“The Inciting Incident”
College Writing 1, Br. Lawrence Oelschlegel
I was inspired to write about these specific moments because they were turning points in my life. Despite the obstacles I encountered during my journey, I realized that writing was extremely important to me, and I never wanted to let it go. I wouldn't be the person I am today had I not decided to take a leap of faith and write for my own enjoyment.
Excerpt from “The Inciting Incident”
“During the four years I began working on this book, it became the first in a trilogy I titled Rising Moon. I remember the exact moment I finished the final book. It was late summer, nearly fall at this point. I was sitting on the hammock outside, typing away furiously on my laptop. Every single time I was approaching the end of a short story, I got an adrenaline rush from the excitement of it. This instance was no different. I remember typing the last sentence, though I can’t recall what it was, and then sitting in silence, reflecting on all that had happened since I’d begun Night’s journey. I’d realized that I’d grown up with her.”
The Inciting Incident
by Lauren Raimbault
I’ve always found comfort in structure. Knowing what to expect can bring peace of mind, as well as make writing and digesting literary works a bit easier. Even if I can’t predict the exact moves of each character, I can follow the beats of the story. I know that after the introduction, trouble will arise. I know calm moments will be followed by a tense scene. I know that at the end, when everything seems to be falling apart with no hope of being pieced back together, it will all work out. Of course, the author can play around with this format, but there is one thing that is and always will stay the same: the inciting incident. That’s a fancy phrase for the moment everything changes. Though the memory is a bit hazy, I can still recall my inciting incident with becoming an—and I use this term very lightly—author.
Nearly everyone hated Young Authors. Why would a bunch of elementary students enjoy being forced to be creative, and then be judged against their peers to see who had the best imagination? That’s what Young Authors was all about—each student turned in an original story they had written, and after the teachers judged each one, a winner was chosen. The prize wasn’t just bragging rights, though. The short story was printed as an actual book to be displayed in the school library for all to see. As exciting as this all might sound, not everyone was thrilled to participate. All they could get out of Asante was a paragraph about a sentient pickle. My sister just copied the plot to E.T one year, and she won the contest! However, not everyone dreaded this assignment. To a handful of students, Young Authors were some of the best few weeks of the year. I’m able to write about whatever I want? Heck yes! Every year, my excitement grew as the time for Young Authors grew closer, and when it finally did arrive, I was in Heaven—at least, if Heaven was a creaky desk and clunky desktop computer.
My inciting incident occurred in fifth grade. Young Authors had rolled around once again, and while many students busied themselves with putting the assignment off until the last minute, I was one of the few who made sure to carve out a few hours every day to work on my story. Like every Young Authors assignment I had turned in, this one was going to be a fictional story about animals. The only difference was that this year, I would write about my animals. At the time, my family had three guinea pigs (Frappuccino, Starburst, and Hedgie) and a cat (Cheddar), so I wrote a book about the guinea pigs’ journey to the United States via boat. They met Cheddar and his fictional mate Schmoop, as well as their kittens Lion, Tiger, and Bear in an allusion to The Wizard of Oz. I titled my work “The Trip,” dusted off my hands, and turned it in. To a fifth grader, this was some riveting content, capable of reshaping society and the very world as we knew it. Unfortunately, I didn’t win the contest, so my dream of changing the world with this story flopped.
After the winner was announced and I overcame my disappointment of her not being me, I found myself constantly thinking about my characters. I seemed to have gotten attached to my animals’ fictional counterparts somewhere during the writing process. I couldn’t stop wondering what Frappuccino and the gang were doing in Maine after being adopted by a human family. Were Lion, Tiger, and Bear all grown up? Were the guinea pigs and cats getting along well? Alas, I would have to wait until next year’s Young Authors in order to write the sequel… Unless I didn’t wait for Young Authors. No, that was too daring of an idea, but… Maybe I didn’t have to turn in a story and get graded on it for creativity and grammar. Maybe, and I mean just maybe, I could write for fun. This was a life-changing moment for me, though certainly not an extreme one. I had just exited the darkness and seen the sun, though I wasn’t necessarily forced to do so as Plato suggests in his “Allegory of the Cave.” In fact, this was something I very much wanted to do. I have a small snippet of a memory of sitting down at the computer in the front room, the desk covered in clutter. I can distinctly recall opening up a new word document and staring at the blank screen, a bit blinded and overwhelmed by the neon white of the page. But I wrote.
I don’t remember much about the actual process of writing “The Trip’s” sequel. I can recall the general plot of the story, though. It followed the same characters from “The Trip,” exploring their new lives in America, the inciting incident being Bear getting lost while hunting with his father. I can remember feeling the sadness Schmoop felt when Cheddar lost Bear in the woods, and I remember the despair Cheddar felt at his error and the disapproval of his mate. It might sound silly, but I was actually tearing up. I guess fifth grade me had a soft spot for elementary-level writing. Thankfully Bear was found, and the sequel came to a close. Writing the finale was exciting. It set my heart racing and made my hands shake. All of this work I’d put in, and I was done… Now that the hard part of getting my thoughts and ideas out was complete, it was time for the even harder part—proofreading. All of the editing I did when I was younger led me to be the perfectionist I am today, a trait that clashes unnaturally with my laziness. I like to think the former trait overpowers the latter more often than not. I read through “The Woods” once a day, correcting spelling, punctuation, and clearing up phrases that didn’t quite flow right. I can assure you, this technique of reading and rereading and rereading again was exhausting. After about four or five days of this, I complained to my dad. He writes occasionally in his free-time, so he was my go-to for writing advice. He said that when he’s editing one of his books, he’ll let the story sit untouched for a while until he forgets about it. When he finally goes back to read it through, it’s much easier to pick up on any errors. After hearing his technique, I did just that. “Just that” consisted of going about my normal, not-writing life. I was too excited to let it sit for very long, though. It was only about three or four days before I blew the very thin layer of electronic dust off of it and read it once more. My young mind was amazed at all I had missed in my previous reading! How could my brain have betrayed me like that and skip over misspellings, incontinuities, and simple capitalization errors? After discovering all I had overlooked in my previous edits, you might think I would have exercised my dad’s advice one or two more times, but you would be wrong. Nope, “The Woods” was in tip-top shape and ready to become one of the greats. I made a snazzy cover with WordArt and some images of animals from Google before burning through our supply of ink by printing a copy of the short story in its entirety. I stapled the pages together and held the still-warm stack in my hand. I was holding a masterpiece. Well, maybe not a masterpiece, but I was convinced I was pretty darn close to one! All that mattered was that I had finished, and it was time to work on to the next New York Times Number One Best Seller.
I hate to disappoint, but “The Woods” didn’t, in fact, become the masterpiece I had anticipated it to be. Even though it wasn’t flying off the shelves of Barnes and Noble faster than copies could be printed, writing it gave me something even more precious than a fancy “best-seller” sticker on the cover: an outlet. Since I was so much younger than I am now, I didn’t realize how important writing was to understanding myself. I know that must sound a bit sappy, but writing is more therapeutic than I originally thought before working on this very narrative.
In sixth grade, I was obsessed with wolves. They were beautiful creatures to me, and they still are to this day. This new-found fascination led to hours of research on wolves and how their packs function. The figurative lightbulb above my head lit up, and I knew it was time to work on a new story. My writing process hadn’t changed in the year since I had finished “The Woods,” but the way I approached my main character did. Her name was Night, and she was the runt of her litter. This led to her shy demeanor and tendency to underestimate herself. For the first time, I had put a piece of myself into a character, even if it was done subconsciously. I wrote this book, which I later titled “A New Life,” during a pivotal time of my emotional development. Sixth grade is a strange and hormonal time, and writing about Night was almost like journaling.
I don’t know where the thought came from, but I wanted “A New Life” online for people to see and read. I wanted them to fall in love with my characters the way I had. My dad came to my aid once again, and together we found a website with a thriving community of young authors like myself. Within a matter of minutes, I had made an account, and “A New Life” was on the web. Then my dad shook my hand and said, “Congratulations, you are now a published author.” It was a bizarre feeling to say the least. So quickly, something I had created was visible to the world. All I had to do was wait for my fan base to form.
Needless to say, I didn’t form a huge audience. I can’t say I’m surprised. Looking back now, I can barely read through a few paragraphs of my old stories before I close the tab out of embarrassment. However, it seems some people would rather post a negative comment than just leave. A few weeks after posting “A New Life,” I received my first piece of constructive criticism, but by “constructive criticism,” I mean trying and failing to be helpful. Another user on the site stumbled onto my story and commented on the first chapter. The comment was a good long paragraph of poorly phrased criticism. The two points she made that stick out the most in my mind were my characters' names not being very good and the plot being cliché. Back in seventh grade, I didn’t even know what cliché meant, so I had to Google the word. I remember thinking, “Well, I suppose the main character being a runt could be considered cliché…” At the time, however, I was more focused on improving my craft than developing original ideas. I don’t disagree with her on either of the two points—it was her delivery I didn’t particularly care for. She came off as condescending, and being only eleven at the time, it didn’t feel that great having a seventeen-year-old talk to me the way she did. That night, my dad and I went out to dinner. On the drive there, I told him all about my first piece of criticism. It turns out, I wasn’t overreacting and getting defensive for no reason—my dad thought these were all insignificant points she was making as well. I wanted to learn how to craft better sentences, improve pacing, and develop characters well, not come up with better names for my characters. As time went on, the comment became a funny anecdote, and has become somewhat of an inside-joke in our family. I’m just glad a negative comment didn’t take away my enjoyment of writing.
During the four years I began working on this book, it became the first in a trilogy I titled “Rising Moon.” I remember the exact moment I finished the final book. It was late summer, nearly fall at this point. I was sitting on the hammock outside, typing away furiously on my laptop. Every single time I was approaching the end of a short story, I got an adrenaline rush from the excitement of it. This instance was no different. I remember typing the last sentence, though I can’t recall what it was, and then sitting in silence, reflecting on all that had happened since I’d begun Night’s journey. I’d realized that I’d grown up with her. I can recall a scene where Night is drinking from a stream, watching the water gurgle by on its journey to the ocean. Night thought to herself, “In a thousand years, this water will have altered the land more than I will in my lifetime.” Though certainly a sad thought, it shows how much she has changed as a wolf by the end of the series. She is a mother and the alpha of her pack. She overcame the odds. In the same way, I came out of my shell. I used to be the shy kid in class. I hated talking in front of my peers and rarely talked in general. Now I’m the complete opposite. I love talking, and even love giving speeches and presentations. I’m much more confident in myself. I know what I want and what to do to achieve my goals. In a way, Night is both a reflection of myself and an inspiration. She didn’t give in to her weaknesses, and she fought until she had everything she wanted and more. She did it, and so can I.