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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In Medias Res: WL 366 (#15)

Lesson 15: Start your story in the middle of the action.

In the literary world the Latin phrase in medias res is often used. It's translated into the middle of things, and it's a very powerful tool in the hands of a talented writer.

In it's simplest form, in medias res means to start your story in the middle of the action. In other words, don't start your story at the beginning with lengthy exposition setting the scene, describing your characters, filling in the backstory, and other telling narrative. Start where you're most likely to hook your reader--with some action.

Scene, character description, and backstory is important, but all of this can be worked in gradually and creatively in small doses rather than in one massive injection.

Most people today are not patient readers. They don't savor the words and relish the beauty of the language like they did before our society became so rushed. They bore easily, and a bored reader stops reading and tells everyone on Amazon what a great doorstop your book makes, and because of its solid binding, they were feeling generous enough to give you one-star.

If your material is written for literary academics, which there are an extremely small number of compared to the rest of the reading world, this won't apply to you. But if you are writing for a mass audience (and I hope you are thinking internationally as you write--you don't want to limit your book's market), consider starting your story in medias res.

Do you prefer books that jump right into the midst of the story, or do you prefer some lead-in?

Visit me tomorrow for another Writer's Leap 366 lesson. 


  1. Deana said...

    Great points! I love a good classic where description runs amuck but it just doesn't happen enough and you're right we don't seem to have the time for it and boy do I love a book that picks me up and takes me for a ride right away.
    I guess it depends on my mood in deciding which type I will read which day.

  2. Angela Cothran said...

    I like a "jump right in" kind of book, but after I'm hooked I don't mind if it slows down a bit. I do hate how impatient our world is.