Storytelling Principles: Inciting Incident (#3)

By Wilmar Alex Tax, 29 December 2020

You might be able to argue there has never been a more globally impactful inciting incident than with Covid-19 in 2020. On the other hand you also might say it depends on what happens in 2021 and beyond.

The INCITING INCIDENT radically upsets the balance of forces (...).
(inspired by Robert McKee's Story)

Covid-19 = Inciting Incident?
At the start of 2020 more than some of us thought it was going to be a pretty good year. Economically it went well and although climate change was starting to give us a more more gloomy prospect, it was still - unjustified- considered something not as impactful in the immediate short term as the Corona virus. Then the global pandemic hit us, effecting a record number of people and countries worldwide. A prime inciting incident example, right?

Inciting Incident for more meaning?
Of course in many ways Covid-19 is an inciting incident, which the world is trying to rebalance by supporting people with medical help, money and by making vaccines in record time with maximum focus. And in time profits, sales, stock prices, etc. will recover.

However, wouldn't it be better if we would embrace this globally most drastic of inciting incidents and use it to add more meaning to our world and change for the better?

To not go back to jumping in the car to work every morning and afternoon and sit through traffic jams.
Which is bad for the environment, bad for our health, inefficient in time and office space).

To not fly everywhere to meet up if we can also use videoconferencing to connect. Before Corona many of us - myself included - were convinced for example creative brainstorms could not be done digitally. Because of the limitations we had to stick to, we now know it can be done. We have for example won an European Excellence Award with a campaign that was thought up by three parties in an 100% digital way.

To not spend every day all day in an office together just because we've always done this.
In stead let's convert office space into living space or breathing space and nature.

To walk outside more, whether it is with family, friends or colleagues having a meeting.
Although I know this past year has also caused more people to sit more.

Meaning beyond profit
Apart from the above we also noticed more companies looking to take a stand beyond profit. It feels like purpose has been pushed beyond purpose washing in 2020; maybe, because we now know we can make a difference when we have to. In the last quarter of this year we had a record number of brands and companies turning to us to help them with this, on a wide array of meaningful topics: future proof resilience of cities, female empowerment and taboes, turning waste to fuel, water management, zero waste and CO2 neutrality, massive meat reduction / use of meat alternatives in food products, etc. etc.

I genuinely hope this terrible pandemic will - looking back in a couple of years - have been the inciting incident that changed the world for the better.

How will Covid-19 be your inciting incident for positive change?


Storytelling has been around for a long time. It’s been overly hyped, booed off stage and recently it seems to have picked up traction again. Some - like my honourable fellow strategist Frank van de Koppel - say this may even be called the Netflix effect as in Netflix has propelled storytelling into everyday life like no other. At HPB we’ve always respected storytelling as a way to emotionally engage and connect with audiences, culture, people. The foundation of the Art of Storytelling - as we’d like to call it - are its Principles. Personally I am a great admirer of the way Robert McKee - a creative writing instructor and former professor at the University of Southern California - has written about storytelling in his book Story. Here’s my take on his principles and their relevance in the context of today’s Earned First Era. Over time, I will try and touch on all Story Principles McKee’s calls out, the first one was 'Premise' the second one was 'Character Arc'.

[Photo by Caspian Hoehne on Unsplash]