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When should the inciting incident appear?

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Hello All,

I've heard the inciting incident should appear by page 10 of your middle-grade manuscript...that being said, what if it occurs on page 12?? Should I claw back some of my ms to ensure it is closer to the page ten mark?

Any information would be fantastic!


#1 - November 29, 2017, 09:19 AM

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You don't have to be that precise.  Tell your story the way it needs to be told, and let the inciting incident appear naturally.  I mean, you don't want it on page 152, probably.  But page 12 is no big deal.

Opinion on this varies over time anyway.  Conventional wisdom used to say at the end of the first third of the novel!
#2 - November 29, 2017, 10:27 AM
VAMPIRINA IN THE SNOW (Disney-Hyperion, 2018)
BUSY-EYED DAY (Beach Lane Books, 2018)
GROUNDHUG DAY (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)
among others

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Imprecise definitions of terms add to confusion on this issue. What you want very early on is a hook, and sometimes this gets confused with the inciting incident. The hook would be much more likely on p. 1 than 10 or 12, and in those first pages you also want a sense of tension, a sense of place, and to meet the MC and establish their "normal," their controlling belief, their stakes, and make the reader care about them before everything turns upside down (which is the inciting incident).

The incident incident is what kicks off the MC's outward conflict, the main action plot, and since most MG novels are 35k-55k these days, p. 10-12 sounds awfully early to me.  In the manuscripts I currently have with my agent, the inciting incidents fall around p. 35-40, or roughly 1/4 of the way in.

Regarding p. 10, one thing that's sometimes advised is that you try for a cliffhanger at the end of it. This mainly applies if you're querying agents, because 10 pp. is such a common amount of sample text to ask for with a query.
#3 - November 29, 2017, 11:24 AM
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Thank you everyone for taking time out to answer this question!  Easy to understand responses, fantastic ideas and things to think about!!  Thanks again,

Jod :yourock
#4 - November 30, 2017, 07:51 AM

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Good points have been stated. Again, even if the inciting incident doesn't happen until page 12 and you need to send sample pages to an agent, you are probably fine sending 2 pages over so that what you send is a complete scene. Unless the agent is a real stickler for being precise, I wouldn't worry about an extra page or two. I remember when I was querying agents and was asked for partials, which are usually the first 50 pages or first few chapters. My 'cliff' (NOT the inciting incident) at the end of a long chapter was a few pages after page 50 and I always sent the completed chapter with the cliff. FWIW, it was not a big deal.
#5 - November 30, 2017, 08:18 AM
ROYALLY ENTITLED (inspirational/historical YA) and OOPS-A-DAISY (humorous MG) out now.


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