First chapter vs inciting incident

Recently received feedback got me thinking about this.

Nick is hosting a first chapter feedback server. I submitted one of my stories and as expected, he gave me his candid opinion about it.

He found it interesting but ultimately would pass on the book. The reasons he gave:

  • no conflict introduced (I agree with that),
  • no clear preview of what type of journey the character will be on (I’m still not sure how to fix that in one scene),
  • there was no change to status quo.

And the last point is what I’m most conflicted about. While I respect Nick and value his opinion, I’m ready to argue about this.

He didn’t explicitly say “inciting incident.” His specific words were “the day everything changed.” That sounds like an inciting incident to me.

In some stories, it makes sense to start with the inciting incident, but not all. If you don’t know anything about the character, how are you supposed to feel their struggle?

In my specific case, the true inciting incident happened in the past so if I were to start with it, it’d be a first chapter flashback and that has other issues. I decided to start my story in the present, used the first chapter to introduce my MC and show how he deals with the issue of the past. Only much later, I drop a ball on him and his life turns upside down. (I included the flashback in a later scene, not the first).

So I’m conflicted.

Do you agree with Nick? Should all stories start with the inciting incident?

And if they don’t, what do you think should be done to hook the reader from scene one?

Nick’s profile where you can find the link to the server


I don’t exactly agree with Nick that any of that is 100% necessary, BUT: we live in the age of short attention spans and that is how the clientele is going. So if we’re writing it for us, don’t worry so much, but if this is to gain an audience, it’s something that needs to be worked on.

Honestly, we’re starting to get to the point where episodic works may be the only way to gain the next generation’s attention.


In my opinion, for what that’s worth, you don’t need to start with the inciting incident, although this should happen within the first few chapters. But you DO need to start with internal conflict, and maybe introduce the premise of the story. The reader needs something to pull him in. Stories that start with the status quo are so boring and unnecessary. We all know what a normal existence is, even when it happens in a fantasy setting. Life in the shire isn’t really all that different from life in Vermont or Bavaria or France. Unless your characters’ normal existence involves cannibalism or something unusual, it’s not really necessary to show too much of it.


It’s a bit tricky because there are readers who like the “traditional” style and there are those who get bored by it. I try to satisfy the latter group by structuring fairly short chapters, the potato chip method if you will (you never stop on one potato chip, always want more). But the caveat with that is that there’s a limit to how much story you can tell in a short chapter.

To squeeze the full story premise into one short chapter, I’d have to “tell” it, abandon good storytelling methods, immersive experience and all the good stuff. Essentially, I’d have to dumb down my book. Is that really what readers want? I don’t think so. Let’s not underestimate our readers.

Feeling a bit salty towards Wattpad

Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from the perfect writer, I’m not saying my stuff is better, but I’ve only been disappointed by what type of books Wattpad chooses for their Paid program. I’ve started a few of them and I never like their first chapters.
I’m just surprised that this is what they look for.

And I get it, they look for what the mass market wants, but it cheapens what Wattpad stands for. It’s hard to take them seriously when their standards are that low.

So getting this particular feedback from Nick only reminds me of the stories they deem good.

Maybe all this saltiness should get into my head that my future is not on that platform…


I’ve actually applied to have my first chapter read on this thing, I’m interested to see what is said from someone who works for Wattpad.

This is what I really hated about the Wattys. A few of my books have tons of side stories that are essential in my opinion to the plot. But to tell them, I had to go over their 500 word count, so in the end I had to take their existence out of the summary. Like, that dumbs down the book, the 500 word thing makes me tell you the story and not allow me to explain it properly. I hate it.

I really agree with this. I’ve recently seen some of these one-trip books and tbh they’re all the same if you go onto the front page. All the covers are men with six-packs with “SPORT STAR” or “JAKE THE PANTY RIPPER” or “teen romance” and tbh, sure they’re popular but not what everyone wants.
IMO, Wattpad need to branch out. Stop with the shoving teen fiction smut in everyone’s faces. What about adult readers? Especially in the past year/two years I’ve seen so many adults on Wattpad looking for more than their paid programme tripe. (sorry Wattpad but most of it is tripe)

Aye, I’m salty. None of my books got shortlisted, and Wattpad is okay to me now I’ve found my slot, but Wattpad as a business have shite practice in my opinion.

I’m pleased lesser known author’s won wattys this year, and a lot of imo better works got picked for shortlist this year, but looking at the winners - they always go for the same type of thing.

They need to branch out and they might get better opinions of them.


I get it.

I do introduce the hook by the end of the chapter (my college-aged MC has imaginary friends) and I thought that was enough to intrigue the reader.

Nick suggested that if the imaginary friends reveal happens in the middle of the chapter, there would be space to hook the reader afterwards. I think it’s a good idea to expand that chapter, maybe find a moment to introduce the conflict. I haven’t figured out yet how but I think that’s doable.

But even if expanded, this chapter is not the inciting incident. My MC’s whole life doesn’t change in this moment.

To completely follow Nick’s advice, I’d have to change the story, modify the premise. And I don’t think that’s necessary.


Good luck.

This isn’t my first time interacting with Nick. He can be brutal but just remember that it’s not personal. He just gives you his straightforward opinion. He judges your content the same way he judges everything else.

Lol. I can relate. Multiple storylines always weave themselves into my books. I can’t help it.

The book I submitted this year is a 250k monster. Lol. I had to dumb it down to just one storyline and it fit in like 320 words. Reading just that summary, they must have wondered how in the world such a simple story got stretched out into 250k words.


It’s not really a matter of estimation, but more a matter of conditioning. Most all of the short-attention readers can get into wordy works if they work their way into it. Conversely, a lengthy reader who keeps consuming short media for a long period of time may find themselves restless when they try to get back into something more immersive. I’m starting to hear people complain about the lack of attention span in older people, now.

So, it’s more: do I want to feed the conditioning for the quick follower or do I want to challenge that? This way it’s not really about inability, but more inactivity.


OMG THATS INSANE How can you be expected to condense that down?! I’d be so stressed out :rofl:

I’m partially expecting the brutal side of it. I chose to do my WIP which is mainly unedited, I mentioned it in the application so I hope he’s not that brutal about random missing words someone pointed out the other day. I asked for the hook/premise etc. So I’m intrigued. am I wrong in thinking he was on the Watty judging panel in 2020? I’m interested to see what he says as someone with inside knowledge.

1 Like

I disagree, but I’m not surprised by his answer given his role on Wattpad, where there’s a stronger emphasis on getting that initial clickthrough rate up than would be expected from a more classical style (or even a lot of contemporary writing that simply isn’t on Wattpad). It’s definitely a formula that works for Wattpad success, but if the standard Wattpad model isn’t what an author wants to write (there are definitely plenty of people who’d much rather read something else), I wouldn’t go out of your way to take that advice to heart.

It’s exactly as J. L.O said too: we’re in the age of short attention spans. It isn’t one’s moral obligation to cater to shorter attention spans. People these days still shell out hundreds of dollars for premier seats at the opera house, all while TikTok is presumably still the rage elsewhere: it might be a tough sell for the TikTok generation to spend two hours sitting in a dark theater watching people sing, but just because they say it’s a flawed business premise doesn’t mean there’s no demand.

And who says that plot need be the thing that pulls a reader in? When I was a young lad, I was captivated more by the luscious prose of One Hundred Years of Solitude when first starting than knowing why exactly we cared about Colonel Aureliano Buendia discovering ice. It’s like listening to Ravel’s Bolero vs. Gangnam Style. Wattpad’s model excludes hundreds of years of literary theory, and hundreds of years of readers who certainly wouldn’t think of themselves as literary snobs or anything, but still gravitate toward Marquez over The Bad Boy and the Cheesemonger. If Wattpad success is your only goal, then ignore all of that, but anyone more interested in writing an objectively good novel would benefit from broadening their horizons and definitions of what’s acceptable.


I’ve only sat through 1 Opera, and my husband is not a fan, but it was an experience that I think more people would benefit from. Musicals are much easier to digest, but some people can’t even take those, partially because they don’t know the roots of it all.

But if the foreign language is too hard, there’s things like Porgy and Bess out there. The English kind of dissed opera written in English until the art was all but lost to musicals.


Well put.

I’ve never seen opera or musicals but I’ve been to the theater and wow. It’s so underappreciated!

I was in high school and got roped into it by others only because they wanted to get the group discount and didn’t have enough people. I fully expected to be bored out of my mind, but it was the very opposite.

Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s not appealing to modern audience. We just have to make it available to them and dispel the myth of “boring old stuff grandpa did.”


I think it’s important to note where he’s likely coming from. He’s the Content Director of Wattpad. His mind is set on Wattpad. He is giving you the Wattpad Perspective. It is Wattpad-oriented. to the Wattpad audience. Most of which has a short attention span and wants things to move fast, pretty much throughout the entire story. I think critiques from Wattpad employees are, generally, going to assume that you are writing on Wattpad for the Wattpad people. They don’t need to help anyone/ tell anyone how to find success anywhere else, off of their platform, as there’s no “business sense” in that.

I’m with you on the whole first-chapter-and-inciting-incident-in-one-go thing. For some stories, it really works! For others, it does not. As an individual reader, I often need more time with characters, and knowing how they act before it “all changes”–because that event also ends up slowly changing the characters, too. How am I supposed to know how the characters are developing over time when I didn’t get a good idea of what they were like before? :man_shrugging:


I wrote that scene and it used to be the first chapter but since it’s a childhood flashback, there are plenty of arguments against keeping it as the first chapter. So I moved it to a later chapter and instead started the story on a moment when my MC meets a new ghost.

I don’t mention this moment in the current first chapter at all, so I’m not telling it at all.

The more I think about it, the clearer my actual issue becomes. I think I’m missing a proper chapter climax. When my MC encounters the ghost, that’s a turning point. His reaction to it is pretty mild - oh, another one. Maybe the solution is as simple as him having a stronger reaction.


I listened to Nick’s talk on first chapters, and they were very specific about it. They want something to happen by the end of chapter one, even if it’s just her meeting the new guy. This might not be inciting incident (that could be them walking through a portal a few days later), but something needs too spark interest.

In terms of status quo, I overall noticed by feedback Nick used to give in the old forum, that they don’t want a classic Act 1, describing status quo, they do want to start closer to the start of the first problem. For me, the novella I finished reading last week has the perfect opening. The wrongly accused witch is already in jail. She is about to be burned at the stake. Instead of showing her life as a milkmaid and her quarrel with the girl who set her up.


I also thought about novellas when he described what they want. It’s much easier to condense the set up in a novella. It’s expected.


I was an economics major way back when, and in the corporate world. I’ve looked up Nick on LinkedIn before out of curiosity. I think a lot of people on Wattpad preach what a first chapter must have or not have because A: they’ve watched too many marketing PowerPoints from Wattpad, and B: all their standards are based on what’s successful on Wattpad exclusively. They don’t realize just how much of that advice is influenced by Wattpad’s bottom line—sure, “short attention spans” or whatever may make that seductive, but what’s the term again? Echo chamber?

It’s not even like Wattpad is claiming that they are the sole arbiters of what’s right or wrong or anything like that. This isn’t some high school English class where you only get points if you repeat what the teacher says. Writing is a broader discipline than one website—ask anyone on the street what they’ve been reading or what they think a good book should have, and you’ll get a far wider variety of answers than what you get here.



1 Like

I’d also advise you @Kamiccola to be skeptical of advice coming from people who haven’t actually read your writing trying to diagnose what may be right or wrong with it. I saw in the Discord server you requested Nick take a look, which will do far more than someone on this forum playing doctor without being able to see the writing in question. I can describe very successful books in such a way that everyone here, assuming they were my writing, would tell me everything that ought to be fixed and how they’d do it, and they’d all be wrong because they’re working with a biased picture. To thine own self be true, as Polonius said.


I definitely agree.

However, I wanted to start this conversation because, well, I don’t want to let myself grow a too big head like I’m an expert and know better. Especially since it’s a critique of my work and I don’t know if I can be objective about it.

I’m glad to see agreement from fellow writers.