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  • Writer's pictureHajar J. Woodland

The One Creative Writing Rule You Shouldn't Break When Writing Copy

Updated: May 4, 2021

Creative writing courses teach the rules of writing so that we can go ahead and break them, but here's one rule that every story needs.

In her first Noisy Badger blog, Victoria wrote about how her creative writing MA's informed her copywriting but I want to go a bit deeper and share this monumentally important story structure rule to keep in mind when writing copy:

The Inciting Incident

You've probably heard the term before - especially if you've any interest in theatre or film but the inciting incident (or inciting event) isn't just for fiction - it'll supercharge your content marketing too.

So, what is an inciting incident?

In short, the inciting incident is the event that makes a protagonist act. It usually goes something like: 'every day life was like this, but then one day... BAM!'

That 'BAM!' is your inciting incident.

To go for an easy stereotype, let's say an accountant had a 9-5, ate the same sandwiches every day, got the same train, read the same type of crime fiction and then BAM! they come home to find:

  • their partner's gone

  • their dog can talk

  • they've a long-lost brother

(maybe not all three)


  • their house has burnt down

  • someone stole their sandwich

  • "Netherfield Park is let at last"

  • Prince Charming's throwing a ball to find his princess

  • an elderly aunt's ill and needs looking after in her spooky mansion

Your customer is the protagonist

The inciting event is the thing that incites the protagonist to act. Sometimes it's as simple as moving home or job or an invite to a party; other times it's losing everything. Whatever it is, it has to set off a chain of events that take the protagonist on some sort of journey.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

Your customer is the protagonist you're writing a story for - but you need an inciting event before any of the other cool stuff can happen. Remember they are the hero of their story, not you.

When it comes to content, your customer's inciting event matters. You can either be it (the invitation) or be part of their response to it.

Either way, you want to ask yourself:

"What is the thing that will make my customer act?"

For example, if my sink's blocked, I'm going to Google the problem and find out how to fix it. Ideally this will lead me to a plumber who understands the issue. The blockage is the inciting event and the plumber is part of my journey. Of course, I'm more likely to go for a plumber whose website already acknowledges my blocked sink.

And this is why knowing the inciting event matters...

"Blocked sink? Give us an hour and you can get back to those dishes."

is much better than

"For all your plumbing needs"...

(hey, some of us don't know if we need a plumber or a mechanic)

Make sense? By identifying the inciting incident, you can show that you understand exactly what your customer's going through and give a very clear solution to the problem.

Of course, not all our customers need obvious problems fixing. For these customers, you're the inciting event, and just like Prince Charming's invitation to the ball, you need to know what your customer's 'every day' is to make them dream of attending.

How are they feeling? What's the little thing or the big thing in their life that isn't sitting well? Sure, they can keep going and maybe nothing bad will happen but what action could they take that will set off a chain of events that'll lead to something great? What does the invitation look like?

To give an off-the-top-of-my-head example:

"Bored of tuna sandwiches? Give them a squeeze (of our spicy mayo)"

is better than

"This spicy mayo goes with everything"

What's your customer's 'every day'?

Acknowledging an emotion shows you understand your customer's 'every day' and you're not asking them to make major changes to their lunch routine either. The 'give them a squeeze' is your invitation that will hopefully be their inciting event (note, this isn't the same as a Call to Action (CTA)).

When you're the inciting event you have to really know your customer - and once you do you can craft an invitation that will make them want to go on a journey (with you as their sidekick).

Write down those inciting events

Why not take ten minutes and give it a go right now?

List the inciting events that will lead your customer to seek out your products and services. You can then craft copy that acknowledges those events and makes your writing really specific to your customer needs.

OR, if you're the inciting event, write a quick paragraph about your customer's 'every day' then write the perfect invitation they'll want to accept.

Let me know how you get on!


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