Tom Avitabile: The inciting incident

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TOM_CMYKMost every great story, film, or play had its inception from a spark of an image, or line of dialogue, sound, or expression of a feeling, deep within the mind, that drives the writer to completion. Think of it as finding a beautiful gem, then spending a year working on the perfect setting that will support, display and show off this jewel in all its glory.

More often than not, this sparkling idea comes to us as a single dramatic beat or sequence that engages you as a writer. It becomes the carrot at the end of your stick, guiding you toward the writing of your story. Hold that literary moment in a cherished place and remember that it’s first and foremost for you, not necessarily for the readership at large. In a really good story, the reader should not be aware of this point of origin as they read it. They don’t have to necessarily realize that this was the seed from which the entire story – all the characters, plots, details and flow – sprang forth.

If this incident should fade or be replaced as you construct your story world, characters, and plots, that’s okay. Respect it and honor it for having gotten you that far.

Some of my inciting incidents:

  • “It’s not a computer virus, it’s a sperm.” became The Eighth Day.
  • “I can’t believe you shot my Dad!” became The Hammer of God.
  • “The death of time itself.” became The God Particle.
  • “The last thing a murder victim sees is burnt into the retina of the eye” became Smile… You’re Dead!
  • “Health Plan hookers” became The Seduction of Evil.
  • “Sorry to inform you, you are a widow” became Wife and Death.
  • “Spending money like the devil.” became Prey to Hell.
  • “Man, woman, it’s all the same in the dark.” became Silent Prey.
  • “Polaroid number 7” became Ask Not.
  • “Mexican standoff… in Mexico!” became The Whole Enchilada.

And finally but most importantly:

  • “Is this seat taken?” became me, when my Dad asked my Mom that question back in the fifties.


Hammer of God front cover


Tom Avitabile is the author of two novels, including The Hammer of God, published by our sister company, Fiction Studio Books. You can find out more about it here.

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On April 24, 2013
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