Hero's Journey and Screenwriting: the Inciting Incident
The Hero's Journey is the template upon which the vast majority of successful stories and Hollywood blockbusters are based upon. Understanding this template is a priority for story or screenwriters:
The Hero's Journey:
• Attempts to tap into unconscious expectations the audience has regarding what a story is and how it should be told.
• Gives the writer more structural elements than simply three or four acts, plot points, mid point and so on.
• Interpreted metaphorically, laterally and symbolically, allows an infinite number of varied stories to be created.
The Hero's Journey is also a study of repeating patterns in successful stories and screenplays. It is compelling that screenwriters have a higher probability of producing quality work when they mirror the recurring patterns found in successful screenplays.
• Titanic (1997) grossed over $600,000,000 – uses the Hero's Journey as a template.
• Star Wars (1977) grossed over $460,000,000 - uses the Hero's Journey as a template.
• Shrek 2 (2004) grossed over $436,000,000 - uses the Hero's Journey as a template.
• ET (1982) grossed over $434,000,000 - uses the Hero's Journey as a template.
• Spiderman (2002) grossed over $432,000,000 - uses the Hero's Journey as a template.
• Out of Africa (1985), Terms of Endearment (1983), Dances with Wolves (1990), Gladiator (2100) – All Academy Award Winners Best Film are based on the Hero's Journey.
• Anti-hero stories (Raging Bull (1980), Goodfellas (1990) etc) are all based on the Hero's Journey.
• Heroine’s Journey stories (Million Dollar Baby (2004), Out of Africa (1980) etc) are all based on the Hero's Journey.
The Inciting Incident is a confusing term and, in general, not very helpful.
Within the context of the Hero's Journey, it could represent a few points of action.
The first and most obvious is the Call to Adventure. For example, in Gladiator (2100), it could be the point where Marcus Aurelius asks Maximus to take his place.
Generally, the hero undergoes a refusal and the inciting incident could also be that which forces the hero to overcome his or her resistance. In Gladiator (2100), Maximus overcomes his resistance quite easily (after the consultation with his man-servant). However, in Star Wars (1977), resistance is overcome after the experience of the Unbearable Antagonism (Luke sees that his uncle and aunt have been murdered). The inciting incident could also be the Unbearable Antagonism.
Finally, the inciting incident could be that event that pushes the hero to the First Threshold.
Perhaps the Inciting Incident is useful in [infantile] three, four or five act structures, but amidst the complex Hero's Journey, it is less useful.