From the Inciting Incident to the Point of No Return (end of act 1)
Previously I've covered the ordinary world (also known as the Set Up) and the theme. Now is the most important part of any script, the Inciting Incident. Like I previously mentioned, the inciting incident is where the protagonists world starts to fall apart. The big bad news is revealed and the protagonist must set out on their journey. The real question is, how do you make a strong inciting incident for the story? Well that's simple! You need to have something happen that puts the plot into motion. For example, perhaps a family member has passed away or someone has been abandoned at the alter on their wedding. Those types of things is devastating and can destroy them internally. Once you show the inciting incident, you then have to show the fall out. How do they react to the inciting incident? How does the world around them start to crumble? Once those are shown, about 17 minutes in or so, you can then show the protagonist taking a step towards their journey. In the mini crisis (also known as debate), they come up with a plan of what they need to do so they can fix the problem. After a few filler scenes, then you can show the Point of No Return on page 26 and end the first act. Let's take a look at a few film examples of what a protagonist goes through from the inciting incident to the end of act one.
In When Harry Met Sally, the theme revolves around whether a guy and a girl and be friends without intimacy. So the inciting incident that destroys Harry's life is when Sally says, "We are just going to be friends." This makes us wonder, is this the end for them? Fast forward five years. Harry is at the airport, and he witnesses Sally kissing her boyfriend goodbye. Obviously their personalities haven't changed, but she's moved on and he's still single. Even after talking on the plane, Sally realizes that she isn't right for Harry. However, fast forward another five years. Sally broke up with her boyfriend who refused to marry her and Harry, not surprisingly enough, is going through a divorce. For the rest of the film we remain in the present moment and follow their journey. Can a guy and a girl just be friends? They both decide to test the waters and see if it's possible, thus ending act 1.
Going back to one of my favorite movies, Beauty and the Beast, the inciting incident, mini crisis, and point of no return are kind of close together. The inciting incident is where Maurice, Belle's father, is lost and goes to the Beast's castle for shelter. The Beast doesn't like him being there and holds him in a dungeon. Later Belle's horse returns to the village and Belle goes off to search for her father. Once at the Beast's castle, she heads to the dungeon and sees her father behind a cell. Suddenly she runs into the Beast. In order to free her father, she offers to make a trade, her life for his. The Beast accepts and frees Maurice. Moments after Maurice heads back into town, the Beast invites Belle to stay in a more comfortable room. As he leads her to her new room, he lays out the rules. She can go anywhere she wants in the castle, except the West Wing! Act 1 ends with Belle sobbing on the bed.
In Elf, the inciting incident is where Buddy overhears the elves talking about him. One of them says that if he hasn't figured out he's a human, he never will. Images swirl in his mind and brief flashbacks show Buddy not fitting in with the elves. (For example he's too big for the shower and is too large for the bed.) He becomes a bit queasy and faints on top of an elf. Later, he sees Papa Elf and is told to visit his real father at the Empire State building. Thanks to Leon the snowman, he decides to set out on his journey to meet his dad. Before leaving Leon says, "This might be the golden opportunity to find out who you really are." The point of no return is where Buddy ends up in New York City. Believe me, this is his upside down world! Everything is much different and the journey to self discovery begins.
Of course when you're writing your script, you don't want to put the beats too close together. Sometimes I've noticed writers that have the inciting incident then the protagonist immediately knows what to do, then act one ends on page 17 or something. It's too fast and doesn't give the reader time to take everything in. Remember, smooth everything out. If you're unsure if your inciting incident isn't strong enough, try asking yourself, "Is this devastating?" Remember, it's the big bad news that drives the plot forward.