Disaster struck Dante Alighieri in 1301. While he was away from Florence on a diplomatic mission, the Black Guelfs, his political enemies, seized power and brought him to court on manufactured charges of extortion and misuse of public funds, nevermind that he’d only held office for two months. [THIS IS KNOWN AS THE INCITING INCIDENT.] His sentence: banishment. And so began a wandering life during which he conceived and wrote the Divine Comedy [THE REACTION TO THE DISTURBANCE, ALSO KNOWN AS THE QUEST], a cathartic transmutation of poetic rage, born out of the depths of the pain he suffered over his ruined reputation [THE DEEPLY HELD VALUE DISTURBED BY THE INCIDENT], into a machine of justice-seeking revenge. That revenge took the form of condemning famous icons to various levels of hell, according to their transgressions.
For example, Priscian, a teacher who’d written the text for grammarians of the 6th Century, is relegated to Inferno 15, a level of hell designed for sodomites. Dante had no idea what Priscian’s sexual proclivities might have actually been. We can suppose that because Priscian wrote the text used in medieval schools, and because these schools in Dante’s day had a reputation as being hotbeds for sexual abuse of the boys who were essentially the property of their masters, Dante, drawing a spurious causal connection, deemed it fitting that Priscian enjoy the sodomite’s hell.
Whether or not your goal is to turn the tables of justice by skewering contemporaries who’ve done you wrong, your stories require inciting incidents.
Because this element is so central to the task of story-telling, just ask Dante, I will devote a Hugo House class to the subject.
“How to Make The Best of Inciting Incidents” meets Thursday nights, 7-9, at The Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. The first class is Thursday April 30. The class runs consecutively for six weeks to June 11 (no class May 14 as the room is not available that night). To sign up, please go to this link: : http://hugohouse.org/classes/course-catalog/?hh_course_genre=&hh_course_type=&hh_course_term=1079.
Official Course Description:
Any story that involves a quest – and that is most stories – starts with a disturbing event known to fiction writers and film-makers as the “inciting incident.” But, what does this event actually disturb? And why does it matter? And how do we gauge this? Answering these questions requires understanding the disturbance’s effect on a character’s deeply held beliefs or values. This class will examine inciting incidents from novels as well as short stories, from popular writers such as Henning Mankell to literary writers such as J. C. Oates and George Saunders as well as selections form the who’s who of story writing in recent Best American Short Stories. Students will produce their own story situation with an inciting incident in class and will be encouraged to bring to class an example of a story opening of their own to share. Outcome: students will learn to open their stories with a disturbing event that forces their character to react by embarking on a quest toward a goal.