What are the exposition and inciting incident in a story?

The exposition of a story is the part of the story that gives the reader some introductory details about, for example, who and what the story is about and where and when the story is set. The inciting incident is the part of the story in which something happens to cause a complication or problem that must then be solved or overcome.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

If we take John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men as an example, we are told at the beginning of the story that the setting is "A few miles south of Soledad." The setting seems peaceful and idyllic. There are "golden foothill slopes" and "sycamores with mottled, white, recumbent limbs."

We are also told, at the beginning of the story, whom the story is about. The story is about "two men" who are "both dressed in denim trousers and in denim coats with brass buttons." The first man is "small and quick, dark of face," and the second man is "a huge man, shapeless of face, with large, pale eyes."

At the beginning of the story, we are thus given some initial, introductory details about where the story is set and who it will be about. These details comprise the exposition, and they allow the reader to, as it were, get a foothold in the story.

In the same story, the inciting incident occurs towards the end, when one of the characters, Lennie, accidentally kills a woman. This incident sets up a key problem that one of the other characters must, in the rest of the story, attempt to overcome. In short, George must decide what to do about his friend, Lennie. He has to decide whether to help Lennie escape the lynch mob that chases after Lennie or whether to help send Lennie to prison. In the end, he actually takes a surprising and dramatic third choice. The inciting incident thus incites or provokes the decisive, climactic moments of the story.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial