In Medias Res

In medias res: the Odessey‘Starting the story in the middle’: that’s the Latin term in medias res. The Greek playwrights understood it well. Don’t start with a boatload of exposition, get into the action and explain things as you go. Horace named it but writers have been using it since writing began.

In Homer’s Odyssey, we learn about Odysseus’ journey when he is held captive on Calypso’s island. Dickens does it sometimes, notably in A Christmas Carol. Jump to Pulp Fiction, Tarantino begins with Act 2. JK Rowling appears to start Harry Potter with his enrolment to Hogwarts, but the backstory with Lord V has been running for ten years already. Christopher Nolan’s tricksy Memento script does in medias res and then some.

Why do I mention this? It’s all about the three books in progress. Book One has a double in medias res opening.

Beginning number one is a flash-forward to (possibly) the end of the story. Open with a bang, foreshadow the climax, introduce the two protagonists and the antagonist, set the stakes, set up a cliffhanger. There’s a reason and a rationale why it’s a flash-forward which comes through the plot much later.

Beginning number two is a little more measured, putting some flesh on the POV protagonist and his antagonist. It also kick-starts the Inciting Incident and propels the central chase plot. In plotting terms, it blows a hole in the traditional Act One structure of the hero’s journey, the ordinary world turned upside-down. There’s no daily routine on the farm, average day at school, or family dinner around the table. It won’t be a long book and it needs to do as genre action thrillers do: throw the audience onto a moving machine.

As sequels, books two and three are set up to do the same, building on the events of the predecessor(s). These are intended as commercial fiction. There’s no room for a slow burn beginning, huge slabs of world-building or character development. The reader has to get right in there for page one. Ian Fleming didn’t start the Bond books with Bond Jnr.’s schooldays, navy days or the MI6 training academy. That’s what fill-in dialogue is for in the quiet scenes between the action.

Let’s hope it hooks the readers as intended.