Inciting Incident #8
We were talking last week about one of the qualities of the Inciting Incident, the moment in Act One when the story actually STARTS. We said that
in the inciting incident, the hero acquires his/her intention.
Rocky acquires the intention to battle the champ.
Jake Gittes acquires the intention to find out who’s been making a fool of him with this fake Evelyn Mulwray business.
Bogey acquires the intention to win Ingrid back.
But, we suggested,
that intention can (and even MUST) change as the story unfolds.
In some stories, the hero’s intention doesn’t change. Those stories can still work and even succeed spectacularly (Star Wars, Taken, The French Connection). But they feel a bit straight and ordinary, don’t they?
The hero’s intention must change because, as the story advances, the hero changes.
As the hero battles his way through Act Two, confronting adversaries, uncovering mysteries, being aided by unexpected allies, his understanding of his dilemma and of himself deepens.
Rocky realizes he can’t beat the champ. Apollo Creed is in a whole other league. Rocky must recalibrate his aspirations. “If I can just go the distance with Creed. Nobody’s ever done that … “
Jake Gittes comes to grasp the depth of the evil he has stumbled onto … and the true peril to his client Evelyn Mulwray and her daughter Katherine. “Pack your bags. I’m gonna get you outa here … “
Bogey realizes his own selfish needs are not as important as combatting the greater Nazi danger to the whole world. “If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with [your husband, Resistance leader Victor Laszlo], you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and for the rest of your life.”
In fact, you could say the whole point of these stories is that the hero’s intention MUST change. She must come to some personal crisis. She must make a choice. She must go from her earlier, facile, usually self-interested intention to something greater, nobler, and more inclusive … or at least more aligned with bedrock reality.
This principle holds true even in subplots and individual scenes. I’ve been binge-watching Games of Thrones lately. Remember the subsidiary story about Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth? Jaime, the selfish stud, sets out originally (as Brienne guards him as her prisoner) to escape. That’s his intention. He ridicules and humiliates her. Clearly he would even kill her, if he could, to make his getaway.
But as their adventures together unfold, Jaime comes to see Brienne’s graceless but passionate decency and her deep commitment to honor. He comes to respect and even to like her. By the final season, he has taken her as a lover, knighted her, and even, we might say, fallen in love with her.
Jaime’s intention changes, based on a changed reality or a changed perception of an existing reality. That’s growth. That’s self-awareness. That’s evolution.
That’s what a hero, even the hero of a subplot, is supposed to do.