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Rami Ungar the Writer

The Catalyst: An Essential Element For Fiction

literary definition catalyst

Catalyst: like a line of dominoes.

According to Wiktionary.org , a catalyst is, when used in literature, “an inciting incident which that sets the successive conflict into motion.” In other words, fiction, which is reliant on a conflict of some sort for the story to occur, cannot exist without the catalyst that starts it all.

I’ve been thinking about the catalyst for a while now, and I’ve come to believe that the catalyst is actually a pretty interesting and underappreciated element in fiction writing. Imagine what would happen if Katniss Everdeen had never volunteered to take her sister’s place in the 74th Annual Hunger Games and instead of Peeta, Gale had gone to the Capitol? There would be no story. Katniss would somehow go on with her life after a period of depression, and maybe even still get together with Peeta at some point, but would anyone really want to read that? That single catalyst, Katniss volunteering to save her sister and Peeta being selected to go with her to the Capitol, is what makes the story interesting, that draws us in and makes us want to see how events unfold.

And the catalyst for a story can take many forms. It’s usually the first thing you learn in writing any story. In a romance story, it’s usually boy and girl meet for the first time. In a mystery, it’s the occurence of a crime that needs to be solved. In stories like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Hobbit , where a journey is prevalent in the story, it’s that inciting incident that causes the need to go on a journey that gets things going. In a zombie novel, the catalyst is (obviously) the appearance of zombies.

You look at any story, you’ll identify a catalyst. Heck, my own stories all rely on the catalyst. In my WIP Laura Horn , the catalyst is the titular character recieving a particular item that causes her to be the target of a government conspiracy. In Snake , the loss of something important to the main character is what causes him to beocme the Snake. And in Reborn City , events that happen to the founders of the Hydras about a year and a half before the story even starts serve as the catalyst.

And speaking of RC ‘s catalyst occuring a year and a half before the story starts, you can find plenty of stories where the catalyst to the story occurs a long time before the story starts. For example, for years Harry Potter fans couldn’t identify why Voldemort wanted to kill Harry, thus causing the whole story that would be Harry’s life, but after Book Five, they realized the catalyst for all of Harry’s life was Professor Trelawney’s prophecy being leaked to Voldemort, thus setting his sights on killing Harry.

literary definition catalyst

“Freud was half-right: the causes of all problems are mothers and prophecies.”

Of course if you want to get technical with it, the story began in 1925 when Voldemort’s mother used love potion on Tom Riddle Sr, leading to their elopement, Voldemort’s conception, and his birth. But I digress. The point is, a story can rely on events that occurred years, decades, or in some cases centuries before the start of the actual story to act as the catalyst (I’m thinking of The Lord of the Rings trilogy when I say centuries, by the way). It’s actually a little mind-boggling, if you think about it.

So what more can be said about literary catalysts? Probably a lot more than I could probably come up with, especailly in a blog post. But to finish this post, I’d like to say that without the catalyst, the fictional stories we love so much, despise so much, debate so much, examine so much, and write fanfics to so much, just wouldn’t exist, and I think our world would be a lot less interesting to be in.

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This really helped me a lot. I’m beginning my first *official* story and this plot point was a little confusing to identify. Thanks! 🙂

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Glad I could be of some help. Hope the writing goes well.

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Definition of catalyst

Did you know.

Word History of Catalyst

Catalyst is a fairly recent addition to the English language, first appearing at the start of the 20 th century with its chemistry meaning. It was formed from the word catalysis , another chemistry term which refers to a modification and especially an increase in the rate of a chemical reaction induced by material unchanged chemically at the end of the reaction. By the 1940s, the figurative sense of catalyst was in use for someone or something that quickly causes change or action.

Examples of catalyst in a Sentence

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'catalyst.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

see catalysis

1902, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Phrases Containing catalyst

  • co - catalyst

Dictionary Entries Near catalyst

Cite this entry.

“Catalyst.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/catalyst. Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition

Kids definition of catalyst, medical definition, medical definition of catalyst, more from merriam-webster on catalyst.

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for catalyst

Nglish: Translation of catalyst for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of catalyst for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about catalyst

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Chemistry . a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected.

something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected.

a person or thing that precipitates an event or change: His imprisonment by the government served as the catalyst that helped transform social unrest into revolution.

a person whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more friendly, enthusiastic, or energetic.

Origin of catalyst

Other words from catalyst.

  • self-cat·a·lyst, noun
  • sem·i·cat·a·lyst, noun

Words Nearby catalyst

  • catalytic converter
  • catalytic cracker
  • catalytic cracking

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use catalyst in a sentence

South Africa provides 84% of the platinum group metals needed for fuel cells and automotive catalysts.

That time spent in Ghana and across West and sub-Saharan Africa became my catalyst for starting Tala, and I regularly encourage my team members to take on a “figure it out!”

Floyd’s death was the catalyst for this year’s earlier protests, and Blake’s shooting reignited the demonstrations.

So, more than anything, the endorsement was a catalyst for us to actually say let’s do something, we don’t have to sit around and wait on what are we going to do, endorse or not endorse.

Brittney Sykes is a defensive catalyst for the Sparks and dramatically improved her efficiency from two.

But the copper performs another important function: working as a catalyst in the distillation process.

Brunch is a catalyst , brunch is the enforcer of different-rules-for-the-weekend.

We are proud that our film could be a catalyst for even a small change in the ways these boys are treated in China.

Other non-design services, like Adobe Business catalyst , which hosts email fundraising campaigns and e-commerce, also went down.

And that question is the catalyst for all the ambiguity throughout the film.

This simple act may have been the catalyst which gave Burl the solution to the problem.

We may, then, compare the catalyst to what is known as "a good mixer" in society.

The tactful hostess, the salon leader, is a social catalyst .

When hydrogen peroxide comes in contact with a catalyst , such as permanganate of potash, it breaks down into oxygen and water.

The catalyst which was necessary for the final reaction would be brought to him by Polter.

British Dictionary definitions for catalyst

/ ( ˈkætəlɪst ) /

a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself suffering any permanent chemical change : Compare inhibitor (def. 2)

a person or thing that causes a change

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for catalyst

[ kăt ′ l-ĭst ]

A substance that starts or speeds up a chemical reaction while undergoing no permanent change itself. The enzymes in saliva, for example, are catalysts in digestion.

  • catalytic adjective ( kăt′l-ĭt ′ ĭk )

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for catalyst

[ ( kat -uh-list) ]

In chemistry , a substance that causes a chemical reaction to occur but is not itself involved in the reaction.

Notes for catalyst

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

What is the definition of catalyst in literature?

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A catalyst is something that causes an important event to happen.

Add your answer:


What is the definition of British literature?

it is literature from briten

What would be the definition for a naturally occurring catalyst found in cells?

What is the definition of homogeneous catalysis.

In homogeneous catalysis the reactants and the catalyst are dispersed in a single phase, usually liquid.

What is the definition of time and space in postmodernist literature?

What is concise and precise definition of literature as a social science subject.

Literature is classed as a subset of language study, not social science study.

What type of catalyst lowers the energy of activation for a reaction?

That is the definition of a catalyst. A biological catalyst is known as enzymes.

What is a catalyst in literature?

A character who makes events happen.

Why is a catalyst not a product or a reactant of a chemical reaction?

If a substance is a reactant or product of a chemical reaction then, by definition, it cannot be a catalyst.

Why is a catalyst not a product or reactant of a chemical reaction?

What catalyst is used to speed up a reaction but is not used up in the reaction.

Anything that acts that way is a catalyst. It is the definition.

What is the definition of the word catalysis?

The word 'catalysis' means a chemical reaction that is accelerated by a catalyst. The catalyst could be anything from a person to a gas or electronic device.

Definition of Native American Literature?

what is the definition of American literatureThe purpose of Native American literature is to tell stories and to keep their history alive.

What is the definition of Devices in literature?

'techniques' 'tricks'

Can enzymes be re-used?

Yes. An enzyme is a catalyst. The definition of a catalyst is "A substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction, without being consumed or produced by the reaction." Therefore an enzyme is a catalyst and can be re-used. There are exception's in extreme tempartures of course.

What is the exact definition of noncanonical literature?



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Meaning of catalyst in English

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  • amphiprotic
  • balanced equation
  • chemical equation
  • electrolyte
  • endocrine disruptor
  • endothermic
  • epitaxially
  • inorganic chemistry
  • nonchemical
  • nonelectrolyte
  • nonreactive

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catalyst | American Dictionary

Catalyst | business english, examples of catalyst, translations of catalyst.

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literary definition catalyst

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Definition of 'catalyst'

IPA Pronunciation Guide

catalyst in British English

Catalyst in american english, catalyst in chemical engineering, examples of 'catalyst' in a sentence catalyst, cobuild collocations catalyst, trends of catalyst.

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In other languages catalyst

  • American English : catalyst / ˈkætəlɪst /
  • Brazilian Portuguese : catalisador
  • Chinese : 催化剂
  • European Spanish : catalizador
  • French : catalyseur
  • German : Katalysator
  • Italian : catalizzatore
  • Japanese : きっかけ
  • Korean : 계기
  • European Portuguese : catalisador
  • Latin American Spanish : catalizador
  • Thai : คนหรือสิ่งที่ทำให้เกิดการเปลี่ยนแปลง

Browse alphabetically catalyst

  • catalyst of change
  • catalyst transfer line
  • catalyst-to-oil ratio
  • All ENGLISH words that begin with 'C'

Related terms of catalyst

  • chemical catalyst
  • monolith catalyst
  • negative catalyst
  • Ziegler catalyst
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