In Medias Res: Definition and Examples

The traditional method used to tell a story involved engaging the reader by introducing them to the surroundings where the narrative would take place. These environmental descriptions acquaint the audience with the main character and why they are in the current setting. This opening scene is called the exposition, a brief collection of scenes written to set up the protagonist and their world.

The drawback of using the narrative technique above is losing impatient readers.

Modern audiences' attention spans are shorter than ever, and they want to jump right in the middle of the action. Your first paragraph should put your protagonist in the line of fire later in the story to pique the reader's interest.

The In Medias Res literary technique will enhance your skills and make you an entertaining writer.

This guide will dive deep into the definition of this technique and how you can start adopting it to your narratives as a writer. 

In the article, you will learn:
  1. What is In Medias Res? 
  2. 5 Examples of In Medias Res
  3. Pros of In Medias Res
  4. Cons of In Medias Res
  5. 3 Pointers for Using In Medias Res in a Story

Side note: I recommend Plottr as my top plotting tool to fabricate stories using the 7-point Story Structure and many other Story Structures. If you purchase Plottr, I do get a small commission from that, but there is no extra cost and every bit goes to the coffee fund. More on Plottr later.

What is In Medias Res? 

graphic depiction of in media res

In Medias Res is a Latin phrase meaning “in the midst of things.” Writers in the world of literature and film use it to describe a story or movie scene that begins with a protagonist at a later point in the narrative. By this point, a good deal of action has taken place. 

The purpose of this is not to only skip over an irrelevant background story. It also helps you begin at any moment in the story that will improve the way you tell it than if you started from the beginning. 

For example, the first act of a play could start the scene with an event that looks like it will finish with the passing of a pivotal character when you see their dead body on stage. Or, if it's a biographical film, the producer will kick off the first scene as a sample of a point in the hero's life that made history that everyone knows.

Authors experimenting with In Medias Res start with an exciting opening scene they took from the middle or the end of the storyline.

For a particular movie, the opening scene takes place in a scene that starts a little later, and the climax is presented towards the median half of the story. It could also take events from the resolution after the peak action event has occurred, and most of the characters are experiencing important scenarios.

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5 Examples of In Medias Res

In Medias Res is so popular that various well-known writers use it to create novels, award-winning TV shows, and video games. They all start the same way by building up a narrative that grabs an audience's attention. 4 memorable examples you can study to improve your understanding are:

#1 The Iliad By Homer

This poem begins by throwing you right into the story within the first 4 to 5 lines. It takes place in the midst of a famous battle called the Trojan war. The dialogue allows you to visualize the fighting going on between the Trojans and the almighty Greeks. As the reader, you experience a kidnapping with innocent people held captive, bribes, deadly plagues, and death. And all this happens within the first act.

#2 The Odyssey by Homer

The narrative of this poem takes place one decade after the Trojan war. The protagonist's name is Odysseus, and he finds himself a prisoner of the immortal goddess Calypso. While captive, he risks losing his wife Penelope to a group of admirers, all vying to win her love. Once the eventful intro entices the audience and provides them with a sample of what they can expect, the remainder of the story unfolds. We get to see all the decisions the main characters make have consequences that they must now conquer. Next, the exposition is conveyed through past events, giving the history of each character and key plot points as the story continues.

#3 The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

The first line describes the main character as feeling confused because he finds himself in the forest with no idea how he got there. The roman poet responsible for writing this story leaves you feeling equally confused and feeling pity for the protagonist. You won't want to stop reading until you discover why the character is in this predicament. By this point, the reader is hooked.

#4 Breaking Bad (TV Show Written by Vince Gilligan)

In Medias Res is also very popular in Hollywood and is a tool most screenwriters use for the big screen and various television series. Breaking Bad has one of the best opening scenes in the history of television drama. From the story's beginning, the audience is thrown into the ruthless New Mexico countryside with the protagonist, Walter White driving his car in the desert. As he stops his RV, he puts on a long sleeve t-shirt, runs away from the car, and aims his firearm in the direction of the police headed his way. This first chapter in the show makes you want to binge-watch it. You don't stop even when the action slows down because, at this point, you will have invested hours into this drama. Curiosity keeps you glued to the TV to know how the series will end, and it doesn't disappoint.

#5 Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump is an Oscar-winning film that starts off its opening scene using In Medias Res. Of course, it's not like a crime drama that begins its scenes with murders and action scenes. But it does a great job of piquing the audience's curiosity so they don't flip to another channel.

The story starts with Forrest waiting for the bus on a bench while he starts a conversation with the seemingly bored woman next to him. In the beginning, he sounds like your average Joe babbling on about his life until his tale becomes enthralling, and she begins to listen actively.

This film is unforgettable because it uses all the strengths of a powerful tool like In Medias Res.

Pros of In Medias Res

In this section, I will discuss your advantages as a writer using this writing technique to hypnotize your audience with a poem, screenplay, or novel.

  • You can begin the story fast-paced instead of the typical boring introduction.
  • The narrative will be more thrilling, with an immediate obstacle for the protagonist to tackle.
  • It's a much simpler job grabbing the audience's attention when the story's beginning is witty and less predictable.
  • You can invest more of your writing time into the main mission of your plot by not having to be distracted by irrelevant details.
  • Ideal for detective-style mystery genres. You experience In Medias Res more often in fictional stories about serial killers and burglaries.

Cons of In Medias Res

No matter how effective a writing technique is, there are still disadvantages to using them because none are perfect. In this section, I discuss the cons you should know before applying this literary device to your stories.

  • Audiences find it difficult to feel a connection to specific types of characters – For example, if there is a death in your book towards the middle of the story and you use In Medias Res, it's hard for readers to connect at this point, even if you are writing biographical non-fiction. The reader will figure out it's much less difficult to connect with things surrounding the character but not with the person directly.
  • Writing in non-chronological order: It will confuse you if you have not mastered the plot and know it from beginning to end. If you don't know it well, you will forget vital details that can change how the story ends.

3 Pointers For Using In Medias Res in a Story

The tips in this section will teach you how to use In Medias Res for any story you write in your own life.

  • Start With the Middle – Pick a pivotal point in the narrative, like an altercation or a battle. It must be something that is so scintillating that the viewer is left wondering what happened before this climactic event.
  • Introduce Character Backstory – If the story begins in the middle, educate your audience on the history of the characters and how they fit into the events occurring throughout the narrative. Take advantage of any literary device in your arsenal to present important information. Some of these devices include flashbacks, changing points of view, and conversations. The trick is to give as much information that the viewer needs to comprehend the current event while keeping it to a minimum, so you don't overwhelm or bore them.
  • Keep the Feeling Urgent – The scene you pick to start your story with must be at the heart of the plot and a crucial point in the life of your protagonist. Anyone watching or reading must be so excited about how and why certain events in your narrative transpired that they couldn't wait another minute to reach the conclusion.

Should You Use In Medias Res?

Many advantages become available to you when using the In Medias Res technique, so don't allow the few cons we listed to intimidate you into quitting. It's no coincidence that it's so prominent and used by revered writers from all over the world. If done correctly, your writing will shine, and more readers will read to the conclusion without losing interest.

Since it's not in the appropriate order that it's supposed to be, your audience will need to put some extra effort into grasping the plot. Some consider this fulfilling like putting together the pieces of an intriguing puzzle, and the reward will come when the reader finally understands the ending of your exciting tale.

If you want to use In Medias Res, I highly recommend Plottr as a way of helping you structure your story.

Plottr has templates for dozens of different storytelling techniques, including In Medias Res. It uses helpful prompts and guides to help you outline each scene in your story, each character that you need to build, etc.

It is also my choice for the best outlining software

Check Out Plottr Here

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