Screenwriting : Inciting incident and first plot point by Lisa Bogner

Lisa Bogner

Inciting incident and first plot point

I have recently started writing my second feature screenplay and am facing a small but kinda crucial problem: The plot in a nutshell is that my protagonist starts to work at a law firm (first scene) and then begins an affair with her boss. The first time they kiss is on page 12. Now, my question is: is them kissing "inciting incident enough" or does it need to be anything bigger? Or earlier? They sleep together O.S. a few pages later (around page 20) so that was gonna be my first plot point. Also, the first ten pages aren't really as "grabbing" as they probably should be and are actually pretty boring because it's mostly one of the characters who already work at the law firm training my protagonist. Should I make them more interesting or can I just leave it and "make up for" the rather boring beginning with the rest of the movie? Thanks in advance!

Shawn Speake

Gotta have a strong opening or readers put pages down. What kind of structure are you following? Who do u study?

Aray Brown

Make them more interesting. Make sure every scene has a purpose. Does the inciting incident change things?

Wayne Jarman

Is the training really that important? If you think it is boring, then it probably needs to be approached differently.

Shawn Speake

Yeap. if she thinks it's boring. Everybody else damn sure will.

Shawn Flanagan

Try not to think so much about page numbers. Write a good story and shape it up down the road. There's plenty of time to move scenes/plots around later. If something fantastic (your first big event) is happening on page 15 or 20, that's too late in the story. Copy and paste that event earlier in the script, experiment a little. You've got to grab peoples attention on page 1... and every single page after that.

Sandrene Mathews

Do we see your protagonist and the boss interact in the first 10 pages? Your first act should be spending time getting to know the characters separately and setting up the stakes for the plot. Why is their affair worth telling a story about? How does it affect other people in their lives? These are things we should at least have a clue about by the time you get to your inciting incident.

Pierre Langenegger

A kiss between two co-workers is not an inciting incident. How has her world changed, how has she been thrust into a position she needs to correct?

If this was the job that would save her family from starvation and her boss kissed her against her will and the CEO saw that and sacked her on the spot and threatened she would never work in this town again, now that's an inciting incident, but somebody kissing their boss, is not.

You need to ramp up the stakes and make it an exciting inciting incident otherwise your reader and viewer will just get bored.

Russel Bonguen

Them kissing could be the inciting incident depending on what the story's about. Doesn't have to be big but has to work with your story. Your Two people kissing what's wrong in doing so in their world? Are they gonna overcome issues once they did it? Does that kiss pushes your hero in a journey? Maybe it's forbidden for them to start an affair as the could lose their jobs? Or the boss is married? The stakes has to be well defined. In "Unfaithful", Richard Gere and Claire Danes, the inciting incident is just an encounter. When Claire Danes encounters the Guy who will later become her fuckmate and she's a married woman with kids.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

Start "in medias res" -- with a strong inciting incident. Then flash back, if you need to.

Anthony Moore

Just a suggestion - Start with the kiss. That should be your opening scene. The next several pages should be establishing that this is a new law firm and that they are trying to build clients. The sexual tension should be building between the protagonist and boss either by trying to deny or hide that the kiss ever happened to the rest of the office. By page 10 the protagonist and his boss should be in bed together.

The rest of Act I should be the usual problems of an office relationship, especially if either or both parties are married or have significant others. But it should definitely end with a concrete threat to the firm itself or the life of either person.

Darren Rapier

No, you can't leave it and make up for it as we will have switched off or the script reader will have stopped reading by then. Tighten up and cut back the first pages - the inciting incident is them sleeping together, it can't happen off screen. :-)

Russel Bonguen

LindaAnn What do you mean by a "strong inciting incident"? help me please

Darren Rapier

It has to kick the character into action, so has to force them to act or force a change. It's not a decision, like your first and seconds act reversal should be. People are lazy, so it has to be strong enough relevent to your character and what would make them act, rather than a universal one-fits-all incident. What would throw your character off balance?

Hernán Crespo

I wouldn't mind seeing more conflict. I assume at least one of them is married, since its an 'affair'. Perhaps that significant other could come into play somehow earlier in the script. Maybe it develops a friendship with his/her partner's the lover without knowing who he/she is. Maybe he/she forgets a personal belonging somewhere that becomes a 'ticking bomb' but ends up triggering the kiss. Spice it up somehow; the first 10 pages are always crucial. Think of what do the hero wants and what's on his/her way. A strong intention facing a great obstacle is usually the key that unravels the rest.

Simon Hartwell

If screen writing is anything like novel writing, when pitching, the first ten pages are crucial, they have to grab attention and hold it. How about opening with a court scene, protagonist's first day, told to meet Boss at court, he see's her in action. Something the witness says catches his attention and he slips her a note suggesting a specific question, the boss quickly grasps the lifeline and eventually wins the case. She begrudgingly acknowledges the help but adds he should not interrupt her again when she is in court.

Darjan A4

Lisa, can you tell us logline of your story first ?

Pidge Jobst

Insofar as what we've been told so far--beginning job/affair/first kiss--it would in no way be enough saliva in my opinion to propel a story. If its the "kiss" from Poison Ivy in Batman that kills or spreads an epidemic, or even so much as "a look" from the snake-coiling head of Medusa that's stone deadly, then yes, by all means, you've incited a story... but you've introduced no stakes (epidemic/deadly) to speak of for your affair kiss to be an inciting moment or big event.

Zlatan Mustafica

It´s not about WHAT or WHEN your characters do in the script. It´s about WHO they are and WHY they do things that they do. Establish your characters early, SHOW who they are, REVEAL their wants and needs so that the actual actions are relevant and plausible. And do all this in the first ten pages if possible. Boring, uninteresting beginnings of a script kill that script no matter what and regardless of all the eventual fun stuff later on.

Madeline Thompson

All the comments above are good. You need stronger stakes than first kiss and sleeping together offscreen. What is your story, who are these characters, what's at stake when the affair begins, who and/or what is hidden in the background that will come forward to kick this film into gear? If you're starting off with fait accompli off the top - these two characters begin an affair - then you need a bundle of twists and surprises to make a film out of a fairly unassuming start. Is it a rom-com, thriller, drama?

Doug Nelson

Basic advice; open hot & fast, glue the audiences' butts to the edge of their seats. The second you bore 'em, they're gone.

Lisa Bogner

Thanks, guys. You helped me a lot!!!

Simon, thanks for the tip. I'll think of something.

Darjan, I don't have a logline yet.

LindaAnn Loschiavo

@Russel Bonguen Example of an opening with an inciting incident -- Boss is in his office phoning his wife, making plans.Camera pans numerous family photos. Protagonist walks in his office. He asks her to close the door. Next - a very passionate kiss. Boom.

Ian Job

I would suggest, only tease and hint the affair. Make it heat up gradually in suspense... and make it to be observed from the point of view of another character and not the audience directly...

Please make the beginning as interesting as possible and let the hook flow throw the episode and only 'rest' during the low points of the protagonist...

Darren Rapier

LindaAnne et al, good suggestions but remember the inciting incident MUST not be the norm, it is something that kicks the protagonist into action, so it’s important to establish what the ‘notm’ Is before you can invite change. If the protagonist is having an affair right away , then that is the normal world with normal rules for them and the inciting incident would actually be the affair having to end for some reason.

Darren Rapier

But remember that first act reversal is a decision - a choice between two paths - the transition is an active (and usually wrong) choice made by the protagonist rather than simply happening to them (which is the inciting incident). Absolutely 3 worlds - the world the character knows the rules of (act I), the new world with new rules (act II), the return to the old world with new knowledge (act III) - whether these are physical or metaphysical worlds. Three acts, two connected choices.

Lisa Bogner

I've been thinking a lot about the plot, taking all your advice and comments into account and was thinking: what if the affair leads into a relationship?

Also, would it be possible to start with a "flash forward" on e.g. the kiss or any other moment that's later in the script, then insert the main titles and then continue with what's now the beginning that I already have...? I've seen tv shows do that but I don't know if it also works in a movie.

Darjan A4

You should read a few notorious and worshiped screenwriting books to start getting a sense on how successful stories of any media are effectively told in a dramatic fashion.

You started story pantsing and then quickly turned toward plotting. It feels to me that a best way for you to deal with that story is to imagine your protagonist as other version of you and then just live and breathe a fairy tale with your prince Shrek or whatever with engaging obstacles, dramatic events and uncertain resolution that makes us all eager to read about.

Other topics in Screenwriting:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In