Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What is In Medias Res, and Why Should a Writer Care?

Where to begin writing a book? Right at the beginning of the story?  Such an important question for an author with an equally important decision.  

The GodfatherTime was that an author had the freedom to wordsmith his or her way down a path strewn with thousands of words before arriving at any action.  No more.  With films, television and other manners of instant gratification, we have to look at the technique of in medias res, Latin for "in the middle of things."

The trick, of course, is to find exactly where one starts the action in a novel. Beginning a book in an action scene can be tricky.  We, as the audience, have to feel some empathy toward our protagonist/s, or we simply won't care what happens to them. 
Odyssey (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) 
 How then can we achieve a strong beginning right in the middle of an exciting event?  In other words, we need to know a bit about them before we care whether or not s/he may get eaten by a lion.   Let us see the problem before the action.  Give your protagonist/s the chance to get away by story's end, and give us at least a sliver of a promise that will happen.

Front CoverWorks every time.  An example?  This is not a new technique by any means.  In fact, in Homer's Odyssey, we first learn about Odysseus' journey when he is held captive on Calypso's Island.  Right in the middle of things.

A number of popular movies have used the technique of in medias res to catch the interest of the audienceThe Godfather and Raging Bull are classic examples of films popularizing the use of in medias res. The movie Star Wars: A New Hope is the first movie of a series that wonderfully narrates the story in medias res.

When you are ready to write your middle grade or young adult novel, be sure to keep this technique in mind.  It is a powerful tool and one you want in your toolbox!

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