In the first ten pages of V. Castro’s Stoker-nominated The Goddess of Filth, a young woman is violently possessed. The moment is so jarring and powerful that I found myself going back to make sure I hadn’t accidentally started the book on the wrong chapter! But upon confirming I had, in fact, started the book on the correct page, I decided to just go with it. “I trust Castro,” I said to myself. “Let’s dive right in.”
It’s an awesome beginning. A group of girls are innocently goofing around, playing “seance” like millions of kids do … and things go sour. Fast. Pretty soon, it becomes clear that their friend, Fernanda, has undergone some kind of change:
The words were a mumble, barely audible, but there. Fernanda released my sweaty grip. She unfolded her legs to adopt a squatting position. Both her arms extended to the ceiling as if she held onto a branch, readying her body for birth in the wild. Her chanting increased in volume as she stared at nothing, her wide eyes reflecting the flames. In the darkness, it appeared as if the fire was inside her skull. The rest of the circle watched in fear as a husky breathless voice filled the room, sounding less and less like Fernanda’s.
Fernanda, my friends, is in trouble.
Inciting incidents are tricky. They require an event to take place that radically upends the main character’s life. They need to create some sort of imbalance and, most importantly, they require some kind of resolution by the end of the story. Great stories don’t stop here, though. Great stories give the main character both a conscious and an unconscious desire to return life to its proper balance. Audiences are drawn to these characters because we sense that the inciting incident has awakened some deeper issues that need resolution.
Castro’s inciting incident works. It really, really works. Once it becomes clear that Fernanda is possessed by something, Lourdes (our hero) goes about trying to save her friend. That’s the obvious conscious desire. But there’s an unconscious desire, too: I think Lourdes is working through some of her own issues related to other peoples’ perceptions of who she is as a person. Again and again, readers see how Lourdes is perceived by other people, and those negative opinions influence how she views herself.
Castro’s early incident also tells us how to read her story: strange things will happen without warning. This lets us feel close to the main character, who has no idea what to expect from Fernanda’s possessor. It leads to some unexpected, tense moments! There’s an early scene with a priest that sets up a religious conflict. There’s also a club scene (easily my favorite part!) that involves a studded, crimson tongue moving like a snake. I didn’t expect this moment, but I loved it and I can still to this day picture it in my head. That, folks, is great writing.
Dark Path: Incite the Story!
This activity is inspired by Goddess of Filth and some current events. Here’s the premise: a group of radical do-nothings have organized a book burning. They’ve confiscated copies of a book they believe will corrupt their precious children. They will learn too late that the book is totally harmless when read … but if you burn it, that’s another story!
Step One: Create a book. Give it a name. Give it an author. Give the book burners a stupid reason for hating it. Feel free to Google examples of actual book burnings for examples! There’s no shortage of ignorance on this topic.
Step Two: Create a monster. It will rise from the ashes of the burned books to terrorize the people who participated in this sick ritual. Let the ash stick to its skin. Let the stink of sulfur follow it.
Step Three: Create your hero. I have only one mandatory requirement: they must be a librarian. Yes, that’s right: the book burners will be hunted by a monster who can only be killed by the very person they demonize! Your hero/librarian will help because their teenage child attended the book burning, and so they have a personal stake in killing the monster (this is the conscious desire). And deep down (the unconscious desire), your librarian also wants to show these book burning jerks that knowledge is power.
The inciting incident is the book burning, which releases the monster. Your hero, the librarian, must stop it because their child was at the book burning.
Now get writing!
Ken Brosky is the author of The Beyond, a horror novel available through Timber Ghost Press. His work has been published in Grotesque and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, among others. He’s currently working on a screenplay and a new novel.