April 9, 2019

Inciting Incidents and Your Protagonist

My daughter, Heidi, 3 weeks old.
Today is my eldest daughter's birthday. Her arrival changed my life in a lot of ways, some anticipated, others surprising.  I'm the person I am today because of the journey I started as her mother.

Every story's protagonist must experience an inciting incident in their story.  Something that  changes their life and creates conflict, big or small. Because of this change, they ask questions, pursue different relationships, and try different things.

I doubt anyone who's had children would dispute the numerous shifts in their life story once their first child arrived, whether it occurred at birth, during the pregnancy or during attempts to become pregnant. Or maybe, they adopted a child. The inciting incident might be the journey to adoption, while the child's arrival is the conclusion of the story arc.

It doesn't matter what inciting incident you give your character, they must have one. Without it, the story doesn't hold the reader's interest. People want to read how events change someone's life.

Here are a few examples:

  • Harry Potter speaks to a snake in the zoo then the glass disappears, releasing the snake.
  • Dorothy's house lands in another world filled with colorful and unusual people.
  • The government asks Indiana Jones about the Staff of Ra and asks him to retrieve it.

Each of these incidents set up the rest of the story.  They, also, occur at the beginning of the story. But note, they don't have to be in the first sentence or paragraph. They just need to occur in that early scene.

What kinds of inciting events can you use when writing fiction?

  • Death
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Illness
  • Military Coups
  • Betrayal
  • Jealousy
  • Success
  • Failure
  • Criminal Acts
  • Moving

This is a short list, but I'm sure you can think of more.  What else would you add?

April 3, 2019

How To Edit or Critique Others' Writing

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles
A few years ago, I ran several posts related to editing and providing critique feedback on other people's writing.  Since these posts ran a while back, I thought it might be worth sharing them here.

The series started with a post about the writing group and expanded from there. The rest of the posts are below. I hope you find something worthwhile or helpful in them.

Although this doesn't cover everything our group focuses on during our critique meetings, it gives you an idea of some of the areas of focus.

What about your writing group or beta readers? What kind of feedback do they give you?

March 27, 2019

Characters' Hot Buttons: What Drives Them Crazy?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at Freedigitalphotos.net

Some people drive me a bit crazy. Yes, I know, I'm not supposed to admit that, but I'm human. We don't all get along. Each of us has buttons people push. Some people push them on purpose, some by accident, some have no clue that their actions push not only ours, but a lot of people's buttons.

I'm trying to not let someone trigger mine today, and it occurred to me that book characters have the same issue.

Do you know who pushes your characters' buttons?

Scenes with button pushing can be fun to write, more importantly, they're interesting to read. Which characters push your protagonist's buttons? The antagonist should push the buttons of the protagonist, but we expect that. Other people will do it too. Readers like to read about  interactions between people. This means some people will always push your protagonist's buttons and others will do it in certain situations.

What about the people who your protagonist gets along with?

I have several close friends but to say none of them have ever gotten on my nerves would be a lie. When a close friend or friendly acquaintance starts pushing our buttons, we might feel annoyed, hurt or shocked. How we respond to this unexpected occurrence will depend on what's happening at the time.

What pushes your characters buttons?

Do you know what annoys your character? Have you figured out what behaviors make them grind their teeth while trying to remain polite? What makes them push back? What makes them explode?

For me, I'm a bit of a control freak. I plan how things should go. I plan for the unexpected because I don't like things to go too far afield of my plan. When events or people conspire against my plans, I go to plan B, C, and sometimes D. If I run out of options, I get annoyed. Sometimes I get annoyed while I still have options.

How annoyed? It depends on who is doing the annoying, how many things have gone wrong, the importance of what I'm trying to do, and my location. Public areas get a nicer response from me than a private spot. Same with work. I can keep it under wraps most of the time in a professional setting. While I try to deal with an annoyance in an adult way, all of these issues swirl around in my head. I have to pick how to respond based on what's happening.


Given the right circumstance, any normal person can lose it. If you have children, you know what I mean.

How do I incorporate this in my manuscript?

Put people in your character's path that will challenge him. Create characters who do this on purpose, maybe for the pure joy of pushing the buttons. Ask yourself, who can make her lose it? Who can make him crazy?

We hate living through these experiences, but writing these scenes can be fun!

Also, you need to determine what pushes your character's buttons. If you've never thought about it, read back through your manuscript and notice the following:

  • Events where he is upset or annoyed at something beyond his control. 
    • What set him off?
    • Is a specific person involved?
  • Events where she should be upset or annoyed but she's not.
    • Why did she stay calm? 
    • Did you miss an opportunity or has your character found a way to face this challenge?
    • Did you make it easy for her? (Please don't. That's boring.)

What are your characters buttons? Please post some examples in the comments of this blog. Writers can always use ideas on ways to drive their characters crazy.