1. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    Inciting incident too contrived?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by prettyprettyprettygood, Jun 1, 2012.

    Hope this question makes sense. I can't shake a niggle that the inciting incident for one of my story ideas is weak. The story is set in England during the Victorian era (I'm thinking mid-19thC but not certain yet) and I need the MC, a boutique-owner/dressmaker, to lose everything except the shirt on his back.


    Fire appeared to be the simplest way to go, but having done some research it seems that fire insurance was in existence during this period (fire brigades were run by the insurers), and even if my MC didn't have insurance the fire brigade would still have attempted to extinguish the fire if there was a risk any nearby insured buildings would be affected.


    Of course I can come up with reasons why he wasn't insured, why the fire brigade didn't get there in time, and why he didn't have any money in the bank. But as the story is all about what happens after he loses everything I don't want to write much on the fire itself, and even I if I do come up with reasons- there was a large fire in a farm just outside town at the same time, say, and he'd spent the bulk of his cash on materials for a major order- I can't help but feel it'll just seem a bit...handy, and readers will be incredulous.


    I'm sure the whole 'if you write it well enough it will be believable' advice stands here, but it would be useful to hear thoughts on whether this situation strikes anyone as just too contrived so I can head back to the drawing board if needed :)
     
  2. louis1
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    louis1 Contributing Member

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    why not simply start the story, with him having nothing except for his clothes. The you can, as the story develops hint at what happened, little piece by little piece, the readers wont event bother to see if it makes perfect sense cause by then what they'll truly care about is what's going to happen next
     
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  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Two points that may be helpful:

    Gas lighting was in use in London through most of the 19th century.

    Insurance doesn't pay out if there is a finding that the insured may have deliberately caused the event. (A finding doesn't necessarily mean guilt or innocence - a civil finding and a criminal one might differ, as in the OJ Simpson case).

    As louis said, you don't have to fill in the complete story if it takes place before the story begins. You can let the details be vague, with only enough coming out during your story to sketch out the incident.
     
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  4. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    Many thanks to both of you for your thoughts. I had considered whether to just hint at what happened throughout the story, but as it is kind of a lighthearted caper I thought that this method might just be a distraction. You've got me thinking now though that it could actually be effective, especially combined with Cogito's point:

    This really should have occurred to me! My MC proves to have pretty dubious morals, so if I do sprinkle the circumstances of the fire during the story then a lingering doubt over whether he was actually guilty could be a nice added element.

    Thanks again, you've really helped me think about this from a different angle.
     
  5. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I think you could just refer to a losing everything in a fire (go into detail about the fire if you want) and you'll be fine. You don't have to explain the legal loopholes and coincidence that contributed towards you losing everything, unless you want to make that part of the plot. The reader will piece together an explanation in their own mind.
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    What about a debt that he can't pay? I seem to recall that in the past, creditors could take anything, not just formal collateral. Of course, that leaves (1) finding out if I'm right about the law and (2) figuring out where the debt came from.
     
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  7. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    Thanks Agent, that's what I was hoping people would do and it's what I'd likely do if I was reading such a story, but I've been struggling to shake the niggle that people would think 'oh, come on!'. I do think keeping it relatively vague/undetailed will help, and then people's imaginations will hopefully allow them not to get bogged down in the practicalities.

    ChickenFreak that's a really good idea actually, not a one I've considered before and it could make for a fun beginning, depending on research of course. I think I'll stick to the fire idea for now, but it's great to have this as another option if things go pear-shaped.
     

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