What Star Wars “A New Hope” Can Teach Us About In Medias Res

All literary roads lead back to “Star Wars”….

On Friday we talked about using setting as a literary device. Setting is one of those tools that helps writers to do more showing than telling. Today, we are going to tackle a highly confusing subject for many writers—In medias res. In medias res quite literally means in the middle of things. This is a literary tactic that has been used since the days of Odysseus. It is a tactic that forces the writer forward, to begin the story near the heart of the problem.

The Trouble with In Medias Res

Ah, but this is where we writers can get in trouble. I see writers beginning their novels with high-action gun battles, blowing up buildings, a heart-wrenching, gut-twisting scene in a hospital or at a funeral, all in an effort to “hook the reader” by “starting in the middle of the action.” Then when they get dinged/rejected by an agent or editor, they are confused.

But I started right in the action! What is more “in the action” than a high-speed chase through Monte Carlo as a bomb ticks down to the final seconds?

Bear with me a few moments, and I will explain why this is melodrama and not in medias res.

Commercial Fiction Ain’t A Tale of Two Cities

For many centuries, there was a literary tendency to begin “in the early years” leading up to the story problem. Authors would wax on rhapsotic about the setting and spend 10,000 words or more “setting up” the story. The reader was privy to “why such and such character” became a whatever. There was a lot of heavy character development and explaining the why of things.

This, of course was fine, because in the 18th century, no writer was competing with television, movies or Facebook.

Thus if a book was a thousand pages long, it just meant it must have been extra-awesome. Also, authors, back in the day, were often paid by the word, thus there was a lot of incentive to add extra fluff and detail, layer on the subplots and pad the manuscript more than a Freshman term paper. Writing lean hit the author in the piggy bank, so most authors lived by the motto, No adverb left behind.

Then Hemingway came on the scene and…well, let’s get back to my point.

In medias res was not employed by many early novelists. They started the book when the protagonist was in the womb (being facetious here) and their stories often took on epic proportions.

Modern writers can’t do this. Yes there are exceptions to every rule, so save the e-mails. Just trust me when I say that modern readers have been spoiled by Hollywood and iPhones. They are used to instant gratification, and most modern readers will not give us writers 15,000 words to get the the point.

These days, especially for traditional publishing, we need to get right into the heart of the action from the get-go. But if “the heart of the action” doesn’t involve a gun battle, funeral or cliffhanging scene, what the heck does it look like?

For Those Who Have Slept Since Seeing Star Wars

It is the front gate of Six Flags over Texas.

Do we need to start in the years that Kristen was too young to go to Six Flags? How she would see her teenage cousins leave for a day of roller coasters and cry herself to sleep in her toddler bed for not getting to ride the roller coasters? How she vowed at four that she, too, would one day brave the Shock Wave?

Uh…no.

Do we start the story on the biggest loop of the roller coaster? The screams and terror mixed with glee?

No, that’s too far in. If we start the story on a Big Loop (HUGE ACTION–like car chases, bank heists, etc.) then we risk the rest of the book being anti-climactic. So where do we begin?

We begin at the gates of Six Flags over Texas.

We see young Kristen in the back of the station wagon and as her parents pull into the giant parking lot. We are present when she catches a glimpse of the Shock Wave (story problem) in the distance. Wow, it is bigger than she thought. We walk with Kristen through the line to get into the amusement park, and get a chance to know her and care about her before she makes the decision to ignore the Tea Cups and take on the roller coaster (Rise to Adventure). Kristen could have totally chickened out and stayed on the baby rides, but that would have been a boring story. Yet, because the Tea Cups are in the context of the larger ride, it means something when she decides she MUST ride the roller coaster.

In medias res means we start as close to the overall story problem as possible.

In my little example, the GIANT roller coaster represents the story problem. We have a choice to start far earlier than in the parking lot of Six Flags….but we risk losing the reader in the Land of “Who Gives a Crap?”. We, as the narrators, can also choose to start on the actual ride, but then we have a different problem. The readers are then hurled into the action after the decision (rise to the adventure) has been made. Thus, we didn’t get time to give a gnat’s booty about seven-year-old Kristen.

Also, since Kristen is already locked down and can’t walk away, there is no conflict. It isn’t like Kristen can step out of the coaster on the first loop and take on the Tea Cups instead. As long as Kristen cannot make the wrong choice or give into her fears, there really is no story. Kristen MUST have a chance to fail….to walk away and go play the Ring-Toss instead.

Likewise, our protagonists MUST have opportunities to fail or to walk away. This is why they are eventually called “heroes.” Anyone else would have waved the white flag in the face of such circumstances. This is why we read fiction. We like bravery, courage and resilience.

What Star Wars the New Hope Can Teach Us About In Medias Res

To give you guys another example, let’s pretend it is 1977 and we are sitting in the theater watching the movie Star Wars. Star Wars (The New Hope) is a PERFECT example of in medias res. When we start the story, wars have been fought and we are in the heart of the conflict. The twins are grown and living separate lives and Anakin has already whined himself over to the Dark Side and become Darth Vader.

My theory is that you can only call a guy “Annie” so many times before he just snaps. Anyway…

Begin on Tatooine

So if you don’t want to start at the Gates of Six Flags, then feel free to Begin on Tattoine.

Star Wars begins (with the protagonist) on the planet of Tatooine just before his life will intersect with the antagonist’s agenda. We meet young Luke in his Normal World and get a chance to meet his aunt and uncle. We get a chance to see his normal life, so we have a basis for comparison when everything goes sideways. We care when Luke’s family is senselessly slaughtered. We are there when Luke is given a choice. Ignore everything that’s happened and return to moisture-farming OR step on the path to adventure.

What NOT to Do

We DO NOT begin the adventure with Little Luke looking at the stars wondering who his father is or longing for exciting adventures in space. It is too early and we aren’t close enough to the story problem–when the Emperor’s agenda intersects with Luke’s life and alters it forever.

We also DO NOT start the story with Luke whizzing through space on the Milleneum Falcon dodging bad guysThat would have been exciting, but jarring and we wouldn’t have cared about any of the passengers. We also wouldn’t have had time to see the overall story problem—The Emperor, Darth and the Death Star.

I feel part of why the prequels sucked were not as good is because Lucas tried to go back and explain the story that we already had loved and accepted. Among many other reasons

Guess what?

We really didn’t need to know WHY Annakin Skywalker turned evil or even HOW the Force worked or WHAT it was to enjoy The New Hope movies. In fact, we kind of liked the movies better before we “knew.”

The Force was better before it was explained.

Some of you are starting too far into the action, which is jarring. But others might feel the need to go back and explain everything. Why your protag is thus and such. Why the world is la la la. How the magic did whatever. Guess what? You really don’t need to explain.

I have used this example before. What if you went to a magic show? The magician makes a woman float. As the audience, we cry out, “How can he DO THAT?” What if the magician stopped mid-show, flipped on the lights and pointed out all the mirrors and wires? What would it do?

It would ruin the magic.

Keep Your Literary Magic

Same with our writing. Sure, some things (backstory) can be explained. But, I will be blunt. Most backstory can be explained in dialogue, real-time in flow with the narrative. Flashbacks and prologues really just bog down the narrative more times than not. Yes, you might want to explain why your vampire is dark and brooding, but why? Many readers will keep reading in hopes they can piece together enough hints to figure it out. Just because readers might want something, doesn’t mean it is in our best interests as authors to give in.

Sure. Star Wars fans all thought they wanted to know WHY and HOW, but once we got what we wanted????

Yeah.

Finding the Literary Sweet Spot

Thus, as writers, we are looking for that literary sweet spot, just close enough to the inciting incident to make readers feel vested, but not so far that we are basically beginning our book with a scene that should be the Big Boss Battle at the end. In medias res is tough and we aren’t always going to nail it on the first try. The key is practice and study. Movies are really wonderful to study because in screenplays, Act One is brutally short.

Watch how the best movies introduce the characters and the problems and see how efficient they are at relaying backstory in dialogue. And sure, some movies use flashbacks, but we always have to remember that the visual medium is different. We can “see” differences and don’t have to “keep up with” a zillion characters. We are passive and watching with our eyes. We don’t have to recreate the world in our head.

Reading is very active, so flashbacks always risk jarring the reader out of the narrative. Also, if you study screenwriting, great screenplays, much like great novels, do not rely on flashbacks. Heavy use of flashbacks is generally a sign of an amateur screenwriter. Highly skilled writers, whether on the page or the screen, are masters of maximizing every word and keeping the story real-time.

So what are your thoughts? Does this help you understand in medias res better? Do you have anything to add?

I LOVE hearing from you guys!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of August I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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  1. #1 by JoAnne Potter on August 20, 2012 - 8:15 am

    Yes, Kristin, this helps. I was just going to go back and redo my first chapter, splitting it up into three short ones, so that I can get all the primary foundation laid before the inciting incident. I tend to jump in too quickly because, well, I just LOVE this story and these characters. But I need to give the reader time to love them, too.

  2. #2 by Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson on August 20, 2012 - 8:18 am

    I actually liked the Star Wars episode where we see HOW Darth Vader is created. Disclaimer: I was never a huge Star Wars fan having had to stand in that long line in 1977 for 7 hours.

    For me – that prequel was powerful. I liked seeing young Anakin in love and then see him make his crappy choices and then lose his limbs and become a torso and I was like…yes, yes…these things would make a person bitter. Very bitter.

    That said, my book is very dead right now. Something bad has happened. I don’t know where it happened or when, but it flatlined. So I have to give it time to figure out what the deuce I did.

    And if it can be saved.

    How do writers do this stuff again?

    You say it gets easier.

    Um, exactly when? ;-)

    • #3 by Author Kristen Lamb on August 20, 2012 - 8:37 am

      Your book is probably fine and fixable. You are too close. Back off and rest. Then go back and write out the main narrative points and a sentence or two how those points happen. That will help you see where to start the revision.

  3. #4 by K.B. Owen on August 20, 2012 - 8:29 am

    Oh, Kristen, I am QUEEN of the flashbacks, LOL! Are you peeking over my shoulder? Or maybe it’s #NinjaESP. I was just about to go diving into revisions of exactly one of those scenes. Hmm…maybe I’ll try re-writing it in straight time, see how it looks….

    Wish me luck! :D

  4. #5 by Normandie on August 20, 2012 - 8:30 am

    Excellent advice. Oh, and Renée, love your questions. I can’t tell you how many variations I’ve used to begin each of my stories. Last year, I tried two different iterations in various contests. Each won in a different contest, so that was no help. At all.

    Sigh. We slog. And then we slog more. I recently told my publisher that I would keep tweaking until he said stop. I’m hoping the editor will finally come along side to say, “That’s it. That’s the one. Stop.”

  5. #6 by Buck Stienke on August 20, 2012 - 8:39 am

    Excellent points! Many new writers take much too long to grab a reader’s attention. We teach that you have ten pages max to get their attention in a screen play, twenty tops in a novel. One reason many new manuscripts don’t get picked up for publication is that they bore the screeners who have to wade though chapters of fluff before anything happens. Since the screeners tend to be young, (Think post-MTV generation) things had better get cranking in a hurry. Some of these kids have all the attention span of a stop light, therefore a writer must judiciously tread between subtle backstory and action/adventure/romance in a work of fiction. Never forget the purpose of a work of fiction is to entertain the reader.

  6. #7 by Kay Shostak on August 20, 2012 - 8:40 am

    Had this explained so well by author Angie Hunt at a writer’s conference. She based her talk on “Wizard of Oz” and she reminded us that we never do know why Dorothy is living with her elderly aunt and uncle. I was stunned that I had never even bothered to wonder. Thanks for the reminder this morning – wonderful blog.

  7. #8 by jackiehames on August 20, 2012 - 9:01 am

    Reblogged this on The Spidereen Frigate and commented:
    In my infinite wisdom (aka my vacation-addled brain) I plum forgot to write a blog post for today. Because I’m awesome. It is times like these, my doves, when writers and bloggers alike turn to the blogosphere in a blind panic and cry out “Dear Intertubes, somebody save me!”

    And the Intertubes answer: “Behold. How ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ teaches writers about beginning in the thick of things.”

    Many thanks also to Kristen Lamb for writing this post and being as nerdy as I am.

  8. #9 by TLJeffcoat on August 20, 2012 - 9:10 am

    Oh thanks a lot Kristen. I mean that in the most positive way. My editor convinced me of rewriting the ending already. I recall him mentioning my beginning to be full of adrenaline but a little jarring. He didn’t feel it was a total rewrite though. Now I’m thinking you just convinced me to whip out my first draft full of 10,000 words of backstory and figure out how to cut it up and fade it into the beginning without giving away too much or boring anyone. I think I know where to start though. I accept this challenge. As Scott Nicholson once told me, editing is where the writer in us grows. Maybe not his exact words, but close enough. I became a writer because I don’t remember anything unless I write it. ;-)

  9. #10 by amyskennedy on August 20, 2012 - 9:20 am

    “…in the Land of ‘Who Gives a Crap?'” I’m taping this to my laptop — I laughed out loud.

  10. #11 by Mother-Earth Book Series on August 20, 2012 - 9:43 am

    Very timely for me, thank you. I’ve been realizing recently that I’ve started too far in on my WIP. Will have to go back to that once I get the back half wrestled into submission. Time travel can get somewhat complicated : /

  11. #12 by priscilla curtains on August 20, 2012 - 10:15 am

    Best description of where to begin that I have read thus far.

  12. #13 by celestealluvial on August 20, 2012 - 10:15 am

    I always enjoy reading your posts so full of intelligence and experience. You know what works and what does not and you unselfishly share it with us. Thanks a bunch for all the insights found here, I will be reflecting on it today as I continue to write. Thank you.
    Celeste

  13. #14 by Samuel Solomon on August 20, 2012 - 10:31 am

    great post. It’s a fine line, sometimes, between needing to world-build from the first paragraph, but still open into action and hook the reader. It should be common sense that you at least need some kind of introduction before the sky starts falling. Lack of introduction is simply bad manners.

    I think that the flashback gets a bad rap, sometimes, however. I think it is like the adverb- not strictly forbidden but should be used sparingly at most. The occasional flashback I do is very brief, but it’s a decent vehicle to use for backstory, since we’re not allowed to spend the first 15,000 words on it. If carefully and briefly done, I think it can really help, without jarring the reader, info-dumping, or losing the mystery element. In fact, I think that a flashback MUST be very brief, and should add as much mystery as it clarifies. Without them, we sometimes end up contriving scenarios and dialogue just to add the vital information- but that makes it harder to install any mystery along with it.

    I have heard it said that we should start our story as close to the ending as we can, and I appreciate the wisdom of that, but I have avoided initial world-building so much that my beta-readers are asking for more info and backstory. One way or another, we have to open with action even as we open with initial world-building, and then we have to figure out how to fill in the gaps incidentally after the fact, without info-dumping, and we must know which things to reveal and which to conceal.

    If we keep these points in our immediate awareness while crafting a story, then we’re halfway home already.

    thanks Kristen

  14. #15 by Anne R. Allen on August 20, 2012 - 10:50 am

    Fantastic advice. I find most of the books I’ve edited start in the wrong place. Usually the author is “warming up” in the first three chapters–writing stuff that belongs in a writing journal, not the polished work. But then there are the ones who have been lectured about “in media res”. Inevitably they’ve got us in the middle of a battle scene with people we don’t know and don’t care about. I always say, write the book, then figure out when to begin it, Write the first chapter last.

    “The Force was better before it was explained.” LOL I totally agree!

  15. #16 by Amy Denim (@AmyDenim) on August 20, 2012 - 11:58 am

    Thank goodness someone finally explained this term to me! I thought sure it had something to do with, well, media and resolution! lol. Great examples on how to figure out where to start the story.

  16. #17 by KM Huber on August 20, 2012 - 12:02 pm

    Masterful, Kristen, absolutely masterful. Every single word in this essay resonates.

    Until your blog post, I’m not sure that I truly understood in medias res, although it is a phrase I have known for decades. Singularly, your post is one of the finest explanations of the phrase that I have read, and you know how old I am. You have so many sentences that are truly transcendent, a word that brings Virginia Woolf to mind.

    As a reader, if I am not pulled into a story within the first few paragraphs, chances are I will not read the book. Of course, there have been a few good books that I have missed because I did not give the author at least twenty pages but for the most part, the standard has served me well.

    As a writer, the opening of a story, of an essay or a novel is really difficult for me. Time and again, I fail but the array of concrete examples you provide in these blog posts gives me a way to “see” my failure within the context of what I have written. That is huge, just huge for me. Daily, you are changing me as a writer, and I am better for it.

    Thank you, Kristen.

    Karen

  17. #18 by Caroline Clemmons on August 20, 2012 - 12:10 pm

    Great explanation, Kristen, and using a movie everyone on the planet has seen at least once. I’ve seen it many more times. Thanks.

  18. #19 by Donna Brown on August 20, 2012 - 12:22 pm

    I agree with everyone. Your writing has been so helpful to me too! I have discovered that the best thing for me to do when writing fiction is to begin at the very beginning in my first draft and then fill in all the details. It isn’t usually until the second draft that I begin deciding where the best place to begin my story, because then I can see everything in its proper perspective. Usually i lob off about the first three chapters and include them as flash backs or in conversation. It is IMPORTANT that I know what happened before the story began to help flesh out the characters but it is NOT IMPORTANT that the reader sees all the details.
    I often “start my stories in Tattoine” giving a quick glimpse of what life was like before “the clash of the antagonist”. I like to let my reader love the protagonist before the action really gets going.

  19. #20 by jadwriter on August 20, 2012 - 12:38 pm

    I’d never heard of the words ‘in media res’. I have heard that authors should start the story just as life for the main character is about to change. So I think this is the same.

  20. #21 by tomwisk on August 20, 2012 - 12:50 pm

    Picking the right place to start is a bear. Sometimes it stares at you with that “And what?” expression on its face or it hides behind a little darling long overdue for the reject pile. Sometimes it’s “I wanna tell you a story”.

  21. #22 by Lynn Franklin (@Lynn_Franklin) on August 20, 2012 - 1:35 pm

    Kristen, your use of “Kristen and the Shock Wave Roller Coaster” is one of the best illustrations of how to choose a story’s beginning I’ve ever seen. I’ll be recommending this blog to other writers.

  22. #23 by Tami Clayton on August 20, 2012 - 2:05 pm

    I love your use of Star Wars as an example of where to start in a story. When it is pointed out as clearly as you have here, it all makes much more sense and becomes a little easier to apply to my own WIP. Thank you!

  23. #24 by Karen Lynn Klink on August 20, 2012 - 2:09 pm

    Like your post, I have been reading so much about how to write a novel that will grab a reader, an agent, an editor, and keep them reading. What used to work, no longer does. Authors have to nab people who have become used to television, bang-up thriller movies, hot-shot, zippy commercials. I am reminded of what today’s news has become–nothing but entertainment–and who gives a #X* for the important news. No one will watch unless it’s entertaining. Who cares who will make a good president or a good leader–we want sex, scandal, and, oh yes, this morning it was skinny-dipping.

    Is this where writing is headed? Do we all aim for mere entertainment? Has writing become like a dress pattern? Here is the correct pattern, now everybody follow it.

    I see your point and that of so many others. Except I fear that soon all stories will be the same, only the names will change.

    • #25 by Author Kristen Lamb on August 20, 2012 - 2:27 pm

      Just because we write lean and get to the point doesn’t mean we are writing the equivalent of CGI garbage. Granted, the writing of yesteryear was dense, but here is the thing. Only the educated class read. Those stories were not accessible to the masses. Same thing today. Feel free to write dense literary fiction, but it will not be accessible to most people. If we want to make a living doing this writing thing, accessibility is a good thing.

      The same thing is true with food. Feel free to experiment with goat cheese and gooseberry reduction, but only a certain audience will appreciate the taste. There is nothing wrong with wanting to create fine cuisine, but then we can’t complain when the large part of the bell curve would prefer to eat deep-dish pizza.

      As writers we need to set goals early on. What kind of writer do we want to be? Commercial fiction and literary fiction are different now and always have been. Granted a genius like Shakespeare could entertain on multiple levels, but I believe that has to do with the fact that plays and novels are different. We might all aspire to such genius, but in the meantime we should have the goal of entertaining, not showing off how clever and literary we are.

      Good writing can get to the point quickly. “Winter’s Bone” not only won all kinds of awards as a literary masterpiece, but it was also made into an award-winning film. Within 6 pages we get what the story problem is. Rhee’s father has skipped bail and disappeared. He’s put up the land their trailer sits on as part of his bond. Rhee must find her father (alive or dead) before the bondsman takes the land, which will leave Rhee, her mentally ill mother, and her two small siblings homeless…in the middle of winter. We don’t go on and on and on for 40 pages about how life as trailer trash is a real beating. We get that in the story real-time without the writer being self-indulgent.

  24. #26 by Chrissi Barr on August 20, 2012 - 3:46 pm

    Kristen, Congrats on a great article. I’ve just started my 2nd novel and I had this exact scene of Luke whining about being bored and nothing happens etc floating around reminding me that I needed just enough to build a connection with my MC and then let the pressure rise. Your story about little Kristen and the choices are a perfect way to really teach this point in an even better way than the reference to Luke. I hadn’t thought about the importance of the choice piece but that does indeed ring true. My 1st novel has had the start retweaked so many times including ditching chapters of boring intro. I think it’s ready to send off into the publishing world but will reflect once more on that start in light of your article. Have a great day, Chrissi.

  25. #27 by Russell on August 20, 2012 - 4:32 pm

    Kristen, you have a gift for explaining these points in a way that even the densest hillbilly can grasp the concept and apply the tactics. I really enjoyed hearing you speak Saturday and hope to catch you again at a future conference.

  26. #28 by Yvette Carol on August 20, 2012 - 6:04 pm

    I really enjoy the Star Wars analogy. It works. Don’t you love how metaphor and simile make things stick in your head a thousand times better, than pure description alone?

  27. #29 by 1 Story A Week on August 20, 2012 - 8:37 pm

    You always make me think. And for a writer that is more valuable than gold. Thank you.

  28. #30 by TJ on August 20, 2012 - 9:36 pm

    Great article, Kristen!

    “My theory is that you can only call a guy “Annie” so many times before he just snaps.” LMFAO!!!

  29. #31 by Kim Mullican on August 21, 2012 - 12:46 am

    Just wanted to let you know your Facebook Follow Button is broken

  30. #32 by TraceyLynnTobin on August 21, 2012 - 6:19 am

    Decfinitely useful information. :) I loved your used of Star Wars as he example of the right way to do things. I absolutely agree that A New Hope set the stage perfectly and that the prequels all but destroyed the magic by shoving too much superfluous information down our throats.

    I also understand what you’re saying about flashbacks, but I have a question…how do you feel about dream sequences? In the fantasy story I’ve been writing (for what seems like forever), my MC starts the story broken emotionally. The reader doesn’t know why except that it has something to do with a guy. Later, tiny bits and pieces of information are revealed through “flashbacks” in the form of nightmares she has about what happened to her. I personally think it works for my story, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this method. :)

  31. #33 by markneu on August 21, 2012 - 6:51 am

    Nice article and timely for me. I’m in the middle of editing my second book right now. Just like with the first one, I want to rewrite the beginning. I think part of the reason is that I am still growing as an author and I am (hopefully) better than when I first wrote the beginning many months ago.
    I’ve read lots of articles saying “no prologues” but they haven’t laid out the why behind it as nicely as you did. I’m taking away from this that a prologue, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. They’ve gotten their bad rap because of the way so many have used them as fluffy explanations of everything the reader knows to understand the story. But good stories don’t need that set-up in the first place.

  32. #34 by H D Bailey on August 21, 2012 - 9:05 am

    This is, of course a delicate balance, and one of the hardest things to do – especially for a new writer. (Established writers get a little more leeway, since their readers will pick up and read a book, even if it starts a bit slowly.) How do you hook the reader, but still leave room for exposition.

    I wanted to point out, though – “A New Hope” starts with a space battle, which is then followed by an in-ship gunfight. We don’t get to Tatoine until 5 or 10 minutes into the movie ;)

  33. #35 by rpatchen on August 21, 2012 - 9:32 am

    I’ve been really struggling with this in my current book. Usually I have to cut out 50k words of backstory. With this novel, I started too close to the action (at the peak of the roller coaster), and now I’m adding a couple of scenes up front, so the reader can get to know and like the hero and heroine. This writing gig is hard.

  34. #36 by David Erickson on August 21, 2012 - 11:08 am

    I’ve never read it spelled out like that before. And true to form, both my first novel and my published novel start with an action scene (writer’s groups said this is the only way to catch a reader or agent’s attention), but neither are the big event, so I think I’m okay there. As you pointed out, if you jump right into the heart of the primary event, all the sense of adventure leading up to it is gone.

    Well, Ms Lamb, you’ve caught my attention and I’ve added your blog to my favorites bar.

    I did want to mention that the second half of your presentation to OWL last Saturday went much better that the first – I could understand more of what you said. Ain’t technology wonderful?

    As you pointed out, Star Wars is an awesome hook. You can label that exploitative, but it works, Simple as that.

  35. #37 by Karen Scott on August 21, 2012 - 12:30 pm

    VERY helpful! I haven’t heard it explained quite that way before and this really hit home. My work in progress begins (I hope!) appropriately — close to the problem, not too far away. Enough to make you want to know more and care more about the characters, but wtihout too much build up or shoving the reader into the Land of Who the Heck Cares. (Love that line, by the way.) Thanks!

  36. #38 by TraceyJ. on August 21, 2012 - 1:03 pm

    I loved this! And especially the reference to Six Flags in TX since that’s where I grew up and have been there many times..at least the one in Dallas. I could really visually see the build up and how to wait before you get to the big scene like the Shock Wave and not start with that. Your analogies made a lot of sense.

  37. #39 by Johanna Denton (@JohannaDenton) on August 21, 2012 - 1:21 pm

    Thanks again for the clear examples. They really bring it home. Love Star Wars and totally get your point. Thanks again.

  38. #40 by Courtney Crow Wyrtzen on August 21, 2012 - 1:31 pm

    “you can only call a guy “Annie” so many times before he just snaps”, YES!

  39. #41 by Julie Glover on August 22, 2012 - 10:17 am

    Huh, I was thinking about this very thing (albeit not as succintly and beautifully as you put it here). I was recently analyzing one of my favorite movies, ORDINARY PEOPLE, to figure out when the story started and realized how much had happened before that we didn’t know about until later. The audience has an inkling; they know enough.

    Great breakdown, Kristen. Easy to understand and think about when writing one’s own stuff.

  40. #42 by barbaraannwright on August 22, 2012 - 10:31 am

    Um, A New Hope begins with a space battle where Darth Vader takes Princess Leia’s ship and they talk about rebels and such and then she’s captured, but not before she launches the droids. And then we’re with the droids for a long time and only THEN do we encounter Luke. Unless I’m getting my movies mixed up.

    Not trying to be argumentative, but that one actually starts with action, very much in medias res with the audience having no idea what’s going on and what’s at stake. Then we slow down and stay with Luke, coming to care about him and what he’ll do when he discovers the recording of Princess Leia on R2D2.

    • #43 by Author Kristen Lamb on August 22, 2012 - 10:39 am

      We start with the protagonist on Tatooine. The other stuff, in a novel, would be considered the prologue. The meat of the story–the part with the hero–begins with aunt and uncle ;).

  41. #44 by barbaraannwright on August 22, 2012 - 10:33 am

    And that’s after the wall of text explaining the story in a very 18th century way. ^_^

  42. #45 by Char Newcomb on August 22, 2012 - 9:49 pm

    Love your Shock Wave example, Kristen. And Star Wars – my favorite. :)

    I cut the first 5,000 words from the opening of my novel and found ways to incorporate the important pieces from that scene elsewhere. The new ch. 1 thrusts the reader into the emotion and tension my protagonist faces and lays the groundwork for the conflict that drives the story.

  43. #46 by Daphne Shadows on August 23, 2012 - 8:30 pm

    This makes SO MUCH SENSE! Thank you. I never really understood just where they wanted us to start. This puts it in really great perspective – thank you!!!

  44. #47 by Brianna Soloski on August 24, 2012 - 10:45 am

    This definitely helps me understand better. I can see where my current novel is going with in medias res and where I might need to change things later to help it flow better.

  45. #48 by Steve Morgan on August 27, 2012 - 8:30 pm

    Thoughtful, entertaining and helpful, as always.

  46. #49 by raghubir negi on October 5, 2012 - 7:03 pm

  47. #50 by raghubir negi on October 5, 2012 - 7:32 pm

    Reblogged this on .

  48. #51 by klcrumley on January 16, 2013 - 6:24 pm

    I absolutely agree with this! My first novella Wishful Thinking began with an unnecessary prologue; about which I had received a lot of backlash and negative feedback. I realized that the prologue was misleading, and had nothing to do with the plot as a whole other than to indicate the career path of the protagonist. Since I deleted the prologue the whole story seems to flow much better!

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