Inciting Incident and Catalyst for Book Trilogy...

by A. Milne
(San Fernando)

Hi Glen,

I'm a huge fan of your site. I'm in the process of plotting a trilogy novel and I know it's not an easy process which is why I've been doing it for the past three years in an effort to draft a decent outline before I start writing the books.

The over-arching story of this trilogy is about the rise of a sheltered and naïve young girl who becomes the face of a revolution that falls a corrupt, totalitarian government.

Some of the names have been changed to protect my content from plagiarism (you understand).

In book one the protagonist wins religious freedom for the Woodan people, setting her up to be the face of the revolution. She’s always known about the corrupt Mungas Empire (led by her father) and who they are. But she’s never had to defy or go against them before, which she eventually must do at the end of book 1 to save the Woodan people from persecution. Her father relents but the protagonist knows that the battle is far from over since her stunt (accepting Woodan religion) humiliated him.

Book 1 inciting incident: Prompted by his soothsayer’s advice, impact character Lord Chevar issues a decree that practising religion in public is a violation of earth law.

Book 1 catalyst: After refusing a mandatory marriage clause in order to inherit the Mungas Empire headship, the protagonist is excommunicated from her native Mungas continent and forced to retreat with her servant, Denim to the notably religious Woodan continent.

In book two the protagonist enters the exotic world of Orienta. She goes from being rich, powerful and fighting to survive to being poor, hungry and fighting to survive. She investigates the Orienta leader’s mysterious death in an effort to keep her boyfriend (Woodan rebel leader) Lit from unjustly rotting in Aronian prison. She learns about things she had no clue existed before and soon realizes how far Lord Chevar will go to assume dominance over the four quarters of the earth.

(I should point out that in this novel trilogy, the world has been divided into four continents: Mungas, Orienta, Woodan and Aronia).

Book 2 inciting incident: In an effort to initiate missionary work in Orienta, Lit extends a cordial meeting e-invite to Orienta’s council leader, North and his wife.

Book 2 catalyst: Upon arrival in Orienta, Lit is arrested by Orienta police after evidence surrounding North’s mysterious death implicate Lit’s involvement.

In book three the protagonist and the Woodan rebellion hide out in Aronia (the only continent free of Mungas reign; Woodan and Orienta were conquered in books 1 and 2 respectively) and go through the last battle with the Mungas Empire.

Sorry, I know it's a lot of information and hopefully you can offer great advice regarding whether what I have so far in terms of content and incident incidents and catalyst makes sense especially regarding a trilogy novel.

Also, I'm at a loss as to how to plot an inciting incident and catalyst for book 3. Essentially book three is about the Mungas Empire unleashing all their power to overthrow the Woodan rebels religious influence in an effort to make religion obsolete and illegal. In this world, religion is against the law.

Thanks in advance for all your great advice and I look forward to your response!

Answer: Your use of the term "catalyst" is not something I'm familiar with, but from your usage I think you're referring to what I would call the first event or signpost of the main character's throughline.

Personally, I find it easier to think about complete story arcs rather than just the first events. In other words, it doesn't matter so much what the initial events are. What matters is the overall change that occurs over the course of the story. In the overall plot, this change concerns whether the story goal that involves, affects, or concerns the majority of characters is achieved. This is the level of your political struggle.

Parallel to this, your main character's arc will concern how she is pressured to change her approach, to grow as a person, and whether her ultimate decision (to change or remain steadfast) puts her in a better place at the end of the book.

With a trilogy, you have the added challenge of making each book a complete story in itself, as well as being part of the overall story.

For instance, book one will generally see the main character change in a way that sets her on a journey (metaphorical or actual) which will take place in book two. Book two should end with a major personal crisis for the main character. This is often the book where the main character makes the wrong decision and suffers a major setback. Book three will be about how she resolves the crisis from the previous book.

At the same time, each book will have its own story goal (which will be a subset of the series goal). The victory in the first book will only be the first battle in a longer war (again, metaphorical). The second book may have two goals, since there are usually two acts. For instance, the first goal might be to survive/cope with the challenges in Orienta, and the second goal might be to uncover the truth. Again, the truth that is revealed should provoke a major political crisis which will be resolved in the third book.

Assuming the trilogy is to have a happy ending, the third book will show us how the main character, coming off a major personal setback and a political setback, takes control of the situation. How does she go from the devastation of the setbacks towards her ultimate victory? This is the book where we will see that she is no longer the naive and powerless person she was in book one, but fully the hero she was destined to become. (In the second book, she wavers between who she was and who she is becoming.)

What the first events of this book should be depend very much on how you left her and the overall characters at the end of book two, which is why I cannot tell you what these events should be. But that is where you must start and I hope that points you in the right direction.

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