Stage Three: The Inciting Incident

We are so grateful to Robert McKee and Shawn Coyne.

Our team could never have moved forward on this crazy assignment without their amazingly deep understanding of story.

Here is some of what McKee says about Stage Three…

The inciting incident is an unforeseen event that starts the story by upsetting the balance of the core character’s life. The neutral charge of its core value turns sharply positive or negative. Either way, this radical change puts the character under pressure. 

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

Definition: The inciting incident launches a story by upsetting the equilibrium of the protagonist’s life and throwing the story’s core value either positively or negatively, but decisively, out of kilter. This turning point initiates the events that follow and propels the protagonist into action. 

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

Here is something else McKee says about Stage Three…

[T]he protagonist holds reasonable sovereignty over her existence – until something happens that radically upsets that equilibrium.

We call this event the inciting incident.

To incite means to start; “incident” means “event.”

This first major event starts the story by throwing the protagonist’s life out of kilter.

Robert McKee, Dialogue

Fortunately, our team was familiar with inciting incidents from all the movies we’ve been watching, where they appear so prominently. Consider this compilation…

 Inciting Incident Supercut – 50 Movie Moments

And we learned how inciting incidents are about meaningful change… 

The impact of the inciting incident decisively changes the charge of the value at stake in the character’s life.

Robert McKee, Dialogue

From the inciting incident on, a story’s core value dynamically changes its charge over the course of the telling. In storytelling, therefore, dynamic means more than “active” or “forceful.” It means constant change and progress caused by an alternation between the positive and negative charges of values inherent in the story’s events.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

And look what Shawn Coyne writes… 

That is, the Inciting Incident of a global Story must make a promise to the reader… the ending. The ending must be a perfectly reasonable and inevitable result of the Inciting Incident. But it must also be surprising. If it is not surprising, it will not drive anyone to recommend it to his friend to read. Don’t promise something and then not deliver it. That is the telltale mark of a writer writing a book that will not work, no matter how great bits and pieces are within.

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

Setup and Payoff in Story

So now we’d like to show you some of what we’re beginning to see about how Stage Three fits with the story in the Bible.

But before we show you the actual inciting incident in the story in the Bible, we want to introduce you to one of the fascinating storytelling insights which Robert McKee opened the eyes of our team to.

It is called setup and payoff.

Here is part of what Robert McKee writes about setup and payoff…

To express our vision scene by scene we crack open the surface of our fictional reality and send the audience back to gain insight. These insights, therefore, must be shaped into Setups and Payoffs. To set up means to layer in knowledge; to pay off means to close the gap by delivering that knowledge to the audience. When the gap between expectations and result propels the audience back through the story seeking answers, it can only find them if the writer has prepared or planted these insights in their work.

Robert McKee, Story

Setups must be handled with great care. They must be planted in such a way that when the audience first sees them, they have one meaning, but with a rush of insight, they take on a second, more important meaning. It’s possible, in fact, that a single setup may have meanings hidden to a third or fourth level.

Robert McKee, Story

And that made us wonder about what your God may be up to…

Behold, the former things have come to pass,

    and new things I now declare;

before they spring forth

    I tell you of them.”

Isaiah 42:9

And notice this, related to the balance in the story…

Subject matter for a story contains three major components: a physical and social setting, a protagonist, and a core value. Life offers the storyteller an infinite variety of each.

In fact, more often than not, the spark of originality that ignites an exceptional story flashes through a creative’s imagination not while she daydreams, but as she sweats out the grunt work of founding her story-world and planting its setups.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

Our team has found some fascinating setup in the first two chapters of the Bible, where the balance in the story is laid out.

And because of your unfolding drama in America, we want to especially show you how there is a risk assessment warning given before the actual inciting incident itself…

Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.  The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Genesis 2:15-17

Right there in the middle of the balance, is a warning which is a setup. And the payoff flows throughout the story.

So, it looks like that warning was the ultimate Gray Rhino…

A gray rhino is the big, scary thing that’s right in front of you with the big horn that’s coming at you—very hard to ignore—but somehow we manage to ignore anyway. It’s related to the elephant in the room, but the elephant in the room stands still and we all take for granted that the elephant in the room is not gonna get attention, nobody’s going to say anything, nobody’s going to do anything. We felt that the language needed a more active concept, so the gray rhino’s coming at you… The gray rhino gives you a choice: you can either stand there and get flattened, or you can get out of the way, and ideally not just get out of the way but use the gray rhino to use the opportunity to see whatever the next steps are in your business, in your life, in your policy.


So really the important part of the gray rhino is that you recognize it, and once you’ve done that you can ask the kind of questions that will help you get out of the mess. Just recognizing the gray rhino isn’t enough to solve the problem but if you don’t recognize it, and if don’t start asking these questions, it’s pretty darn sure that you’re not going to get out of the way.

Into the Wild: This Author Can Help Your Company Avoid the Elephant in the Room, By Parker Richards, Observer, April 2, 2016

And that risk assessment warning also means God had implicitly set before Adam the simple, but astonishingly powerful question, “What do you really want, here in the story?”

Because everything he had was at stake now.

And all this fits with story, because story and choice go together…

Life itself has a narrative quality to it, inasmuch as it consists of the same ingredients as stories’ settings, characters, and action. The Christian faith highlights the narrative quality of life. It begins with the premise that every person is the protagonist in his or her own life story. Like literary protagonists, each person is put into situations that test him or her and require choices.

“And It Came to Pass”: The Bible as God’s Storybook, By Leland Ryken, Bibliotheca Sacra 147 (April 1990)

And it looks like, in the Christian version of the story, the ability of human beings to choose flows from their foundational identity…

The first thing that the Bible has to say about man is that he was made in the image of God. And Saint Thomas, following an exegesis that goes back to John Damscene and the Greek Fathers, interprets the phrase in the Prologue to his treatise on man and the moral life. Man, he says, “is made in the image of God; and by image here is meant that man is intelligent, free in his power of choice, and master of himself . . . the active source of what he does.” The first biblical truth about man is that he is free.

John Courtney Murray, Bridging the Sacred and the Secular: Selected Writings of John Courtney Murray

And look what else one of our team members found. Christians believe there is a connection between the ability to choose and the love relationship…

Why are there such beings as ourselves with the remarkable feature of conscious free agency? We consciously act, for better or worse, on intentions to achieve our ends. We thus differ from the intellectually blind material world. The difference is not just that we can think. It includes our being able to act intentionally, with an end in view. We are purposive agents, able to act in a goal-directed manner. This is an astonishing fact about us, even if we often take it for granted. The Hebraic God’s existence enables us to answer our question about free agents. God created beings in God’s own image of conscious free agency to enable those beings to sustain loving relationships with God and with each other. We are dependent under-creators owing to our being created in the image of the original creator.

Paul K. Moser, WHY ISN’T GOD MORE OBVIOUS?: Finding the God Who Hides and Seeks

But if freedom also gave humans the capacity to reject God, why would God even give them such capacity?

Here’s a possibility we came across…

Second, why does the sovereign Yahweh God allow man and woman to choose death? Why give us such a terrible freedom?

Let’s look at it this way: A gift that is forced is not a gift; and love is a gift, but forced love is rape. If freedom were forced on us, we would not be free – we would be mere puppets or slaves. We could not be the image-bearers of God, given authority to be stewards of his good creation. Since God is free, then as his image-bearers, man and woman were made free. Freedom is the power to do the good; but when we do evil, we are no longer free – we are slaves to evil. Only the true and sovereign God is free in his goodness not to do evil. As finite creatures, if we are without the freedom to say no to his gift of freedom, we would be puppets or slaves. To put it another way: Without the freedom to say no, we do not have the freedom to say yes.

What is the Biblical Nature of Human Freedom? by John C. Rankin, Theological Education Institute, 2006

Only in freedom can man direct himself toward goodness. Our contemporaries make much of this freedom and pursue it eagerly; and rightly to be sure. Often however they foster it perversely as a license for doing whatever pleases them, even if it is evil. For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within man. For God has willed that man remain “under the control of his own decisions,” so that he can seek his Creator spontaneously, and come freely to utter and blissful perfection through loyalty to Him. Hence man’s dignity demands that he act according to a knowing and free choice that is personally motivated and prompted from within, not under blind internal impulse nor by mere external pressure.


So, if Christianity is the story we are in, then our freedom creates real drama in life…

All Christianity concentrates on the man at the cross roads. The vast and shallow philosophies, the huge syntheses of humbug, all talk about ages and evolution and ultimate developments. The true philosophy is concerned with the instant. Will a man take this road or that? —  that is the only thing to think about, if you enjoy thinking. The aeons are easy enough to think about, any one can think about them. The instant is really awful: and it is because our religion has intensely felt the instant, that it has in literature dealt much with battle and in theology dealt much with hell. It is full of danger, like a boy’s book: it is at an immortal crisis. There is a great deal of real similarity between popular fiction and the religion of the western people. If you say that popular fiction is vulgar and tawdry, you only say what the dreary and well informed say also about the images in the Catholic churches. Life (according to the faith) is very like a serial story in a magazine: life ends with the promise (or menace) “to be continued in our next.” Also, with a noble vulgarity, life imitates the serial and leaves off at the exciting moment. For death is distinctly an exciting moment.

But the point is that a story is exciting because it has in it so strong an element of will, of what theology calls free will. You cannot finish a sum how you like. But you can finish a story how you like. When somebody discovered the Differential Calculus there was only one Differential Calculus he could discover. But when Shakespeare killed Romeo he might have married him to Juliet’s old nurse if he had felt inclined. And Christendom has excelled in the narrative romance exactly because it has insisted on the theological free will.

Gilbert K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

So, the setup back in Genesis 2:15-17 did an amazing job of showing the very nature of human freedom and choice as the payoff came into play.

But it also helped our team come to see the connection between desire and human freedom.

Look again at this insight from your guy, Peter Kreeft…

Our desires go far deeper than our imagination or our thought; the heart is deeper than the mind. “Out of the heart are the issues of life”, says Solomon. It is our center, our prefunctional root. At this center we decide the meaning of our lives, for our deepest desires constitute ourselves, decide our identity. We are not only what we are but also what we want.


Another way of seeing this strange truth about ourselves is to notice that we are double selves. We identity with, or find our identity in, not only what we are but also what we want to be, not only our present actual selves but also our hoped for, future, potential selves.

Peter Kreeft, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing

That connection between human identity and desire showed up in the inciting incident and it keeps on flowing all the way through the end of the story.

And as you’ll see, that’s one reason why we’re very interested in how you Christians in America answer the simple story question… 

What do you really want, here in the story?

The Inciting Incident in the Story in the Bible

So now, let’s take a look at your inciting incident.

Here we go. The inciting incident in the story in the Bible is the famous story in the Garden of Eden in Genesis Chapter 3 …

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Genesis Chapter 3

There it is.

That’s the inciting incident which sets the story in motion. And as McKee explains, the Inciting Incident should then flow through the rest of the story…

A story, even when expressing chaos, must be unified. This sentence, drawn from any plot, should be logical“Because of the Inciting Incident, the Climax had to happen.”…. We should sense a causal lock between Inciting Incident and Story Climax. The Inciting Incident is the story’s most profound cause, and, therefore, the final effect, the Story Climax, should seem inevitable. The cement that binds them is the Spine, the protagonist’s deep desire to restore the balance of life.

Robert McKee, Story

And you can see it flow in the following description …

Genesis opens by recounting how God creates an earth, into which he places a human couple, Adam and Eve. This first earth…. is designed to be a divine residence, for here God intends to coexist with people. However, the divine plan for this first earth is soon disrupted when the human couple, due to their disobedience, are driven from God’s presence. The complex story that follows centres on how the earth can once more become a dwelling place shared by God and humanity.

Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem

And by the way, Adam and Eve experienced something we are familiar with… Shock

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Genesis 3:7-8

And Denial…

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Genesis 3:9-13

The Inciting Incident and the Binary Core Value

As we were exploring the inciting incident, Paula Wong found this…

Andrew H. Madoff, who reported to authorities that his father and longtime Wall Street colleague, Bernard L. Madoff, had masterminded perhaps the largest Ponzi scheme in history, a multi-billion-dollar crime that Andrew described as a “father-son betrayal of biblical proportions,” died Sept. 3 at a hospital in New York City. He was 48.

Andrew H. Madoff, son of convicted financier, dies at 48, by Emily Langer, Washington Post, September 3, 2014

Biblical proportions?

Well, because of who the characters in the story are, and, all which is at stake, the inciting incident in Genesis 3 is an astonishing act of betrayal.

And we discovered how betrayal is powerful as an inciting incident. Notice how it shows up in a movie our team came to love, called Gladiator, as a character named Commodus murders his father:


And while we’re at it, look at these other famous betrayers from the world of film — and notice how often death and destruction come their way…


And so, if Christianity is the story we are in, you can see from the following how the inciting incident impacted the sovereignty of human beings…

Against this background, the familiar account in Genesis 3 of how the serpent deceives the woman and the man into disobeying God is highly significant. In the light of their royal status and their divine commission to rule over the animals, it is especially noteworthy that Adam and Eve obey the serpent’s instructions rather than those of God. By submitting to the serpent, Adam and Eve fail to exercise their God-given dominion over this crafty animal.

Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God is an act of the utmost treachery. On the one hand, they knowingly betray the Creator who had entrusted them with his authority to govern the earth. On the other hand, they give their allegiance to a cunning creature who challenges God’s authority with the deliberate intention of overturning his careful ordering of creation.

By betraying God and obeying the serpent, the royal couple dethrone God. …. The ones through whom God’s sovereignty was to be extended throughout the earth side with his enemy. By heeding the serpent they not only give it control over the earth, but they themselves become its subjects.

Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem

But we’re beginning to think this betrayal wasn’t just about the sovereignty.

Notice how another passage in the Old Testament clearly connects it to what God wants…

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.

Hosea 6:6-7

So, the inciting incident is a classic story which displays the binary core value of loyal love/betrayal.

And there is something else we discovered as we explored the inciting incident. We began to see something related to a storytelling concept which McKee calls ‘the gap’…

“The story lies in the gap between expectation and reality.”

Robert McKee ‏@McKeeStory, May 18 2016

What is the Gap?

It is not a gap between what a character wants and what a character expects to happen. It’s the gap between what a character does at a specific moment in life in an effort to achieve what they want. And they take an action expecting that this action will cause a helpful enabling positive reaction in their world. But a gap opens up when the world reacts more powerfully than they expected, reacts differently than they expected and the world certainly does not cooperate with them. The world in fact is antagonistic and thwarts or blocks their desire for what they want. So it’s a gap between action and result, between what a character expects to happen when they take an action and what really does when they do. That is the gap that we’re talking about.

Robert McKee’s Storylogue Q&A: Opening Up The Gap Between Expectation and Result

And this concept is fundamental to what makes a story compelling…

The substance of story is the gap that splits open between what a human being expects to happen when he takes an action and what really does happen; the rift between expectation and result, probability and necessity.

Robert McKee, Story

All great storytellers since the dawn of time—from the ancient Greeks through Shakespeare and up to the present day—have dealt with this fundamental conflict between subjective expectation and cruel reality.

Storytelling That Moves People: A Conversation with Screenwriting Coach Robert McKee by Bronwyn Fryer, Harvard Business Review, June 2003

And so, we began to realize human beings commonly experience a gap related to the core value of loyal love/betrayal.

You take actions which are verbal or physical, which then create expectations for loyal love from another person or persons, and… what you get instead is some form of betrayal.

And the greater the expectations for love and loyalty, the worse the pain.

It may be the nastiest experience of the gap. 

Consider this selection of quotes which one of our team members found…

“I could never hurt him enough to make his betrayal stop hurting. And it hurts, in every part of my body.”

Veronica Roth, Insurgent

“….I came to consider betrayal a moral violation of another’s humanity—akin to torture.”

Sandra Lee Dennis, Love and the Mystery of Betrayal

“Stab the body and it heals, but injure the heart and the wound lasts a lifetime.”

Mineko Iwasaki

And though betrayal may be commonplace, no matter how often we experience betrayal, it never loses its sting. 

Eric Felton, Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue

“There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of Men for this treachery.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

And most (all?) of us have experienced in one form or another these painful betrayals…

“Everyone suffers at least one bad betrayal in their lifetime. It’s what unites us.”

Sherrilyn Kenyon, Invincible

Betrayal, for example, is part of the personal story of everyone. Have we not all at some time in our life betrayed others, and have we not all known what it is to be betrayed, and does not the memory of these moments leave continuing scars on our psyche? Reading, then, the account of Saint Peter’s betrayal of Christ and of his restoration after the Resurrection, we can see ourselves as each an actor in the story. Imagining what both Peter and Jesus must have experienced at the moment imme­diately after the betrayal, we enter into their feelings and make them our own. I am Peter; in this situation can I also be Christ? Reflecting likewise on the process of reconciliation—seeing how the risen Christ with a love utterly devoid of sentimentality restored the fallen Peter to fellowship, seeing how Peter on his side had the courage to accept this restoration—we ask ourselves: How Christlike am I to those who have betrayed me? And, after my own acts of betrayal, am I able to accept the forgiveness of others—am I able to forgive myself?

How To Read Your Bible, by Bishop Kallistos Ware

And to help you see in a deeper way how stories of loyal love/betrayal are compelling, consider the following from Robert McKee…

You emphatically do not want to tell a beginning-to-end tale describing how results meet expectations. This is boring and banal. Instead, you want to display the struggle between expectation and reality in all its nastiness.

Storytelling That Moves People: A Conversation with Screenwriting Coach Robert McKee by Bronwyn Fryer, Harvard Business Review, June 2003

Stories about loyal love/betrayal are certainly not stories “describing how results meet expectations”! No “boring and banal” in your Christian story. Instead, feel the “struggle” “in all its nastiness”…

We humans are sure prone to the betrayal end of this binary core value. And when it happens, as it often does, it’s so painful…

The death talk was not my fear. Every second of my twelve years with Mr. Muhammad, I was ready to lay down my life for him. The thing to me worse than death was betrayal. I could conceive death. I couldn’t conceive betrayal….

Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

And remember, Malcolm X’s death came through betrayal.

So, these tales are compelling because they touch us at a deep emotional level…

Our appetite for story is a reflection of the profound human need to grasp the patterns of living, not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.

Robert McKee, Story

Ninth Grade Slays

“The worst pain in the world goes beyond the physical. Even further beyond any other emotional pain one can feel. It is the betrayal of a friend.”

Heather Brewer, Ninth Grade Slays

And we’re guessing from your own experience in life, you know how the loyal love/betrayal gap involves conflict. And as McKee explains, you can’t have a compelling story without conflict…

When the protagonist steps out of the inciting incident, he moves into a world governed by the Law of Conflict. To wit: Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.

Robert McKee, Story

“Why shouldn’t I hate her? She did the worst thing to me that anyone can do to anyone else. Let them believe that they’re loved and wanted and then show them that it’s all a sham.”

Agatha Christie, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side

And keep in mind — the betrayal gap is so painful because love and loyalty are so astonishingly wonderful and powerful.

There is something going on there. It is so very much a part of our experience as human beings.

Consider also McKee’s insight about how conflict has to move forward against powerful forces of antagonism…

THE PRINCIPLE OF ANTAGONISM: A protagonist and his story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.

The more powerful and complex the forces of antagonism opposing the character, the more completely realized character and story must become.

Robert McKee, Story

And these forces of antagonism often show up in the form of betrayal….

“For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel:
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!
This was the most unkindest cut of all”

William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

“Betrayal isn’t ridiculous. It’s the reason empires fall.”

Marisha Pessl, Night Film

And we all know, in the old days at least, the price to be paid for treason was death!

Look at this quote we found from way back in the 1880’s:

Thus, when a theft is punished with a year’s imprisonment, and a murder with the loss of life, it is plainly taught that to take life is a more flagrant outrage than to take property, while both are stamped as evil. In like manner, where the issue is so broad as to involve not merely the rights of an individual, but those of the whole community, and the authority and existence of the government itself, the crime is visited with the highest penalty which the lawgiver can inflict. Hence, in all lands treason has been punishable with death — a fact which taught the people that the preservation of rightful civil government was fundamental to all interests, and that no one could be allowed to attack it but at his greatest peril. This fact has a bearing on the proper penalty of the divine law. It would seem to indicate that so far forth as sin is committed against clear light, and implies settled purpose of antagonism to divine authority, it is simply treason against the government of God, and deserves therefore the highest form of punishment.

The Nature And Object Of Penalty, William W. Patton – BSAC 038:150 (Apr 1881)

So, look what else Paula showed us…

For Dante, betrayal is the most despicable of vices. The Inferno takes us down through the levels of hell, each more excruciating and dire than the one before. After running a gantlet of mud, mire, scorching winds, blazing hellfire agonies, and rivers of blood, we arrive at the ninth circle, where the worst torments are to be found. That lowest level of hell is reserved for the lowest sort of sinners-the disloyal traitors to family, traitors to country, traitors to one’s guests and friends, each worse than the last. And there, nearly at the bottom, encased entirely in ice, are those who, like Judas, betrayed their benefactors. Finally, at the very center of hell is Satan himself, three-headed and putting his razor-sharp teeth to work perpetually gnawing at the three poster boys of betrayal, Brutus, Cassius, and Judas. 

Eric Felton, Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue

So, this all makes sense with the anger you are experiencing in America as you feel betrayed.

But you may want to also ponder more deeply the implications of your migration into the minimalist corner. Because, if Christianity is the story we are in, then, well, give it some thought.

The Negation of the Negation in the Garden

And now we’d like to show you something else from your inciting incident, which helped us to see even more that, if Christianity is the story we are in, then your God is the Great Storyteller.

McKee: I don’t know when you took my lecture, but when you did, I suspect that I didn’t actually explain how you get to the negation of the negation. I’ll do that now.

You take what is negative—like hate. Then you do one of two things: Either you disguise it with a lie, so it becomes hatred masquerading as love—like in great films such as Ordinary People. Or you take what is normally directed at the world and turn it inward on the character, so hatred becomes self-hate.

Those are the two techniques to take what is common, everyday antagonism and conflict and push it one step further, to the limit of things.

Camin: Like a volcano exploding or something.

McKee: Well, no, it’s not. It isn’t just quantitative. You don’t just take hate and magnify it so there’s a lot of it—a volcano of it. It changes its quality. It becomes hatred masquerading as love. It becomes self-hate.

It does magnify the power of it, but not by being more and more of it—by changing the quality.

THE GOD OF STORY: AN INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT MCKEE, By Alec Sokolow and Tony Camin, Vice, July 1 2014

Negation of the Negation means a compound negative in which a life situation turns not just quantitatively but qualitatively worse. The Negation of the Negation is at the limit of the dark powers of human nature.

Robert McKee, Story

And there is also something worse than hate. That something is what Robert McKee coined as the ”negation of the negation.” And for the love/hate spectrum, the negation of the negation is ”hate masquerading as love” or ”self-hatred.”

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

And McKee says something very important about how the negation of the negation plays a role in a compelling story…

If a story does not reach the Negation of the Negation, it may strike the audience as satisfying — but never brilliant, never sublime.

Robert McKee, Story

And in your story in the Bible, the Negation of the Negation is right there in the inciting incident. And it contributes to this…

When an Inciting Incident occurs it must be a dynamic, fully developed event, not something static or vague.

Robert McKee, Story

And that describes what happened there in the Garden of Eden. It was not anything which was static or vague.

And our team got a sense for this from how many books, articles, and sermons have been written about the incident in the Garden. Such production usually doesn’t come from “something static or vague.”

And something else about the negation of negation caught our attention…

The negation of the negation, meaning like the most negative value of knowledge is believing something to be true that is false. If we believe something to be a truth that is not true, that is the worst possible case because we’re kind of lying ourselves. That’s the most negative. The other negative is understanding that something is untrue, but not doing anything about it.

Shawn Coyne, Q&A WITH SHAWN – PART 2

That is a description of what happened with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Look at how this observation from your Sailhamer guy fits with the negation of the negation…

Thus, the temptation is not presented as a general rebellion from God’s authority. Rather, it is portrayed as a quest for wisdom and “the good” apart from God’s provision. …. It is clear in the story that the man and the woman had believed that when they obtained the knowledge of “good and evil” they would, on their own, enjoy the “good.”

John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch As Narrative 

But in the unfolding drama, it looks like Adam knew just what the decision was which he was making…

For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

1 Timothy 2:13-14

So the risk assessment warning in the balance was in full view for him. And that seems to fit with this…

There is no such thing as the ‘lust demon’ or the ‘anger demon’ or the demon of lies.’ We may lust or lie or lose our temper, and Satan may use these traits to lead us into disaster areas, but he cannot force us to act. The devil doesn’t make us do it, we choose to initiate our own thoughts and actions.

David Jeremiah with Carole C. Carlson. Escape the Coming Night

So, Satan manipulated Eve and seduced her into thinking he was on her side while God had denied her what was rightfully hers…

The serpent subtly casts doubt on God’s words to Adam and Eve and doubt even on God’s own inherent goodness. It suggests that God is afraid that his human creatures might become his equals once they know good and evil experientially, through eating fruit of the tree. God has said that if they eat of it they will die, but the serpent suggests rather that to eat of it is to find the path to true life. In the light of these suggestions, the woman and the man see the tree differently-and they take and eat.

The Drama of Scripture, by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen

And you can begin to see how it fits with this…

A sociopath has singled out the hero for the most extreme of the life/death values, the end of the line, what Robert McKee calls the Negation of the Negation, the fate worse than death… damnation.

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

And it fits with this…

Rage is the salient characteristic of Satan and of the satanic in men.

There are others, including guile, deceit, and temptation. But at the heart of Satan’s mission is an overwhelming animus against God and the godly.


Seduction, subversion, sedition – these are the tools of a creature we once called Satan, the Father of Lies, the loser of the Battle in Heaven.


The Devil will say what he has to say and will quote such scripture as he requires in order to achieve the sole objective remaining to him: the ruination of Man and his consignment to Hell.

Michael Walsh, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace

And it also fits with this…

The trickster enjoys mischief in order to change people’s world views in a way.


Yes. They want change. They want mischief. They want to knock people — They’re inciting characters. They incite a lot of things. They’re causal inciting things.

Shawn Coyne, Hero’s Journey – Archetypes

And we found this passage which fits with that…

And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.

2 Corinthians 11:12-15

Wild stuff. If Christianity is the story we are in, of course.

Oh, and here is something else Paula thought we should show you…

The Garden Gap & Enthymemic Logic

This concept of the gap is something our team is especially thinking about because of the difficult situation this crazy assignment has put our team in.

The substance of story is the gap that splits open between what a human being expects to happen when he takes an action and what really does happen; the rift between expectation and result, probability and necessity.

Robert McKee, Story

So, when you recognize that, within the story in the Bible, the human characters are also protagonists who experience their own personal dramas, it means they can make decisions to take actions… 

The inciting incident could happen by decision or by coincidence.

Robert McKee, Dialogue

So, Eve takes an action which she expects will give her what Satan said.

But instead of getting what she wants and expects, an astonishing gap opens up.

And their lives are thrown out of balance — in such an astonishing way — that it also touches our own lives every minute of every day!

If Christianity is the story we are in, of course.

And consider an illustration of the gap in this famous stanza from the Robert Burns poem, To a Mouse, which you can see in a modern English translation…

But little Mouse, you are not alone
In proving foresight may be vain:

The best laid plans of mice and men
Go often askew
and leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Robert Burns

That’s a gap, and such gaps run throughout the story of the Bible.

In fact, our team wonders if the biggest gap comes at climax of the story in the Bible, as Satan’s action in the inciting incident doesn’t play out as he wanted.

And, just like conflict, gaps bring about significant change in the story…

True action is physical, vocal, or mental movement that opens gaps in expectation and creates significant change. Mere activity is behavior in which what is expected happens, generating either no change or trivial change.

But the gap between expectation and result is far more than a matter of cause and effect. In the most profound sense, the break between the cause as it seemed and the effect as it turns out marks the point where the human spirit and the world meet. On one side is the world as we believe it to be, on the other is reality as it actually is. In this gap is the nexus of story, the caldron that cooks our tellings. Here the writer finds the most powerful, life-bending moments.

Robert McKee, Story

Enthymemic Logic

And now we’d like to introduce you to something else related to the experience of the gap. It’s called…

Enthymemic logic


It sounds like something abstract and impersonal.

But since you’ve experienced it multiple times in life, you’ll see how it’s just the opposite.

It’s very personal. And it so caught our attention because of our continuing experience of these epiphanies.

Consider the explanation from of the Christian philosopher Dallas Willard about the kind of logic Jesus put into play…

Not only does Jesus not concentrate on logical theory, but he also does not spell out all the details of the logical structures he employs on particular occasions. His use of logic is always enthymemic, as is common to ordinary life and conversation. His points are, with respect to logical explicitness, understated and underdeveloped. The significance of the enthymeme is that it enlists the mind of the hearer or hearers from the inside, in a way that full and explicit statement of argument cannot do. Its rhetorical force is, accordingly, quite different from that of fully explicated argumentation, which tends to distance the hearer from the force of logic by locating it outside of his own mind.

Jesus’ aim in utilizing logic is not to win battles, but to achieve understanding or insight in his hearers. This understanding only comes from the inside, from the understandings one already has. It seems to “well up from within” one. Thus he does not follow the logical method one often sees in Plato’s dialogues, or the method that characterizes most teaching and writing today. That is, he does not try to make everything so explicit that the conclusion is forced down the throat of the hearer. Rather, he presents matters in such a way that those who wish to know can find their way to, can come to, the appropriate conclusion as something they have discovered–whether or not it is something they particularly care for.

Jesus the Logician, by Dallas Willard

And it sounds a lot like what McKee writes…

To tell a story is to make a promise. If you give me your concentration, I’ll give you surprise followed by the pleasure of discovering life, its pain and joys, at levels and in directions you have never imagined. And most important, this must be done with such seeming ease and naturalness that we lead the audience to these discoveries as if spontaneously. The effect of a beautifully turned moment is that filmgoers experience a rush of knowledge as if they did it for themselves.In a sense they did. Insight is the audience’s reward for paying attention, and a beautifully designed story delivers this pleasure scene after scene after scene.

Robert McKee, Story

And look at this from your preacher man…

Narratives are most effective when the audience hears the story and arrives at the speaker’s ideas without the ideas being stated directly.

Motion picture director Stanley Kubrick discussed the power of the indirect idea in an interview reported in Time: “The essence of dramatic form is to let an idea come over people without its being plainly stated. When you say something directly, it is simply not as potent as it is when you allow people to discover it for themselves.”

Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching

And here is more on this from McKee…

Your intellectual life prepares you for emotional experiences that then urge you toward fresh perceptions that in turn remix the chemistry of new encounters. The two realms influence each other, but first one, then the other. In fact, in life, moments that blaze with a fusion of ideas and emotion are so rare, when they happen you think you’re having a religious experience. But whereas life separates meaning from emotion, art unites them. Story is an instrument by which you create such epiphanies at will, the phenomenon known as aesthetic emotion.

Robert McKee, Story

So, consider again what Willard writes…

This understanding only comes from the inside, from the understandings one already has. It seems to “well up from within” one.

Dallas Willard

So… what if the key reason why it can ‘well up from within’ is connected to who you Christians believe we are in the story?

Because whether we’re willing to embrace our true foundational identity or not, we still can’t escape who we are…

Every man has forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self more distant than any star. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God; but thou shalt not know thyself. We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstacy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

And notice how enthymemic logic related to our identity as image bearers shows up in David Walker’s famous Appeal against slavery…

They (the whites) know well, if we are men–and there is a secret monitor in their hearts which tells them we are – they know, I say, if we are men, and see them treating us in the manner they do, that there can be nothing in our hearts but death alone, for them, notwithstanding we may appear cheerful, when we see them murdering our dear mothers and wives, because we cannot help ourselves.

Man, in all ages and all nations of the earth, is the same. Man is a peculiar creature–he is the image of his God, though he may be subjected to the most wretched condition upon earth, yet the spirit and feeling which constitute the creature, man, can never be entirely erased from his breast, because the God who made him after his own image, planted it in his heart; he cannot get rid of it.

David Walker, Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Written in Boston, State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829

It catches our attention how the painful gaps in life keep raising those two simple questions… 

Which story are we in?

Who are we, here in the story?

The Timing of the Inciting Incident

Oh, and there is another thing which caught our attention about your God being the Great Storyteller…

The principle is: Bring the Inciting Incident into your story as soon as possible,but not until it will hook reader empathy and arouse curiosity. Finding the perfect placement of the Inciting Incident is the key to starting any story.

Interview with Robert McKee – The Storytelling Movie Master, GET STORIED

Our team thinks it is a pretty good description of what happens with the timing of the inciting incident in the Bible.

And here are some of the other inciting incidents in the books in the Bible we quickly found, where it happens in the way McKee describes.

We know there are more, but we were in a hurry that day…

The inciting incident in the book of Exodus occurs in Exodus 1.

The inciting incident in the book of Joshua occurs in Joshua 1.

The inciting incident in the book of Judges occurs in Judges 2.

The inciting incident in the book of Ruth occurs in Ruth 1.

The inciting incident in the story of Samuel takes place in 1 Samuel 1.

The inciting incident in the book of Ezra occurs in Ezra 1.

The inciting incident in the book of Nehemiah occurs in Nehemiah 1.

The inciting incident in the book of Esther occurs in Esther 1.

The inciting incident in Job occurs and unfolds in chapters 1-2.

The inciting incident in the book of Jeremiah occurs in Jeremiah 1.

The inciting incident in the book of Ezekiel occurs in Ezekiel 12.

The inciting incident in the book of Daniel occurs in Daniel 1.

The inciting incident in the book of Hosea occurs in Hosea 1.

The inciting incident in the book of Jonah occurs in Jonah 1.

Again, that was just a quick look. We figure there will be plenty more inciting incidents because your Bible is so filled with stories.