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My Inciting Incident for Storytelling

Writing Stories, 2015Collaged & Toned Cyanotype Print. 17” x 13.1”. Limited edition of 12 (Variable). © Jonah Calinawan

Everything goes back to childhood.

In primary school, there was a reading comprehension exercise that still haunts me to this day. It’s where you read a short story, and at the end of it, you had to answer a series of questions. The first question was

summarize in your own words what happened in the story.

I couldn’t summarize it. I jumbled up plot points, couldn’t decide what was important for the summary, and wasted the big reveal at the end of the story.

For a kid afraid of making mistakes and always trying to be perfect, this was a tragedy. It confirmed I was unworthy. I didn’t measure up. I was hard on myself then. This self-created trauma has been lodged in my brain for years.

In storytelling lingo, this event is my inciting incident, which is an event that causes the protagonist to be unbalanced and that he must resolve during the course of the story.

Looking back and connecting the dots, I think I’ve carried this notion that there was a book inside of me. I think most creative people think this way, secretly.

I remember getting a composition notebook so that I could start writing my “novel.” I didn't get past the first page. Another confirmation that I couldn’t summarize stories. A fail once again.


Fast forward 40 years. I’m doing my Master of Fine Arts in Photography and guess what resurfaced? The need to tell a story. I want to tell stories -now- so that I can finally summarize in my own words what happened in the story.

In my studio art practice, I’m looking for a method of combining photography and storytelling in a novel way. Yes, I’m using “novel” as a noun and adjective here. (Ok, that wasn’t as clever as I thought.)

I’ve gone full circle. I’ve gone back to the things that were unfinished in childhood. Hopefully, sometime soon, I will finish my first novel, which really started with that inciting incident many years ago.

What about you? What is your inciting incident?

#image meaning #storytelling

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