Monday, September 10, 2007

The Inciting Incident - Not Too Soon, Not Too Long

Isn't it funny when we are in the midst of reading something, and we see examples of things we read in real life?

I'm currently reading Robert McKee's Story (excellent book for any writer). He mentions the inciting incident - that thing which sets the action, emotions, and plot in motion - needs to be carefully timed. Do it too soon, and the audience is confused or not bonded to the characters. Do it too late, and the audience is bored.

The recently released movie Shoot Em Up is a perfect example of the inciting incident which occured too soon. The first fifteen minutes of the movie had action-packed adventure, incidents, and flashy stunts--but I wasn't invested in the characters (other than liking Clive Owen as an actor and realizing he was trying to stop some bad guys). The movie waited until the second hour to offer the explanation WHY he was having to chase the bad guys (and even then, the reasoning wasn't a great premise).

However, inciting incident timing aside - sometimes great stunts do have their place. And Shoot Em Up had some INCREDIBLE stunts.


landy said...

I agree with you that most of the time you can't have an inciting incident too earlier in the story or film because you haven’t establish the characters or made the audience care about them.

However, I can think of a great movie that is a successful exception to this rule Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”. The action in the film starts out with a hold-up in a restaurant and then moves on to two gangsters killing several people before you even know what’s going on.

Because it was so shocking and unexpected this opening really got me interested and involved in the film.

Art said...

If your readers/viewers don't understand what is going on, they are less likely to stick around and find out. I have seen many a movie where people walked out after the first half of the film or put down a book after a couple of chapters because it was so unclear what was happening.