Examples of Inciting Incident in Literature

Definition of Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is a plot point. It overturns the existing condition of the protagonist and introduces conflict and tension into his previous stable life. This critical moment disrupts the balance and forces the protagonist to respond. This brings the entire story into motion. It sparks a call to action which the protagonist cannot ignore propelling him onto a new journey filled with challenges.

The inciting incident introduces the protagonist and plot on a trajectory through the main events. It is the initial disturbance starting the ripple effect, which leads to the ultimate adventure.

Examples of Inciting Incident from literature


“Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare

In the famous play Romeo and Juliet, the inciting incident occurs when Romeo and his friends sneak into the Capulet ball uninvited. Romeo meets and instantly falls in love with Juliet at the ball. This meeting sets off a forbidden romance that deeply impacts both families and leads to the tragic ending:

“O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
As a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear—
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.
…Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.”

Romeo is profoundly changed after meeting Juliet, setting the story irrevocably in motion. Their secret marriage, Romeo’s banishment, and the lovers’ ultimate suicide can all be traced back to this fateful encounter at the Capulet ball.


“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel, the inciting incident occurs when the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby moves in across the bay from the narrator Nick Carraway. Nick becomes intrigued by Gatsby after being invited to one of his extravagant parties. He also learns that Gatsby and his cousin Daisy have a complicated romantic history.

“I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner, and that would do for an introduction. But I didn’t call to him, for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock.”

Gatsby’s arrival and subsequent parties fueled by his obsession with Daisy set in motion the book’s exploration of social class and the American dream. Their renewed love affair leads to tragic results.


“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

In this popular YA novel, the inciting incident occurs when the protagonist Katniss Everdeen takes her sister Primrose’s place at the reaping for the annual Hunger Games. When Prim is chosen as District 12’s female tribute, Katniss volunteers, sparing her sister from certain death in the arena.

…I volunteer!” I gasp. “I volunteer as tribute!”
There’s some confusion on the stage. District 12 hasn’t had a volunteer in decades and the protocol has become rusty. The rule is that once a tribute’s name has been pulled from the ball, another eligible boy, if a boy’s name has been read, or girl, if a girl’s name has been read, can step forward to take his or her place.

Katniss’s decision sets her on a dangerous path that results in surviving the Hunger Games competition, rebelling against the oppressive Capitol, and becoming a symbol of resistance.


“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

In Jane Austen’s beloved novel, the inciting incident occurs when the wealthy Mr. Bingley moves to town and rents the nearby estate of Netherfield. The arrival of an eligible bachelor in the neighborhood stirs up romantic intrigue, especially for Mrs. Bennet who hopes to marry off one of her five daughters.

“Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”
Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.
“But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”

Mr. Bingley’s arrival sets the story in motion, leading to romance between the strong-willed Elizabeth Bennet and the haughty Mr. Darcy. Their differences of opinion and class form obstacles that must be overcome on the path to love.


“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling

In Harry Potter’s first book, the inciting incident occurs when Harry discovers he is a wizard on his 11th birthday. The magical Hagrid arrives to tell Harry about his true heritage and invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

“Harry — yer a wizard.”
There was silence inside the hut. Only the sea and the whistling wind could be heard.
“I’m a what?” gasped Harry.

This discovery thrusts Harry into the wizarding world and leads him on adventures every year at Hogwarts, culminating in his showdown with the evil Lord Voldemort.


“The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

This peaceful beginning sets the stage for the inciting incident when Gandalf, and subsequently, thirteen dwarves, invade Bilbo’s comfortable and predictable life, thrusting him into an adventure beyond his wildest imaginations. This incident disrupts Bilbo’s peaceful existence and leads him on a journey that not only involves treasure and dragons but also personal growth and discovery. Gandalf’s choice of Bilbo as the burglar for the expedition is the spark that ignites the story’s adventure, challenging Bilbo’s bravery and pushing him to discover strengths he never knew he had.

Function of Inciting Incident

The inciting incident is a key plot point that occurs early in the story, usually within the first act. Its main functions are:

  • To disrupt the protagonist’s status quo and “shake up” their ordinary world. Before the inciting incident, the protagonist’s life is relatively stable and in balance. The inciting incident introduces conflict and imbalance.
  • To force the protagonist to take action. The inciting incident sparks a problem or issue that the protagonist must respond to, prompting them to move in a new direction and take steps to resolve the conflict.
  • To set the main events of the plot into motion. The inciting incident triggers a chain reaction of complications and events that drive the rest of the story. It gets the plot moving forward.
  • To hook the reader and capture their interest. An effective inciting incident intrigues readers, makes them ask questions, and keeps them turning pages to see what happens next.
  • To establish the story’s stakes. The inciting incident makes clear what the protagonist stands to gain or lose, revealing the significance of the conflict at hand. Higher stakes equal higher drama.

Related Terms

1- Call to Adventure

The call to adventure refers to the moment the protagonist is presented with a challenge, quest, or opportunity that will take them out of their comfort zone. This often directly follows or overlaps with the inciting incident. For example, in The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins’ call to adventure is when Gandalf invites him to join the dwarf expedition. This call spins out of the inciting incident of Gandalf’s arrival.

2- Plot Point

Plot points are major turning points in the story. They spin the narrative in a new direction. The inciting incident is considered the first and second plot point in a story. It shakes up the status quo and forces characters to make choices that determine the path forward.

The inciting incident sets up the call to adventure. It launces the protagonist’s journey. It also serves as one of the early pivotal plot points that give structure to the overall story. The story is essential to analyze plot and narrative in order to understand that how the inciting incident spurs the protagonist to action and reshapes .

Examples of Inciting Incident in Literature
Examples of Inciting Incident in Literature

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