Understanding & Using In Medias Res: A Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. What is In Medias Res?
  2. History of In Medias Res
  3. How to identify In Medias Res
  4. Why use In Medias Res?
  5. Examples of In Medias Res
  6. How to write using In Medias Res
  7. Common mistakes when using In Medias Res
  8. Tips for writing In Medias Res

Imagine you're diving straight into the middle of a thrilling movie scene. No introductions, no background, just directly into the action. That, my friend, is the literary equivalent of In Medias Res. This guide will help you understand the definition of in media res, its history, how to identify it, and how to use it in your own writing. Let's get started!

What is In Medias Res?

The Latin term "In Medias Res" translates to "into the middle of things", and that's exactly what it implies in the world of literature and storytelling. It's a narrative technique where the story begins in the middle, often at a critical point in the action. This technique skips the traditional setup of the plot and instead drops the audience directly into the thick of the story.

So, when you're searching for the definition of in media res, you're essentially looking for a storytelling technique that dives into the narrative's heart without preamble. It's like walking into a room where a heated debate is already underway. You don't know what the argument is about, who started it, or why, but you're right there in the middle of it — and it's up to you to figure out the rest.

The use of in medias res can be a bit tricky, though. It's not just about starting the story in the middle, but also about cleverly revealing the beginning and the end as the narrative unfolds. It's like a puzzle that the reader or viewer gets to solve as the story progresses.

Think of it this way: It's like you're dropped into the middle of a maze. You don't know how you got there (the beginning), you don't know your way out (the end), but you're there — right in the thick of it.

History of In Medias Res

Now, you might be thinking, "Wow, this in medias res stuff sounds really modern and edgy!" but you'd be surprised to learn that it's actually as old as storytelling itself. The concept of in medias res has been around for centuries. In fact, it has roots in ancient epic poetry.

One of the earliest and most famous examples of in medias res is Homer's "Iliad". Instead of starting the story at the beginning of the Trojan War, Homer kicks things off nine years into the battle, right when things are getting really interesting. He doesn't bother with how the war started or why, but jumps right into the action — and that is the essence of in medias res.

Another classic example is the "Odyssey", also written by Homer. The poem begins in the middle of Odysseus's journey home, skipping the entire Trojan War and the start of his voyage. The past events are then revealed through flashbacks and narratives by different characters.

So, the history of in medias res isn't a new-fangled concept cooked up by modern-day scriptwriters. It's a tried and true storytelling technique that has been captivating audiences for thousands of years. It's a testament to the fact that sometimes, the best way to begin a story is from the middle.

How to Identify In Medias Res

So, how do you spot this intriguing storytelling technique in action? It's simple enough once you know what to look for.

Firstly, in medias res often starts with a scene that's high on action or drama. You feel like you've been thrown into the thick of things without any context. If you're reading a book or watching a movie and you're thinking, "Wait, what's happening here? Who are these people?"—that's a good sign you're dealing with in medias res.

Another sign is if the story uses a lot of flashbacks or expositions to reveal past events. Remember, with in medias res, the backstory doesn't come first—it's revealed bit by bit as the story progresses. So, if a character is constantly reminiscing about the past or if there are frequent scenes showing past events, it's likely that the story started in medias res.

Another giveaway of in medias res is a sudden shift in time within the narrative. If you notice that the story has jumped from the present to the past or vice versa, it's highly likely that you're seeing in medias res in action.

Identifying in medias res can be a fun and engaging exercise. It's like being a detective, looking for clues and piecing together the puzzle. The more you understand the definition of in medias res, the easier it becomes to spot it in different stories.

Why Use In Medias Res?

Now, you might be wondering — why use this narrative technique at all? What makes in medias res so special? Well, there are actually several reasons why storytellers choose to use this technique. Let's explore them.

The primary reason is to grab the audience's attention right from the start. In a world where we're constantly bombarded with content — books, movies, TV shows, podcasts — it's more important than ever to stand out. By starting in the middle of the action or drama, in medias res hooks the audience immediately. It's like a thrilling rollercoaster ride that starts with the biggest drop — who wouldn't be intrigued?

Another reason to use in medias res is to create a sense of mystery or intrigue. By withholding information from the audience, you keep them guessing and eager to find out more. This can turn a simple story into a compelling puzzle that audiences can't resist solving.

Lastly, in medias res can make a story more dynamic and engaging. Traditional storytelling can sometimes feel slow or predictable. In contrast, in medias res shakes things up, offering a fresh and exciting approach to narrative structure.

So, the next time you're crafting a story, consider using in medias res. It could be just what you need to take your storytelling to the next level.

Examples of In Medias Res

Now that you've got the definition of in medias res down, wouldn't it be great to see some examples in action? Let's dive right in!

One of the most famous examples comes from ancient literature. The epic poem "The Iliad" by Homer begins in the thick of the Trojan War, omitting the events that led to the war. Readers are immediately immersed in the conflict, and the causes of the war are only revealed later.

Moving on to modern cinema, the movie "Star Wars: A New Hope" also uses in medias res. The film begins with a tense space battle, instantly drawing viewers into the story. The backstory of the galaxy far, far away is then gradually unfolded as the movie progresses.

Even in the world of TV shows, "Breaking Bad" is a notable example. The series starts with the protagonist, Walter White, in a pair of khakis and a gas mask, driving a RV in a frenzied state. The events leading up to this moment are told through subsequent episodes, keeping viewers hooked.

And let's not forget novels. "Fight Club" by Chuck Palahniuk starts with the main character at gunpoint, and the events leading up to that point are revealed throughout the novel. It's a classic example of in medias res making a story more compelling.

These examples show how versatile in medias res can be, working across different media and genres. So, don't be afraid to experiment with it in your own storytelling. Who knows, you might just create the next "Iliad" or "Star Wars"!

How to write using In Medias Res

Alright, we've understood the definition of in medias res and seen some brilliant examples. Now, let's get down to the nitty-gritty: How can you write using in medias res?

Firstly, identify the core action or conflict in your story. This is what you'll start your narrative with. Let's say, for instance, you're writing a story about a time traveler. Instead of starting with the science and the mechanics behind time travel, you could start with the traveler arriving in a different era.

Next, you'll want to build tension or excitement early on. In medias res is all about engaging your reader right from the start, so ensure your opening scene is gripping. Following our time traveler example, maybe there's an unexpected problem with the time machine as soon as our protagonist arrives in the past.

Now, remember to slowly reveal your backstory. Since in medias res omits the events leading up to the core action or conflict, you'll need to sprinkle these details throughout the rest of your narrative. Perhaps our time traveler gradually discovers a note from their past self with instructions to fix the time machine.

Lastly, don't forget to maintain continuity. Since you're starting in the middle of things, it's vital to keep track of your timeline to avoid confusing your readers. You wouldn't want our time traveler to suddenly have a solution without prior indication, would you?

And there you have it! A simple guide to writing using in medias res. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don't be disheartened if your first few attempts don't go as planned. Keep trying and soon enough, you'll master the art of in medias res.

Common mistakes when using In Medias Res

Now that we've tackled the basics of writing in medias res, let's explore some common mistakes that can happen when using this technique. Understanding these can help you avoid the pitfalls and truly shine when using the in medias res style.

One common mistake is not providing enough context after the initial scene. Remember, in medias res throws readers into the thick of things. While this is great for grabbing attention, it can leave the reader feeling lost if you don't provide enough background information later on. It’s like throwing someone into a pool without teaching them to swim—pretty disorienting, right?

Another error is using in medias res without a clear purpose. Before deciding to use this narrative technique, ask yourself: "Why am I starting in the middle? What does it add to my story?" If you can't answer these questions, it might be better to opt for a more traditional narrative structure. Remember, in medias res is a tool, not a must-use strategy.

A third mistake is rushing the backstory reveal. While it's crucial to provide details about what happened before the start of your in medias res narrative, it's equally important to pace this reveal. Imagine watching a movie and all the backstory is crammed into a five-minute flashback—that's not very satisfying, is it?

Lastly, many writers make the mistake of not returning to the initial scene. After opening with a gripping scene, don't forget to circle back and resolve what happened. Leaving it hanging can confuse your readers and leave them feeling dissatisfied.

So there you have it, the common mistakes made when attempting to use in medias res. Keep these in mind as you write and you'll be well on your way to creating an engaging and well-structured narrative.

Tips for writing In Medias Res

Have you ever heard the phrase, "practice makes perfect"? Well, it's true, especially when it comes to mastering the art of in medias res. So let's dive into some practical tips you can use when writing in medias res.

Firstly, keep your opening scene exciting. Remember, the whole point of in medias res is to kick off your narrative with a bang. You want to hook your readers right from the start. Think of it like the first drop on a roller coaster—thrilling, right?

Secondly, carefully consider the scene you want to start with. It should not only be exciting but also relevant to your story. If you start with a car chase, make sure it ties into your plot—don't just include it for the thrill factor.

Next, don't forget about the backstory. Even though you're starting in the middle, your readers still need to know what led to this point. Just make sure to weave in the backstory seamlessly so it doesn't interrupt the flow of your narrative. It's like baking a cake—you wouldn't just dump all the ingredients in at once, would you?

Another tip is to make your narrative clear. Yes, in medias res should be exciting and mysterious, but it shouldn't leave your readers scratching their heads in confusion. Be sure to provide enough details so your readers understand what's happening. This doesn't mean you have to explain everything right away, but you should offer enough clues so your readers can piece the puzzle together.

Finally, remember to resolve your opening scene. After starting your story with a bang, you need to deliver a satisfying resolution. This doesn't have to happen immediately, but it should happen at some point in your narrative. It's like a magician's act—you wouldn't want to see the trick without the grand reveal, would you?

So there you have it—some practical tips you can use when writing in medias res. Remember, practice is key. With time and patience, you'll be able to master this exciting narrative technique. Good luck!

If you're intrigued by the concept of In Medias Res and want to explore its application in documentary storytelling, check out the workshop 'Documentary Treatment: The Last Act' by Reshelshah. This workshop delves into the art of crafting compelling narratives for documentaries and offers valuable insights on incorporating the technique of In Medias Res in your storytelling process.