In Medias Res: Your Writing Superpower
  • 4-minute read
  • 29th January 2022

In Medias Res: Your Writing Superpower

Are you an author looking to supercharge your next work? Try in medias res: a technique where a text begins by dropping the reader into the middle of the action before returning to the beginning. In medias res means “in the midst of things” and is a literary device often used to grab the reader’s attention and make them want to keep reading to find out how the first scene came about.

In this blog post, we’ll cover:

●  Six examples of in medias res from literature, television, and film.

●  How to use in medias res in your novel.

●  The importance of editing your novel.

1. Homer’s The Iliad

Homer’s narrative poems The Iliad and The Odyssey are some of the first examples of in medias res in literature. At the beginning of The Iliad, the readers are thrown into the Trojan War. In the first few scenes, they face various dramatic events, like kidnapping, bribery, and plagues. This arouses the reader’s curiosity and makes them want to read on.

Readers are parachuted into the events of the Trojan War at the start of The Iliad.
(Photo:greekreporter.com)

2. Homer’s The Odyssey

The Odyssey begins with the story of Odysseus trying to get home from the Trojan War, which ended years before. On Odysseus’ home island of Ithaca, several suitors are trying to win the affection of his wife, Penelope. Homer uses flashbacks to deliver the exposition after capturing the reader’s attention with this exciting preview of the story.

3. Dante’s The Divine Comedy

This narrative poem starts with the main character lost in a dark and gloomy forest where he’s attacked by beasts. There’s no way to know how or why he got there, so the reader joins the hero as he looks for answers. This creates a “hook” for the reader, who continues to read in hopes that the protagonist will escape from this terrible situation.

4. Meyer’s Twilight

The opening to the prologue of this young adult novel shows the main character, Bella, being chased by someone or something. She’s in great danger, but the reader doesn’t find out who’s after her or if she’ll live until the end of the story.

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5. Big Little Lies (TV show)

Season 1 of the TV show based on Liane Moriarty’s novel starts with a death at a suburban school fundraiser. The audience doesn’t know who died, why, or how. To figure out what might’ve happened, we have to read about the police investigation and go back six months in time. Viewers can put together the missing pieces of the puzzle as the story moves toward the death.

6. Kill Bill Vol.1 (Film)

In the opening scene of this Tarantino film, a woman in a wedding dress is covered in blood and whimpers in distress. Her fear grows as a man in cowboy boots approaches her. The man wipes her face with a handkerchief, prompting the bride to beg for mercy, claiming she’s pregnant with his child. Before she can say anything, he shoots her in the head.

This opening sets the tone for the movie and raises many questions—above all, how a wedding could turn into such a bloodbath.

How to Use in Medias Res in Your Novel

  1. Establish the Narrative Arc of Your Story

Even if you start your novel in the middle of the action, you must plan the beginning, middle, and end of your narrative before starting to write. This allows the context of the in medias res opening to unravel as the novel progresses.

  1. Write a Pivotal or Climactic Scene

Now you need to figure out the ending of your story. Try to write a pivotal or emotional scene that could open the novel. Do not include too many people or details in the scene and think about how the scene fits into the chronological flow of the plot.

  1. Decide How to Provide the Missing Context

If the opening scene isn’t very close to the chronological beginning of the narrative, in medias res will only work if the missing context is supplied later in the novel. There are several ways to do this: use flashbacks, dialog, or time jumps to explain the whys and wherefores of the first scene.

The Importance of Editing Your Novel

There’s no substitute for editing your novel to ensure that your in medias res opener offers a fine balance of exposition and mystery without confusing your reader. That’s where we come in. Our team of editors is experienced with fiction and is available 24 hours a day to edit and/or proofread your work. Submit a free sample of your writing to find out more!

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