Creative Writing Sci Fi And Fantasy 12 min2023-06-05 00:00

The 10 Best Inciting Incidents in Science Fiction Books

science fiction inciting incidents

Let’s kick this off by stating the obvious.

We’re all here because we’re dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying, secret-handshake-knowing lovers of science fiction.

We’re the folks who’d happily swap a beach vacation for a seat on a rocket headed for Mars, or trade in a luxury car for a time machine. Preferably one that doesn’t guzzle too much gas.

But what gets our neurons firing and hearts thumping in any sci-fi book worth its hyper-salt?

It’s that deliciously enticing moment that sucks us into the story, the pivotal inciting incident that sets the narrative gears in motion. The unexpected alien encounter, the sudden time warp, or the hushed whisper of a prophecy.

That moment when everything changes and the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

In this article, we’re embarking on a journey through the cosmos of storytelling. We will spotlight the 10 best inciting incidents in science fiction books. And we’ll check out a range of novels, from the classics that set the standard to modern masterpieces pushing the boundaries of the genre. 

So, fasten your seatbelts and get ready for a warp-speed journey through the stars of sci-fi inciting incidents!

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The 10 Best Science Fiction Novel Inciting Incidents

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game kicks off our list, not just because it’s a beloved sci-fi classic, but because its inciting incident is as intense as it is intriguing.

In this tale, young Ender Wiggin, who is seemingly just another kid in a futuristic Earth society, is handpicked for Battle School. Battle School is an elite military training program in outer space. It’s designed to create super-soldiers to fight an impending alien invasion. 

This pivotal incident when Ender is chosen for Battle School sets the trajectory for the entire story. It transforms a young boy’s life into an extraordinary journey of survival and moral dilemmas.

We’ve included Ender’s Game in our list because it presents an inciting incident that is both personal and universal. It’s personal because it’s about Ender’s life-changing selection, and it’s universal because it’s tied to the survival of the Earth. This two-tiered inciting incident brilliantly highlights the stakes for both the character and the story’s world. It creates an interesting hook that draws readers into the narrative.

This duality makes Ender’s Game a stellar example of how to set a captivating stage for a sci-fi tale.

Dune by Frank Herbert

Next up is Frank Herbert’s Dune, which isn’t just a cornerstone of science fiction literature, but also a masterclass in crafting an inciting incident.

Dune begins with the young Paul Atreides and his noble family taking control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the most valuable substance in the universe, the spice melange.

This transition of power is the inciting incident that ignites the flame of conflict. It sets the stage for a vast narrative that spans powerful themes such as politics, religion, ecology, and the human spirit.

Dune earns its spot on this list because the inciting incident introduces a vast, intricate world with a single stroke.

By moving the Atreides family to Arrakis, Herbert propels the plot forward and subtly introduces the reader to the complex political and ecological systems of his universe. This is an excellent example of how you can world-build without overwhelming the reader.

This makes it an interesting study for any science fiction writer.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Now, let’s dive into the cyberpunk universe of Neuromancer by William Gibson.

This book has become a classic for its visionary depiction of the digital world. And it all starts with an inciting incident that pulls the readers straight into its dystopian landscape.

Our protagonist, Case, is a washed-up computer hacker. He’s punished with neural damage that prevents him from accessing the global computer network known as the Matrix. The inciting incident occurs when a mysterious employer offers to cure his neural damage if he agrees to one last job—a seemingly impossible hack.

What makes Neuromancer stand out in our list is how Gibson uses the inciting incident to immerse readers in a world where organic and digital realities blur.

Case’s primary motivation is to regain his ability to connect to the Matrix. This reflects the overarching theme of the human relationship with technology, which is a common theme in the cyberpunk genre.

It’s a striking example of how you can use an inciting incident to kick-start the plot and mirror broader thematic concerns of the narrative.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Next up, we’re journeying to the planet of Gethen with Ursula K. Le Guin’s seminal novel, The Left Hand of Darkness. A paragon of sociological science fiction, this book is renowned for its exploration of gender and sexuality, and its inciting incident is no less profound.

Our envoy protagonist, Genly Ai, is dispatched to Gethen by an interstellar council with the mission of inviting this icy planet to join a collective of humanoid worlds. However, Gethenians are ambisexual—they become sexually active once a month and can assume either male or female roles—a totally alien concept to Ai.

The inciting incident here is Ai’s arrival and the mission itself.

As soon as he lands, Ai finds himself plunged into a world where his preconceived notions of gender are turned upside down.

The Left Hand of Darkness more than earns its spot on our list. Le Guin leverages the inciting incident to pose deep philosophical questions right from the start. This forces both the protagonist and the reader to confront and challenge their ingrained biases.

This novel exemplifies how an inciting incident can set the stage for a narrative that is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Switching gears, we dive into the cyberpunk universe of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

This novel introduces us to a not-too-distant future where the line between the physical and the virtual world is blurred. Hiro Protagonist is both a pizza delivery guy and a warrior prince in the Metaverse, the virtual reality internet.

Hiro’s friend Da5id is brain-crashed by a new form of digital drug, known as Snow Crash, in the Metaverse. This sends Hiro on a mission to uncover the source and the purpose of this malicious code that can affect a user’s mind through a computer screen.

The inciting incident seamlessly blends the physical and virtual worlds, setting the tone for the rest of the book.

This shows how an inciting incident can establish the rules of a new world, introduce a significant threat, and launch a high-stakes adventure.

Plus, who doesn’t love a protagonist named Hiro Protagonist? Talk about setting expectations!

The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

Now, let’s step into the time machine and travel back to the birth of science fiction with H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. This classic novel tells the chilling tale of a Martian invasion of Earth, setting the stage for countless alien invasion stories to come.

The inciting incident in The War of the Worlds is downright spine-tingling.

It occurs when a mysterious “falling star” lands near the home of our protagonist. The “star” cylinder containing Martians. Their appearance triggers a horrifying invasion that throws the world into chaos.

Why did we include this one?

Well, for starters, it’s a classic, and it would be a crime to ignore the roots of science fiction! But ‌ Wells’s inciting incident is a masterclass in suspense and dramatic irony.

From the moment that cylinder lands, we, the readers, are privy to a danger that the characters in the story are blissfully unaware of. This discrepancy between what we know and what the characters know keeps us glued to the page, anxiously awaiting all hell breaking loose.

Now, that’s an inciting incident!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Alright, folks. Buckle up for a wild ride with Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

This book is a whimsical and absurd romp through the cosmos. It begins with one of the most hilarious and bizarre inciting incidents in all of science fiction.

Just picture this: you’re having a fairly ordinary day when suddenly, your best friend reveals he’s an alien, and oh‌, Earth is about to be demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

Talk about a rough morning, right? This is the inciting incident that flings our bewildered protagonist, Arthur Dent, into a series of cosmic misadventures.

This one’s on the list because it’s brilliantly absurd!

Adams takes a typically dire situation—the end of the world—and infuses it with an unexpected dose of humour. This comedic twist not only sets the tone for the entire novel but also demonstrates how the inciting incident can be used to subvert reader expectations and give a unique spin to a familiar genre.

So, remember, next time Earth is about to be destroyed, don’t panic, just hitch a ride!

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Let’s take a quantum leap into the realm of Arthur C. Clarke’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The story commences with an intriguing incident that doesn’t just pique curiosity. It also sets an ominous tone for the rest of the journey. A strange, black monolith appears in the prehistoric past, influencing the evolution of early hominids.

The mysterious entity guides them to use tools, marking the dawn of civilization and all the peril that comes with it.

Clarke gives us a good example of how an inciting incident can be used to frame the central theme of a story. Clarke’s monolith is not just a trigger for the plot but a symbol of the dangerous allure of knowledge and the potential consequences of its misuse.

This deep thematic connection makes the inciting incident feel integral to the story. It’s like a cosmic whodunit! This, my friends, is how you weave an inciting incident into the very fabric of your narrative.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Our next trip is to the dystopian world of The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

Dashner’s inciting incident is a disorienting jolt. Thomas wakes up in a strange elevator with no memory of who he is, where he is, or how he got there. The elevator doors open to reveal a community of boys trapped in a maze. And Thomas realises he’s just become the newest member of the Glade.

Now, why has this inciting incident made our list, you ask? Well, it takes the cake for the swift and brutal way it thrusts the protagonist (and us readers) into the thick of things. There’s no gentle introduction here, just an immediate plunge into a world of fear and confusion.

It’s a masterful use of in medias res (starting in the middle of the action). The disorientation it causes echoes the protagonist’s own feelings. That’s great because it forges an immediate connection with the reader. Dashner’s approach shows that sometimes, it’s the jarring drop into the unknown that can hook a reader.

The Maze Runner is a real rollercoaster of an inciting incident!

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

We’ve journeyed through space and time, and our final destination lands us on the rusted plains of Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson.

The inciting incident is the monumental decision to terraform Mars. This isn’t just the colonisation of a new world. It’s the birth of a new society, and the ramifications are as enormous as the red planet itself.

The grand scale of this inciting incident sets it apart.

While many of our examples focus on individual characters and their personal trials, Red Mars goes for the jugular of humanity. It’s a grandiose, civilization-level inciting incident that doesn’t just spark a story, but an entire series of novels.

Robinson’s audacious approach reminds us that inciting incidents can be as vast as our imaginations dare to venture. So, here’s to Red Mars for its cosmic ambition and for showing us that an inciting incident can be as big as, well, a planet!

How We Selected the Top Inciting Incidents

Now, you might ask: How did you choose these particular incidents from the vast universe of science fiction?

Well, let me explain, my curious reader.

First, we looked for diversity. We looked at different authors and styles, and the inciting incidents themselves. That gave us a mix of personal, societal, and cosmic-level events to give you a taste of the variety that exists in this genre. We’re not just talking about spaceships and laser guns here, people.

Second, we wanted incidents that were, in a word, pivotal.

These are moments that not only kick-start the plot but also ‌shake up the status quo. They’re the events that make characters—and readers—sit up and say: Well, things are definitely not going to be the same after this!

Finally, we chose incidents from books that are, in our humble opinion, fantastic reads.

After all, what’s the point of an inciting incident if you don’t want to keep turning the pages? So, there you have it. Our recipe for a captivating inciting incident.

It’s a mix of diversity, a good pivot, and readability.

Writing Your Own Inciting Incident? 

So, you want to wow your readers with your own inciting incident, eh? Here’s how you do it:

The Incident Itself

Whatever your inciting incident is, you need to make it big enough to permanently disrupt your protagonist’s everyday world. They can’t go back to the way things used to be; otherwise, you don’t have a story.

The Protagonist’s Reaction

Whenever something big happens to your protagonist, they need a bit of time to react to that monumental event. If they don’t, they won’t feel human to your readers, and this will make it hard for readers to connect with your protagonist.

Book editing software like Fictionary can supercharge your inciting incident writing skills. Using this software, you can ensure you’re hitting all the right plot beats. The inciting incident is the first place in your story where your reader should feel invested, so it needs to happen early.

If you make your reader wait too long for the moment that sucks them in, they might abandon your book forever, and nobody wants that!

Use software to help make sure you have your structure and pacing right. 

The Best Inciting Incidents in Science Fiction Books

As we wrap up our journey through the cosmos of captivating beginnings, let’s not forget the true power of an inciting incident.

It’s not just about a flashy event or a dramatic turn. It’s about the promise of a story yet to unfold, the anticipation of the unknown, and the engagement of our curiosity.

From Ender’s Game to Red Mars, these incidents speak to the heart of what science fiction can offer. A glimpse into what’s possible, a challenge to our perceptions, and a thrill for our imaginations.

So, whether you’re an author looking for inspiration or a reader searching for your next great read, remember, it all begins with an inciting incident.

Happy writing, my fellow sci-fi enthusiasts!

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