The Inciting Incident

5 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2020

Date Written: July 11, 2006


In literary terms, a trial lawyer has to decide how to introduce the inciting incident, the central moment of change or conflict around which the entire story revolves. More precisely, the question is whether to begin - the opening statement or final argument - with the inciting incident, or to precede it with some amount of exposition. That decision, in turn, depends on the nature of the story itself. Is the central conflict self-explanatory, requiring little or no contest? Or does the story require nuance and background in order to be understandable? This essay uses examples from film and literature - from Kafka's Metamorphosis to Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and from Casablanca to Saving Private Ryan - to explore the different approaches to this problem.

Suggested Citation

Lubet, Steven, The Inciting Incident (July 11, 2006). Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 916602, Available at SSRN: or

Steven Lubet (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-6605 (Phone)

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