Teneice Durrant, creator of Tarot with Ten, will use various tarot and oracle decks to provide monthly readings for writers, with exercises on using imagery and intuition as prompts. April’s prompt concerns a story’s inciting incident.
Elements of an Inciting Incident
“The inciting incident is how you get (characters) to do something. It's the doorway through which they can't return, you know. The story takes care of the rest.” – Donald Miller
Joseph Campbell calls the inciting incident “the call to adventure."
Robert McKee says, “The inciting incident radically upsets the balance of forces in your protagonist's life.”
Over the last three months, we’ve developed our protagonist, love interest, and antagonist using tarot as visual writing prompts. This month, we start on the narrative arc of the story.
The narrative arc encompasses six essential points that develop the plot of your story. While it’s not necessary to write these elements in order, for the sake of this series, we are going to start with the first two points, the setup and inciting incident, and work our way through the remaining four to get to the resolution.
I have bundled the setup and inciting incident into one post because what happens in the inciting incident must be in opposition to the normal day-to-day of the character’s life. For example, if the inciting incident is that the main character wins the lottery, by default the setup would be that they are poor (because they wouldn’t play the lottery if they were already rich, right?).
I am going to pull cards for each element of the inciting incident as a writing prompt to kick-start our story.
- The inciting incident must be something that happens to the main character (MC). It is not a decision they make on their own.
- The inciting incident has to be something that requires the MC to make a choice.
- The inciting incident has to alter the course of their life dramatically.
The World and the Six of Swords
As always, these images are from the Rider Waite tarot deck, via Pixabay (Creative Commons license), and you can flip through all six cards from this reading here:
Our first card is the World, and this is probably the most common way to do an inciting incident, which is that the main character's whole world has changed (for example, in the film The Matrix, when Neo finds out that reality is a simulation, or in C.S. Lewis’s novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when the Pevensie children move through the professor's wardrobe and are transported from the English countryside to the fantasy world of Narnia). It could be something more personal: Perhaps the main character finds out that their parents aren't their parents after all, and their whole world changes.
The idea here is that the way in which the main character perceives the world is fundamentally altered.
The second card that came out was the Six of Swords in reverse, and to me, that says that for whatever reason, this main character cannot go home. Either home doesn't exist anymore or it's not the home they thought it was.
The Knight of Wands and the Two of Cups
The next group of cards is the Knight of Wands and the Two of Cups. These cards are saying that the main character has to make a choice regarding somebody that they care about.
The Two of Cups represents a soulmate connection or a connection to one’s higher self.
The Knight of Wands indicates that the choice the main character makes is to leave behind either a certain aspect of themselves or a person and charge forward with passion and creativity. The Knight of Wands bases actions on physical needs; your main character might be a little reckless in terms of partying or being promiscuous.
The Queen of Cups and the Three of Swords
The last set of cards is the Queen of Cups and the Three of Swords. What the character was like before this incident was somebody whose heart was broken, who was maybe a bit reserved or not really in control of their emotions. They were/are too nurturing or comforting for their own good.
The Three of Swords indicates heartache, betrayal, or maybe self-sabotage. This character does not believe in themselves, so the way that this inciting incident changes their life is that they must come to believe in themselves. They can no longer be the mothering type of figure; they have to be active and make decisions that might hurt people.
A writing exercise
Take a minute to observe the images for each of these tarot cards. Write down everything that you see in the literal sense: colors, objects, and their relationship to each other.
Next, write a few words about what you think might be happening in the card. Ascribe adjectives to the images, people, and overall feel of the cards.
Use these observations in conjunction with the prompts to start drafting the inciting incident of your story. Don’t worry if it ends up being nothing like what we started with here!
Until next month, here’s how to find me outside of the Center:
YouTube Tarot with Ten
What did you think of this tarot reading and the cards as visual prompts for story development? Share with us in the comments, and contact us if you’re interested in working one-on-one with Teneice in writing with tarot.
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