixie dust on her and the boys is not.)
After the Key Event, there is usually one more – at least one significant – point where the protagonist is forced to react in a significant way. This will be something caused by the antagonist, and will propel them toward the Turning Point. (In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s when the troll attacks Hogwarts.)
When writing your first draft, hitting these marks doesn’t have to be pre-planned. During your read through in preparation for your second draft, though, see if you can identify the Inciting Incident, the Key Event, the Pinch Point that propels them toward the Turning Point, and the Turning Point itself. These elements make up a solid foundation for the first half of your story.
Can you identify the Inciting Incident and Turning Points in your favorite story? How about in your latest work? Will a reader be able to know those moments when they get to them? Do you have any tips for other writers struggling with the first half of their stories? The comments are always open.