Your most pressing and perplexing questions about writing answered here by Gotham teacher Brandi Reissenweber.

You are watching: What is one effect that an in medias res opening is meant to have on the reader?


I"ve created a trilogy (three book-length manuscripts), yet I"m not sure where to end each book. Is it it s okay to end on a cliffhanger that"s fixed in the very first chapter the the following book?
I"m creating a quick story that depends on current real-life events specifically, the rash of mass shootings and the demise of the Twinkie. I"m came to that when these can be relevant to readers today, they might be much less so also a few months indigenous now, when the short might actually uncover its means into one editor"s hands. How deserve to a writer keep present events like these fresh and also meaningful to later audiences?
How execute I begin a story that requirements a lot of explanation, like when it takes place in another time or if the character has an extraordinary skill?
Most the authors I recognize plot out a short story before they write it. I don"t execute this. Ns just have actually an idea and also start writing. Is over there a right means to perform this?
What is in medias res?

In medias res is a Latin phrase that literally converts as “in the center of things.” In fiction, it explains the method of beginning a story by dropping the reader in the middle of the action. The term originates from Horace, an old Roman poet, who advised epic poets to obtain straight come the heart of the story. Fiction writers and also readers all over can thank Horace because that this lasting advice—it’s a an excellent way to immediately engage the reader.

Let’s look in ~ this technique in action. Below are the first couple of lines of a story that begins at the beginning:

I met Iris soon after my divorce. Mine ex-wife and also kids weren’t happy about it, specifically when we moved in together. However I can not worry around them, also though they provided us a difficult time by call at every hours. Iris is the sort of woman who is easily excitable and that’s part of what I find attractive.

Now look at this opening, native Raymond Carver’s “Whoever Was utilizing This Bed,” which begins in medias res:

The contact comes in the middle of the night, three in the morning, and also it practically scares united state to death. “Answer it, price it!” my wife cries. “My God who is it? answer it!” i can’t uncover the light, but I gain to the various other room, whereby the call is, and pick it increase after the fourth ring.

This opened wrenches you into the story, immersing friend in the minute with the narrator and also his wife, and also leaving you as panicked and disoriented by the ringing phone together they are. Because that the writer, start in medias res urges dramatization from the very an initial line. Girlfriend won’t have actually much possibility to tell around the characters or case when you busy mirroring the minute as the unfolds.

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When you use this technique, you may ultimately need to fill in some background information. Frequently this is done v a little bit of exposition. Carver defines the couple’s case in a few brief lines after the narrator answers the phone:

After Iris and also I began living together, my previous wife, or else one of my kids, supplied to contact up as soon as we were asleep and also want come harangue us. They kept doing it even after Iris and I were married. Therefore we started unplugging ours phone before we went to bed. Us unplugged the call every night of the year, simply about. It to be a habit. This time ns slipped up, that’s all.

Notice Carver doesn’t get in the details that the haranguing, or the situation of why that forgot to unplug the phone the night. Withstand the temptation come over-explain. Just provide the info absolutely necessary for clarity and then get ago to the action.

If friend start even later in the activity and have to dramatize scene that came before, friend can attain that in flashback. This is specifically common in novels. Leila Aboulela’s Minaret, because that example, adheres to an aristocratic Sudanese woman, Najwa, who has to make her means as a maid in London ~ a government coup in Sudan. The novel begins as Najwa takes on a place as a maid and also juxtaposes flashbacks of she life in Sudan through scenes from her life in London to present the means she concerns terms with her brand-new situation.

Beginning in medias res is a sure method to ensnare the reader. Indeed, the method has endured since old Roman times. Give Horace’s technique a shot and see what friend think.