Every novel has one thing in common. The main character, the protagonist, has a goal. They want something and that desire is what propels the story forward. I’ll use the novel, Twilight by Stephanie Meyers to illustrate my point.
In Twilight, Bella didn’t want to come live with Charlie in Forks. But she sacrificed her happiness for her mother. She had low expectations for Forks from past visits, all she wanted was to blend-in, graduate, and move on.
What does your character want?
Your character’s goal does not have to be tangible. Their desires can be to become a better person- this is an intangible goal. Or they could want acceptance, or peace… The goal could be to gain something tangible: a new car (maybe a first car for a new driver), a coveted award they have been vying for, the heart of a love interest… The possibilities are endless and are only narrowed by your imagination.
The thing about goals, however, they change. Your character may begin the story with a specific goal but usually a quarter into the story something changes. This change makes it impossible for the protagonist to continue in the same manner. The change that takes place is called the inciting incident.
In Twilight, the inciting incident is when Edward rescues Bella from being crushed by the van. She was already highly aware of him because of his aloof attitude with her. After he rescues her from being crushed – and with supernatural strength to boot – she is awestruck.
Once the inciting incident occurs, usually the protagonist has a change of heart regarding their goal. It is no longer what they want or it is unachievable and therefore a new goal is found. Why?
After the nearly fatal almost-accident, Edward saved her from, her goal changes from blending. She is drawn to him and wants to know him. Wants to be with him despite her growing suspension (then confirmation) that he is very different from any boy she has ever met. This is her new goal.
Okay, so you got it right? I thought I’d list one more example to ensure you understand.
The Hunger Games
Initial Goal – Katniss’s initial goal was to survive her current circumstances: The harsh life in District 12.
Inciting Incident - The Hunger Games are taking place and Prim, Katniss’s sister is called as a tribute for District 12.
New Goal – Katniss rushes to take Prim’s place in The Hunger Games. Her new goal is to survive the games.
Do you see that after the inciting incident Katniss’s goal changes? It must. She does not have a choice in the matter. It is either win (survive) or lose (die). Not all stories, of course, will have such compelling inciting incidents. Some will give the protagonist a choice. You can do this or you can do that…but some, like in the example, only leave one possible choice. Win or die.
Can you point out the inciting incident in your own work? What is your characters goal before this? How does that goal change after the inciting incident?
Have a great day. Read a book and laugh.