Is Your Inciting Incident The Same As Your Meet-Cute In Your Romantic Comedy Screenplay or Novel?
The answer isn't yes or no. How annoying, right? Sorry, but that's just the way it is.
In my professional opinion, it's better to separate the two because even though in all rom-coms there is a love story, that's usually not 100% the why your protagonist is actually in her story.
Let's break this down into your main story beats for any story.
Introduction to your protagonist, her world, and her status quo.
The inciting incident-or thing that launches her into her story
The new world or reality is at the 25% mark, which is when the story starts for her.
The mirror moment/recommitment at the 50% mark is when she reflects and decides to regress or move forward.
The crisis, when the shit hits the fan and everything blows up for her
The all-is-lost moment
Now in a ROMANTIC COMEDY, you have all of those AND a MEET CUTE. usually, the meet-cute happens fairly close to the beginning but can be anywhere from the opening until the quarter mark.
Here are some examples.
GROUNDHOG DAY-PHIL meets RITA very early on, basically when we the audience, are getting to know him. The meet-cute is at the station when she comes in and is messing around with the weather map.
The inciting incident is the snowstorm that keeps them in Punxsutawney-NOT when the clock starts at the same time on day two--that is his NEW WORLD or REALITY.
HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN TEN DAYS-dual POV ANDIE and BEN
Inciting Incident for Andie? She has to write another "how to" story, this time about her friend.
Inciting Incident for Ben? He has to win an account against two colleagues
Meet-cute for both? At the bar.
NOTE: the fact that she has to make a guy leave her in 10 days and the fact that he has to get a woman to fall in love with him in 10 days are both development and not plot.
CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC (FILM)
Becky's Inciting Incident? Losing her job.
Meet-cute? Meeting Luke at the hot dog stand.
Can they be the same thing?
They can, of course, but you see how it's stronger if they don't.
You want your leading lady to have her own story. Imagine how boring it would be if it were only about romance for her. Everything is about hooking up? Even the stories where this is true, they aren't at the same place.
BRIGET JONES'S DAIRY (FILM)
She has her Meet-Cute with Mark Darcy in the very beginning of the film, but the incident that launches her into her story is her hooking up with Daniel Clever at work because it is what sets off the rest of the story.
She met Mark but nothing he did caused any reaction.
Remember that every plot point must move the story forward.
One example of a MEET-CUTE that is also an INCITING INCIDENT is
NOTTING HILL when Will meets Anna in his bookstore, it launches him into his story. There would be no story without that happening, unlike the other stories mentioned.
If you look at the structure and make a timeline or character arc for your protagonist, you can see what you need and what works the best.
In my opinion, the romantic comedies that work the best had separate Inciting Incidents and Meet-Cutes.
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