What is The Key Element Your Novel Should Have To Light it on Fire?

Screen shot 2013-02-13 at 7.31.58 AM Photo is courtesy of Morguefile.

Have you ever wondered how an agent can tell if your manuscript is ready for publication after reading only the first three chapters? There’s a key element your novel must have that should jolt your hero or heroine on a quest. Do you know what that element is? Can you identify that key ingredient in novels and movies?

If not, watch my video below and share your mystery element in your current wip or in a recent movie.


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  1. Great explanation for what the inciting incident is! You make it easy to see. Great vlog!

    • Thanks for watching the video and offering encouragement, Pat. I must have filmed it five times! The audio and visual kept going out of sync. Not sure what that’s about but in time I hope to learn.
      Have a great weekend!

  2. Just saw your post on the precipitating action or element of a story. You made good choices. “Home Alone” is fairly clearcut and there are tons of novels where a new life begins when one partner walks into the bedrooom and says, “I want a divorce,” or you get a phone call that your significant other has died. That seems pretty obvious when you think about it because when you get right down to it, without a precipitating action there is no story, and no story and there’s no novel.

    The fun part is how many different kinds of precipitating actions there can be. It can be an astronomer discovering a smudge on a photograph that heralds the end of life on earth, or a guy walking into a lonely apartment, discovering that he’s just not happy, and he walks out to find a new life.

    In my case, it’s four words. Here’s the opening and a short intro into the two lives that are about to change forever:

    Four words destroyed my marriage and my life. And they’re not the four words you’re probably thinking about.
    Not “we have to talk,” or “baby, I’ve met somebody” or “our sex life sucks” or even “You’re not giving me enough.” Actually that last is five words, but hey, who’s counting?
    It was a lot stranger, and simpler than that. I had come into our bedroom on a Tuesday night after finishing a “law and order” re-run on cable and was getting ready to take a shower. I tend to watch a lot of cop and lawyer shows. Coals to Newcastle, really.
    I should have gotten enough of that stuff in my day job as an Assistant State Attorney in the Duval County State Attorney’s Office. To northerners, that’s the same as the District Attorney’s Office.. We are the people who prosecute bad guys and put them away when we can. Anyway, I like those kinds of cop shows. Even after 10 years on the job, I still like what I do.
    Debbie was in bed, lying back on a scrunched up pillow, looking through some travel magazine. She usually brings back a ton of student papers to grade from UNF where she’s an associate professor in the College of Business. They generally take a couple to three hours to finish. But she’s conscientious and it was 11 p.m. and she was relaxing.
    I enjoyed the view. Even though we had been married nearly 18 years, I still enjoyed looking at her. A tall blonde, hair cut fashionably movie star style with Jennifer Anniston bangs, she looked 10 years younger than her true age of 39. The robe she wore was as sexy as a potato sack, but I could still see the curve of her Double D-cup breasts underneath it. I could also envision her long legs.
    I thought about trying to get a real look between them, but stopped myself. She insisted I take my evening shower and brush my teeth before I even tried and she was usually too tired on weeknights to even consider the idea. I looked down at myself. I was five foot eight, Debbie five-ten, and where she was still fairly svelte from working out at the gym, I’d already developed the classic middle aged paunch of a guy whose only exercise was getting out on the links every few months. And I only did that when office politics absolutely demanded it.


  3. Hi Daniel –
    Thanks for watching the video and sharing a part of your story, but don’t leave us hanging! What were the four words? You never said.

    • The title of the novel, which will run four to 10 volumes in length and is half finished and available on barnes, smashwords and amazon, is “When We Were Married.” Each volume has a separate sub-title, 1 – The Long Fall, 2- Second Acts, 3- The Wind is Rising, 4 – Nobody Gets Out Alive.
      In case you haven’t guessed, the four words are “when we were married.” Seem fairly innocuous out of context, but in context they destroy a marriage and a family, create the media legend of “the angel of death,” spark a black/white racial showdown in a southern city, incite a war on two continents between criminal cartels, grow into an intercontinental love quadrangle on two continents and touch the lives of cops, crooks and lawyers from Florida to France, Mexico to Africa. I’m having a lot of fun with it.

      • Wow, that sounds amazing. How do you remember it all from book to book? Like who’s who, the color of his eyes, if she’s right-handed, who their bosses are? Do you keep a thick file on each book with the details to refer back to?
        I’m glad you’re having fun with it. That’s what makes us want to write, isn’t it?
        Thanks again for sharing this with our readers.

  4. Drew Carson says:

    Great vlog! I like calling it the ‘igniting incident’ better now!

    • Hey, Drew! Glad to SEE you here. I LOVE that idea–the IGNITING incident. That’s perfect.
      It was fun to meet you this week. I look forward to hearing more about your “world” soon.
      Let me know if you want to write articles for us here. We’d love to have you.

      • Drew Carson says:

        That would be awesome! Of course, school assignments are totally unpredictable (and fairly time-consuming), but I’d love to help out when I have a free block of time!

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