Prewriting for Productivity V: Inciting Incident and First Attempt

Inciting Incident

This is where the reader finds out about the central conflict.

Should occur as quickly as possible in a story.

Should be as interesting and exciting as possible.

The Try-Fail Cycle

This is when the protagonist attempts to solve the problem but fails.

Generally, there should be at least three try-fail cycles in resolving a problem, great or small.

Too few cycles makes it feel unrealistic for the reader.


Each try-fail cycle needs to escalate.

That means that it needs to do one or both of two things:

Deepen: The conflict now affects people more deeply. The stakes are higher.

Broaden: The conflict now affects more people than it did before.

First Try-Fail Cycle

The first try-fail cycle must be an earnest, but not epic attempt.

Does not take up very much of the story.

The hero tries the first thing that comes to mind or the simplest solution.

Trying the “diplomatic approach” before a fight.

What Comes Next?

The first try-fail cycle should launch the action into the second try-fail cycle, in which the protagonist and company will try something more ambitious to solve the problem.

Once you have reached this point, you have likely gone from the ‘beginning’ section of your story to the ‘middle’ section.


1. Create an inciting incident for the each of the following beginnings that interrupts the routine of the character.

a. Bob wakes up, gets ready and heads out in his car for his long commute to work.

b. It is Kristin’s last day of school and she is going to a party with her friends.

c. Mr. Welker wakes up and set out to the mountains for a hike.

2. Think about the first attempt for a character who has the following problems.

a. In the first class of the day at high school, David’s girlfriend dumps him in front of the whole class.

b. A ravenous dragon flew into town and scorched the entire village, leaving a sole survivor.

c. The bank is going to foreclose on the diner that is Mrs. Baker’s sole source of support if she can’t come up with enough money in one week.

3. Plot out your inciting incident and first try-fail cycle.