In Medias Res—More Than Just A Hook!
Often, we are faced with Latin phrases that seem to have had impactful meaning a few hundred years ago. Naturally, in medias res is such a term, but unbeknownst to many, it is what gives readers that level of gripping excitement similar to an unexpected plot twist.
In Medias Res Definition
But before we jump into all the ways to optimize your content so that you create the next New York Times Best Seller, what in the world does in medias res actually mean? The direct translation is "in the midst of things."
When Was This Narrative Technique First Coined?
The first use of this phrase was by the Roman poet and satirist, Horace. He was the first person to use in medias res, providing this Latin term with its first use in his poem Ars Poetica. This is where the journey of in medias res begins!
Within our setting as esteemed writers and linguists, it is more the start of a narrative without all the airy-fairy descriptions. You want war? Well, instead of starting your story with your character before the war, let's just start his story while he is under attack!
That is the essence of in medias res! You are literally throwing the reader into the thick of things! Could you think of another way to create the perfect opening scene? Stephanie Meyer used in medias res as the perfect narrative technique to keep the reader transfixed from the very beginning.
Beginning your story in the middle of the action not only allows you to hit the ground hard and fast, but it also allows you to explain the previous acts of life and death that may have put your characters in the position that the beginning of the story found them in.
The Beginning of In Medias Res—The Trojan War
One of the first uses of in medias res that is found in literature was through the works of the Greek poet Homer. He used this literary technique to grip his audience's attention. They were held captive by the first line of the Iliad, and an even better example is the opening line of the Odyssey.
Now, the Iliad creates a scene that describes what is happening between Achilles and Agamemnon during the Trojan War. Just imagine the dialogue between them and how the audience remains riveted from the get-go! That and a possibly dead body scattered somewhere. After all, it is the Trojan War!
The Opening Scene of the Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy is yet another fantastic example! Dante Alighieri, the poet behind this masterpiece, literally creates one of the most enthralling opening scenes in the literary history of in medias res definition. Imagine reading a poem that starts off with "In the midway of our mortal journey!"
Now Stephenie Meyer takes this Latin phrase meaning a bit more seriously with her story, especially as she opens up the prologue to her hit Twilight. She revealed a main character, some past events, and even a bit of violence. After all, we all saw it in the movie!
But, luckily for you, we at The Urban Writers know exactly how to use the medias res meaning to place your protagonist in the middle of the action without needing to include too many flashbacks and future or past events.
You want to create that curiosity in your audience, which is exactly what one of the most notable examples, Odyssey, achieves! It creates an opening scene that reveals the characters of the poem in a way that doesn't necessarily need to make use of an elaborate backstory.
Now, we are not saying that a backstory is not important. But, if you were to show us stories or films that started with a character's backstory, we would probably beg the writer to have added a bit of action! This is why you need to start your story in the middle.
You've all seen Star Wars and Pretty Little Liars—these story examples use this narrative technique so eloquently that you wouldn't even notice.
How to Incorporate In Medias Res
But, with all of these examples, how can you actually write the perfect sequence of events that incorporates in medias res as more than just a literary term?
Let's start off with three tips that can be used as a baseline to really incorporate in medias res into your story. The Cambridge University Press has alluded to these tips as being the best use of such a literary device. They are as follows:
Make sure that as you start the book in the middle of your plot. Now, this can be anything from an important argument, conflict, or event that lets your audience know that a sequence of events is going to unfold at some point in the novel.
When you use medias res you will need to fill your readers in on the writing that took place before your current plot's events. Get them hooked, then tell them the backstory of your protagonist.
As soon as you have your readers enthralled in the gripping scenes of the story you have created, start to discuss the journey of your characters. Give the reader enough information to construct and create their own version of your world.
The event you choose for your medias res needs to be a pivotal turning point in your character's journey. Make it high-stakes and integral to the development of your story!
So, let's get to the nitty-gritty of creating your stories. Using existing literature, The Urban Writers have created the perfect example of how to strengthen your storytelling craft while creating a novel that would be perfect to be made into a film. After all, that is the goal, right?
Creating In Medias Res
Now, as you delve deeper into how to incorporate in medias res into your manuscript, you will need to make sure that you have planned both before and after it.
Construct a chronological order of events. Make it as detailed as possible, ensuring that there are links between the part playing as the medias res with the rest of the events occurring both before and after that specific event's time period.
Understand the profiles of all your main characters. You need to know where they exist within the scene, acting as the in medias res as well as how they begin to develop after the event has taken place.
By definition, using in medias res in your writing, will pose many questions to the reader. Your job as the writer is to pre-empt these questions and either have on-hand answers or spaced answers throughout the rest of the plot.
Plots and subplots all need to link together, giving the reader a buildup to the main event. However, always make sure that it fits into the main narrative. What you don't want is a story of words that just doesn't fit in anywhere.
Leaving Your Audience Captivated
Now that you have used the above to understand your plot a bit better, you need to make sure that you use an emotive scene to represent your in medias res. You want to leave your audience asking questions, such as:
Who are the characters in this book?
What in the world is going on?
How did the characters get to this point in the story?
What in the world is going to happen next?
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk starts with Tyler Durden shoving a pistol down an unarmed man's throat. This all happened in the midst of a skyscraper being a few seconds away from exploding into pieces. This is the perfect scenario for you to fill in and ask all of the above questions.
The Gripping Narrative Hook
Now you have selected the scene, so the next thing you need to do is write a first line that is going to grip anyone and everyone! An example is the poem Odyssey, reeling you in to read further than just the stanza at the beginning.
Imagine understanding how the goddess Calypso held Odysseus prisoner on her island, forcing him to be her lover. Is Calypso's island a beautiful one? Or is it strewn with dungeons filled with prisoners who would not love her? This is an example of how the writing should create questions in the reader's mind.
Read a bit further into the Odyssey, more specifically Books IX, through XII, and you are shown all of the events that occurred prior to Homer's use of in medias res.
Your next little piece of work is deciding how you are going to depict the events that have happened before your in medias res. Using flashbacks, time-jumps, and lots of dialogue between two main characters are usually the best approaches to it.
Just imagine this The book begins with a single word—death. The writer explains that a body is surrounded by dark wood and signs of a living sacrifice. Your mind starts to play like a film, especially as the flashbacks, pivotal to the progression of the story, are described.
Writing should be like that, beginning with a hook, forcing you to think about the context of the story. Starting in the middle with an event that begins to stir thoughts, questions, and the foreshadowing of possible plot twists, is exactly what you, as the writer, should want to deliver.
There are many different ways that one can go about writing a book. Some do it chronologically from the get-go. However, if you don't catch the audience's attention from the get-go, your writing won't be as successful as it could be. This is why using in medias res is so important.
The Urban Writers have the talent, the aptitude, and the experience to bring your vision of in medias res to life. Feeling stuck on how to actually begin in the middle? We have the perfect fiction packages just for you!