Story Catalysts: Accelerators, Instigators, Initiators, Inciters

Story Catalysts: Accelerators, Instigators, Initiators, Inciters

You've got that dramatic arc you want to play out in the scene, but how do you start it? What kicks off or provokes the action? You need a catalyst or provocation which jumps starts a context for your plot point to exist within.

In chemistry, catalysis is the process of speeding up a chemical reaction; a sort of "shortcut" which lets a process happen in normal circumstances when it typically wouldn't. For example, Palladium is used in combustion engines to accelerate the attenuation of exhaust gases (e.g. CO), allowing their byproducts to be safer.

A Man Walks In With A Gun

In April 1950, novelist Raymond Chandler published an essay titled “The Simple Art of Murder” in a magazine called the Saturday Review of Literature, and he reflected on his background as an author in pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. The tales about police officers, journalists, and detectives sometimes lacked realism Chandler said because they occurred during a compressed time-frame and involved an artificially close-knit group of people.

"This was inevitable because the demand was for constant action and if you stopped to think you were lost. When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. This could get to be pretty silly but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. A writer who is afraid to over-reach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong."

There's a subtle point amid the dramatic scenario here: it's hard to kick off scenes, and easy for the energy to be lost as you go on.

The answer? Have a bookcase of provocative events you can sprinkle across your script in structured fashion.

162 Scene-Opening Action Inciters

There are more, but even if you used twenty per screenplay, you'd have enough for 13 episodes or movies.

Each of these are design to incite, accelerate, provoke, instigate, or initiate a scene or dramatic segment. The essence of each comprises a sense of surprise or alarm, confronting your character and demanding a response.

  1. A massive explosion out of nowhere
  2. A scientist/technician makes a disturbing discovery
  3. Something that should be here is missing
  4. A man walks in with a gun
  5. A beautiful girl in a dress walks by
  6. Smoke starts to pour in through a window
  7. There’s a secret passageway
  8. I recognise someone in the photo
  9. There’s an intruder
  10. The guilty person has an alibi
  11. An old friend arrives with bad news
  12. Inspectors or authorities arrive to shut things down
  13. Someone is caught in the act
  14. A plea for help
  15. Someone starts to feel unwell and collapses
  16. Someone is watching or following
  17. The food has run out
  18. They are not who they think they are
  19. We took the wrong turn
  20. The device or chart readings are going off the chart
  21. A clause in the contract/document invalidates or forbids the plan
  22. Equipment or vehicle fatally malfunctions
  23. A strange artefact is discovered
  24. Someone has a hidden identity
  25. I need to confess
  26. An anonymous body washes up
  27. Someone finds the answer or secret recipe
  28. Hired by a mysterious benefactor
  29. A menacing crowd has formed outside
  30. Hostages start dying
  31. Inspiration appears out of nowhere
  32. All the money’s gone
  33. Strange medical symptoms manifest
  34. A prison guard offers to help
  35. The broadcast is interrupted
  36. A missile hits the building
  37. A friend’s body has been taken over
  38. A forgotten child appears
  39. Helicopters above get closer
  40. Science can’t recognise or explain it
  41. An accident or embarrassment at an event
  42. Witnessing an unexplained suicide
  43. A machine becomes sentient
  44. A doctor prescribes a terminal diagnosis
  45. Finding something dreadful
  46. A resignation is tendered
  47. A clock starts ticking
  48. A litigator discovers a get-out clause
  49. A threatening electronic message arrives
  50. Reality begins to disintegrate
  51. We have to kill them all
  52. The vehicle won’t start
  53. A police officer arrives to arrest the innocent
  54. The court hands down an unjust sentence
  55. The water/chemical spill accelerates
  56. A special power manifests for the first time
  57. A marksman misses the target
  58. The call cuts out
  59. Side effects of a medication increase
  60. An animal attacks violently
  61. They aren’t responding
  62. A counter-allegation is made
  63. A strange signal is detected
  64. A response is impolite
  65. The launch goes wrong
  66. Perpetrator saves the victim
  67. An infant has been abandoned
  68. An event of religious significance occurs
  69. The door locks
  70. A scandalous public accusation is made
  71. The jury fails to convict
  72. A witness recants their testimony
  73. A VIP visits unexpectedly
  74. Sudden loss of all memory
  75. Something good is sabotaged
  76. An interpreter is required
  77. An innocent volunteers for the punishment
  78. A prostitute is treated kindly
  79. The environment erupts violently
  80. A new boy/girlfriend attends the event
  81. A gambling table has a bet which is lose/gain everything
  82. We’ve made a catastrophic mistake
  83. The vehicle won’t stop
  84. A new system comes online
  85. A strange guest at the funeral
  86. An official notice is delivered
  87. Something’s been stolen
  88. No other survivors can be found
  89. A non-human thing starts to speak
  90. An assassin is stalking or waiting
  91. A sudden religious epiphany or experience
  92. An enemy produces blackmail material
  93. The evidence is hidden
  94. A kiss is interrupted
  95. A tripwire detonates hiddy booby traps
  96. A complaint is received
  97. The crowd divides into tribes
  98. Sexuality is switched
  99. A lie or deception is detected
  100. Governance collapses
  101. A pregnancy test is positive
  102. Something extraterrestrial arrives or appears
  103. Offered an impossible dilemma choice
  104. A disguise is removed
  105. A protest turns violent
  106. Secretly witnessing a mortal crime
  107. Extra tickets are available
  108. An obstacle blocks the path
  109. An innocent person is beaten or victimised
  110. A blueprint reveals a weakness
  111. A organisation or building is raided
  112. A spiritual entity begins its terrorism
  113. An experiment goes terribly wrong
  114. A check bounces
  115. A brawl breaks out
  116. A serious warning or threat is issued
  117. A newspaper has printed a story
  118. A child reveals abuse
  119. An audience turns on the speaker
  120. The boss produces an impossible case
  121. The sex gets violent
  122. A reward or ransom is offered
  123. A homeless vagrant isn’t harmless
  124. A spouse wants a break-up or divorce
  125. A trail of blood is discovered
  126. The trap fails
  127. A billionaire pretends to be poor
  128. A neighbour calls with strange information
  129. An offender is expelled
  130. Masked men jump out of a van
  131. The truce is broken
  132. The laws of nature stop applying
  133. Signs have been left on a wall
  134. A debt is called in
  135. The company announces new management
  136. A bribe is offered
  137. An object is discovered to be a forgery
  138. Someone hears a voice in their head
  139. Don’t open that box
  140. A journalist ruins the conference
  141. A witness doesn’t speak up
  142. A fantasy goes out of control
  143. A secret organisation leaves a clue to its existence
  144. A femme fatale begins her seduction
  145. New rules are enforced
  146. Someone reveals their death is iminent
  147. An earpiece must be worn to receive instructions
  148. A bomb explodes at an event
  149. A kiss which shouldn’t have happened
  150. Journalists are on the doorstep
  151. The engines seize
  152. Suddenly unable to do something you could before
  153. The only route back disintegrates
  154. An execution is delayed
  155. A child behaves strangely
  156. A monster isn’t malicious
  157. A message from the future is discovered
  158. A marriage isn’t legal
  159. The violence gets sexual
  160. Vandals have destroyed something precious
  161. A spouse makes an unreasonable request
  162. Someone is raging nearby.