The Character Evolution Files, No. 03: The Journey Through the Character Arc, Stage 1 – The Trigger (Inciting Incident)

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Welcome to the Character Evolution Files! This monthly column focuses on character arcs, from the elements that create or enhance a character’s inner journey, to techniques that writers can employ to strengthen character arcs in their own work. Today we begin our Journey Through the Character Arc with File No. 03, which focuses on the Trigger (a.k.a. the Inciting Incident).

A character’s evolution doesn’t ignite on its own. Like a firework, it needs a spark – something that catalyzes the plot as well as the protagonist’s arc – so the story can take off. This is the moment where your story truly begins. In story-structure land, this is known as the Inciting Incident. For the purposes of the Character Evolution Files, however, we’ll give it a different name: the Trigger.

This first stage in our journey through a positive character arc is the subject of Character Evolution File No. 03. We’ll discuss the important elements of an arc Trigger, the role that untruths or “false beliefs” play in arcs, and how this arc stage aligns with the Inciting Incident. Also, we’ll study two examples of Triggers using well-known fictional characters, both of whom we’ll follow during our journey through the positive arc. (Hint: Check out the banner above to guess who will be featured.) Oh, and there might be a downloadable goodie for you at the end. 😉

Shall we begin?

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Recent Reads: “Insurgent” by Veronica Roth

Insurgent cover

Veronica Roth
Young Adult / Dystopian / Science Fiction

Summary: One choice can transform you – or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves – and herself – while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable – and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

Rating: 3.75 / 5

After seeing the recently released “Divergent” film (I read Divergent the book last year), I grabbed Insurgent off my bookshelf and started reading it when I got home. It was an excellent idea; the plot, characters, and world were all fresh in mind, so diving into Insurgent felt like slipping into my most comfortable pair of jeans. And like with Divergent, I had a hard time putting down Insurgent once I started reading it. The major difference? I was more satisfied with the sequel than I was with the original.

With Insurgent, Veronica Roth has mastered the art of suspense. She excels with writing action and maintaining a brisk, breathless clip, even during the quieter scenes. And gosh, does she know how to create a plot twist. They always come at the right times – and regardless of whether it’s a shocking betrayal from someone Tris believed was an ally or a surprise rescue by someone she swore was an enemy, the twists never fail to leave readers agape, even after each character’s motives have been revealed.

I also came away pleased with the evolution of Tris and Four / Tobias’s relationship. Their attraction to one another in Divergent seemed almost purely physical, with little substance. It’s still this way when Insurgent begins – and then BOOM! Between Tris’s hasty decisions that put her life at constant risk, Tobias’s disagreements with Tris’ (often correct) intuition, and the secrets they hide from one another, the couple grows deeply concerned and frustrated with one another. The arguments that follow explode on the page, and it’s terrific. Once the anger fades, the reader clearly sees why these two characters care about each other and can truly root for Tris and Four to succeed together.

While I have no complaints about plot or characters, the first several chapters almost suffocated me with Tris’ guilt trip over killing her friend Will in the previous book. I completely understand it was a traumatic experience for Tris, but how necessary was it her to wallow in her grief and remorse afterwards to the extent and length of time that she does? If it wasn’t for Roth’s exhilarating writing style, continuing to read this book would have been a burden. Thankfully the anguish lifts once Tris accepts Will’s death, making the rest of Insurgent a rewarding experience.

Other critiques I have for Insurgent are nitpicks and pet peeves. For example, way too many chapters and individual scenes within chapters begin with Tris waking up. More variety in scene and chapter beginnings would have made these transitions less repetitive. Otherwise, I found Insurgent a thrilling and satisfying second act to Roth’s Divergent series. It’s rare that the second book in a trilogy betters the first – and since Divergent left me excited yet dissatisfied, I was all the more pleased that Insurgent improved on all the areas where its predecessor was lacking. Now I look forward to reading the trilogy’s finale, Allegiant. I do know how that last book ends (it’s impossible to avoid reading the online discussions because of the controversy it caused) and how it’s a dual narrative switching between Tris and Tobias, but I’m going to read Allegiant with an open mind and reserve all opinions for when I’ve finished it.

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Deciding whether to buy Insurgent from Amazon? Let me know whether you found my review helpful by clicking here and selecting either “Yes” or “No.”

Coming Soon: I’m most of the way through Lynn Kurland’s fantasy romance novel Dreamspinner, and that book will be my next Recent Read. Before that, though, keep an eye out for my next Music Monday Review, on Stream Of Passion’s A War Of Our Own.