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If you read up on loglines elsewhere, you’ll find that the most common elements listed in a logline are:

– main character
– goal
– obstacle(s)
– stakes

The vast majority of articles and teachers are overlooking an absolutely critical story component: the Inciting Incident (Call to Adventure).

I have no idea why this is, but I have a pretty darn good idea why it is plain wrong.

All About Change

Have you heard the saying “You can tell someone’s character by how they respond to change”? Well, this is what life and relationships are all about.

And you guessed it… This is what stories are all about.

Story concepts are all about a major change, and about characters’ action(s) in response to this change. Then, the detail of the story is all about how this outer change (in the world) provokes an inner change (in the character).

This outer change – our inciting incident – is what Aristotle would call the story’s Beginning. This is how important it is: Aristotle considered everything before this catalyst as a Prologue. It wasn’t even really part of the story. But the change, the Inciting Incident is the first truly important story point.

Yet all these teachers are leaving it out. Insane!

Without Clear Call, Stories Suck

Writers who don’t understand the importance of this story point, may overlook it in development. The story may end up not even having a clear Inciting Incident.

In the Hero’s Journey, the Call To Adventure is the first significant event that happens to the Hero, once the world is set up.

Leave it out, and the audience will not understand when the story really started. It is WHY the Hero goes on the quest. It is the character’s motivation for action. Leave it out, and there is no story whatsoever.

Let’s go back to the logline.

The Inciting Incident Defines Your Story

Loglines capture the essence of a story concept or premise. We are – much like Aristotle – focusing on plot here. Admitted, the theme (or inner journey) is critically important, but it is not what makes your story sell. It is surely not what makes your story unique. The plot, as expressed in the logline, must be unique.

Great loglines triangulate your story. The character may be similar to other stories, the inciting incident may, too. Even the goal/action might not be unique. But the combination of the three must have never been told before.

In your story, the first defining ‘plot point’ is the inciting incident.

My Formula

If you are building your logline, include it. All smart storytellers do.

Obstacles and stakes are often implied, if your inciting incident and goal are significant and dramatic, so you may leave them out. The Inciting incident rarely is.

To make life easier for yourself, you may even start the logline with it:

“When [the inciting incident happens], the Main Character must [complete the goal].”

That’s the basic formula.

Ignore it at your peril.

-Karel Segers

2 Comments on this article

  • sloanpeterson October 7, 2015

    This gave me a breakthrough for my logline. thanks!

  • priggy October 10, 2015

    I would agree and disagree with this.

    If you are writing a feature then yes, the inciting incident is required. Anything else then no.

    A TV pilot needs no inciting incident. It may have an inciting incident, but it doesn’t need one, why because TV as John August says in his latest ScriptNotes podcast, that TV is built on repeatability, it almost doesn’t matter when you join the story. For example in Doctor Who, you could argue there is an inciting incident for each episode, but there is no inciting incident for the whole overarching story.

    I was at a storytelling workshop on Tuesday with regards shorts and the one thing the teacher implored us to take away is that with shorts, the crisis, the inciting incident had already happened, we were catching up with the story at the start of a predicament, that causes a dilemma for the main character. In the case of the short we watched, if I was to pitch it or write a logline, I might use your logline formula to say: “When a determined teenager finds herself pregnant, she must decide which of her two lovers is the father?” But even though I used your formula, a logline for a short doesn’t need to have an inciting incident because you are simply capturing one predicament or one dilemma that your character is facing.
    The teacher taught at length at how the crisis had already happened off screen and we were only catching up with the story now when this characters actions because of the crisis had created the predicament of the two lovers which had caused the predicament of the pregnancy.

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