In Media Res
Jumping into the action
In media res is a Latin expression that means “in the middle of things” or “in the midst of things.”
My husband, who walks and talks in his sleep (and has done so since a young boy), unwittingly applies in media res during his dreams. The only problem is he combines two different dream themes into one sentence, delivering them in one breath. The most recent one he voiced was:
“Hackling his way through the battlefield is the Roman Emperor, and Ringo Soufflé makes the first down at the 27 yard line.”
Enough of dreams and onto stories
While dreams offer endless opportunities for poetic license, and the anything-can-be factor knows no boundaries, storytelling must meet readers’ expectations. The first few story lines should grab attention, be compelling, intriguing, and pique interest. As the reader, the story hooks you into reading more.
In media res begins the story without much narrative description or drawn-out character development. It immerses the reader into the action of the scene.
In storytelling, every act and scene build to a crisis moment. The crisis moment occurs when the main character must make a difficult or vital decision. Keep in mind, whatever the crisis decision is, that decision determines the protagonist’s actions during the climax. The climax follows the crisis, and it is the story’s high-point, the big pay-off, often the pinnacle of conflict. Suppose the crisis decision is to expose an evil antagonist. A wicked queen has abused a girl, and during the climax, she protests, shouting out, “The Queen is lying. The truth is…” The crisis and climax deepen our understanding of the protagonist. Here we learn that our heroine isn’t afraid to speak out.
In media res takes you quickly to the crisis or climax of a scene, whether the scene is at the story’s beginning, middle or end.
Examples of In Media Res
Examples of well-known movies using in media res include:
The Matrix opens with a dark screen appearing, and you hear voices. Carry-Anne Moss (Trinity in the story) is speaking to someone on the phone and reveals Morpheus’ belief that a certain man is The One. She also doubts their phone connection is clean and soon discovers she has no means to exit the matrix. The police swarm to her location. Through acrobatics, karate moves, and grabbing officers’ guns to shoot them, she escapes the police officers, but agents move in, and the chase is on. She leaps across rooftops, making landings that surpass human capability. At the end of the scene, she finds a clean phone line and eludes them.
Raiders of the Lost Arc
This Stephen Spielberg film stars Harrison Ford, who is the archeologist, Indiana Jones. The in media res beginning shows Indiana Jones discovering a Peruvian temple hidden in the tropical forest. After outwitting booby traps, he reaches a chamber containing treasures and steals a golden idol. However, when leaving, he triggers the release of an enormous bolder, and with it rolling behind him, he runs for his life through the temple’s tunnels, until at last, he escapes.
The two above examples of in media res occur in stories with scenes in chronological order. However, authors can also open the story using a climactic moment from the middle. After the action finishes, the writer returns to the chronological beginning, filling in with character development, world-building, and plot that catch the reader/viewer up to the middle of the story.
Birdbox is an example of a storyline beginning in the middle, using in media res.
Birdbox stars Sandra Bullock, who plays Malorie Hayes. Malorie explains to two children, one named Boy, and the other named Girl, that they’re going on a rough, dangerous trip by boat down the river. The children must remain blindfolded and quiet at all times. They can only speak if they hear strange noises in the woods or on the water. The action begins with the three of them wearing blindfolds as they follow a piece of twine and then a rope that leads them to the water’s edge. She lifts the children into the boat and begins paddling. The next chapter takes place five years earlier when Malorie is pregnant, receiving a sonogram in the doctor’s office while attended by her sister. The story’s timeline jumps back and forth between past and present scenes. When the sequence catches up to the middle, it then follows chronologically to the end.
In some movies, the timeline bounces around. It opens with a scene near the end, then shifts back and forth between the beginning, middle, and ending acts. When reaching the story’s actual ending, all the details make sense and have fallen in place.
The movie Memento unfolds like this. It begins with a scene near the end of the movie. The omitted details in the scene build up suspense. The erratic jumping to different scenes throughout the story also reflect the main character’s distorted mind and memories.
The main character, starring Guy Pearce, is Leonard Shelby. He suffers from short-term memory loss after a break-in at his house. His wife is raped and murdered, and he’s trying to solve the crime, but his inability to remember and new false memories make the story a mystery. In the opening scene, we see Leonard holding a photo of a room’s bloody floor and walls. The scene runs backwards in time with the polaroid photograph being rolled back into the camera, the dropped gun flying into Leonard’s hand, and the dead guy coming alive again, and yelling “No!”
Using In Media Res
If you open your story in media res, be sure to choose a vital scene for the plot. The scene can be early, such as the inciting incident, which sends your main character in an irreversible direction. Or, the opening scene can be the story’s high stakes climax. It can also be the end of the story with some omitted details, allowing you to build up suspense until reaching the resolution again, this time complete, tying up loose ends.
Have fun observing the technique in books or movies. Or if you’re an author, I hope you enjoy using it in your writing. Let us know what you think by commenting below.
L. K. Blair
Author L.K. Blair (or Lyn Blair) is an emerging author who writes in the speculative fiction genre: sci-fi fantasy, dystopian, apocalyptic, supernatural, paranormal and magical realism.
For over 15 years, she has flexed her creative muscles as a copywriter and web designer. In response to some tough personal challenges, storytelling became a new passion and cathartic outlet for her.
L.K. Blair’s stories open doors to other dimensions or universes where characters struggle with relationships, self-doubts or personality flaws that lead to conflicts. Yet, in each story a new insight or understanding arises from the story’s theme. The author loves stories that send messages where the “better angels of our nature” find a time of awakening.
She has written a number of short stories. Two of her short stories appeared in the Transcendent Authors’ publication Spring—The Unexpected, and she has also contributed two short stories to the upcoming release Winter—An End and a Promise.
She is working on the last book in a trilogy. She is releasing one episode at a time from her first novel, Before Nova: Color Waves, Book I in the Nova series, on Kindle Vella.
You can find out more about this author at her website https://lkblair.com/
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