An earlier post discussed "Where does your book begin?" Not your story, your book. This post will delve a little deeper into the topic.
The question has been asked in several different ways, like "Where does the story engine kick in?" Or, "What makes the main character get up off his ass and do something?"
The Inciting Incident. The turning of the key that starts the story engine running.
What is it, and where does it occur?
Roughly put, the Inciting Incident is the singular event that defines the problem facing your Main Character. It should happen pretty early in the story, or the reader will get bored and go on to the next book on the shelf.
In DOG ISLAND, the downhearted MC is sitting on the beach in front of his house moping. The why of this isn't clear, and who he is isn't clear either. But he sits there, alone, depressed and moping until a boat, driven by a dead man, lands ashore at his feet.
That defines the problem. The boat landing is exciting in itself, and becomes the catalyst for all subsequent action. Up to that point, everything is backstory. Everything that happens afterward is DOG ISLAND, which is a great place to get away from it all until it all comes after you.
In Tim Hallinen's A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, a man is digging in the mud and finds a safe. He is digging on behalf of another man, who watches from a distance. The digger is told not to look in the safe, but he does. That decision is the Inciting Incident, and sets the action in motion.
Tell me, what is your favorite Inciting Incident? It could be from a book, a movie, or a play. Would love to hear from you.