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

All literary roads lead back to "Star Wars"....

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

Yesterday, the AWESOME Marcy Kennedy taught “showing, not telling” using Star Trek” (hint, hint, take her class). So what is the natural follow-up for Star Trek?

STAR WARS….duh.

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 July, 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. 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).

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

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

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  1. #1 by Elke Feuer on July 12, 2013 - 7:09 am

    Great post! Finding that literary sweet spot is a challenge as (to me) each story is unique and unfolds in it own special way. I love what you said about revealing the backstory in dialogue. I use internal monologue as well (in small portions).

    I find writing the backstory as a scene helps me. It gets it out of my head, helps me understand the characters, and keeps it out of the story, but is still there if I need to include snippets in the story.

  2. #2 by cynthiagrstacey on July 12, 2013 - 7:46 am

    Reblogged this on Cynthia Stacey and commented:
    Awesome post from Author Kristen Lamb. I love the Star Wars analogy!

  3. #3 by Dennis Langley on July 12, 2013 - 7:48 am

    Like most other “Sweet Spots”, hitting a golf ball or baseball for example, they can be hard to find. I tend to think that the beginning is found only after the whole story is told and is in revision. This way you can see where the story should start.

  4. #4 by sjmatthews74 on July 12, 2013 - 7:58 am

    So much can be learned from the entire Star Wars story. It represents some of the best and some of the worst examples of storytelling techniques. Really hoping that JJ Abrams can redeem the series after those prequels. He made a Star Trek fan out of me with his take on it, so here’s hoping.

  5. #5 by Joe Owens on July 12, 2013 - 8:53 am

    I wish I could say this clears up the issue with my current manuscript, but it does not. I have toyed with putting the meat in the first chapter and then roll back to the preceding days, but after reading this I wonder about that plan. It is so hard to decide how to lay out the action. I mean i want to hook the reader in the first couple of chapters, but I just am not sure they way i have my story now can do that.

  6. #6 by worldsbeforethedoor on July 12, 2013 - 9:04 am

    Very very helpful!! I love as a reader, not having everything explained. How can we have fandom if they explain everything in Dr Who, Firefly and Lord of the RIngs???? So keep the magic! Thanks!

  7. #7 by Heather on July 12, 2013 - 9:11 am

    I tried reading Dickens’ Bleak House. The entire first chapter was devoted to setting up ‘the scene’! And it’s not like Jane Austen (whom I love) isn’t guilty too. The first chapter of Persuasion, one of the best love stories of all times starts with a record book. Now, to find that fine line for myself.

  8. #8 by Tessa Floreano on July 12, 2013 - 9:16 am

    These lines, “How the magic did whatever. Guess what? You really don’t need to explain. Just because readers might want something, doesn’t mean it is in our best interests as authors to give in.”, really struck home. I’ve struggled with how much of the magic to explain and when to explain it in my historical fantasy novel. I found that less is more is what keeps the magic of the fantastical parts more alluring. I also agree with Dennis–that the beginning is found only after the whole story is told and is in revision. Each time I’ve done an editorial run-through, I’ve rewritten my beginning more times than other parts of the story, and this last time (my 4th) is when I finally found that sweet spot for in media res.

  9. #9 by Shea Ford on July 12, 2013 - 9:38 am

    Yep, I would much rather watch the original 3 Star Wars than the prequels. I may have to do a bit of extra editing in the beginning of my next book, The Stone of Kings, to speed it up more, but I think I’ve just about got it right (I hope). But this post helps a lot! :D Thanks!

  10. #10 by Debbie on July 12, 2013 - 9:58 am

    Please, please, please pick me! :) I’d love somebody who actually knew about writing to rip my Ms apart…and I’d love for somebody to help me find an interesting elevator pitch. It’s funny but I always hear you have to hook the reader on the first page, and I can’t help but think perhaps that reader should be checking out the funnies rather than a novel! Or maybe they should just read elevator pitches and the synopsis. Dunno. I think conforming to societal/genre/publishing expectations has the potential to ruin writing. Dickens was, I believe, better when reighned in. His short stories or even stories within stories are well written but then again, perhaps it is my belief because shorter is what I’m accustomed to.

  11. #11 by Cassie on July 12, 2013 - 10:07 am

    Lots of good ideas here though Star Wars (as sci-fi) was never on my menu so I’m not familiar with it. I do like your ideas and find them useful. But to be honest, it was your post on the “5 traits of a successful author” that hooked me. It spoke right to me at a time when I really most needed to hear it. Thanks for the inspiration!.

  12. #12 by Jennifer Rose on July 12, 2013 - 10:14 am

    Great post! I loved the comparison to the theme park, it really seemed to make sense. You always seem to have a neat way of explaining things that just ‘clicks.’ Now I just have to brainstorm how to apply it to my story! :)

  13. #13 by jcollyer on July 12, 2013 - 10:31 am

    This is a great post and I completley agree.apart form the fact that a New Hope *does* being right in the middle of a firefight/space battle. Is this too dramatic do you think, or does it work? I was just thinking that my story starts at a lull point and maybe I should start right in the middle of a previous battle, but now I’m not so sure! What do you think? Do you think the space battle start works or do you think it would have been better starting with Luke from very, very beginning? xx

    • #14 by Author Kristen Lamb on July 12, 2013 - 12:39 pm

      Technically this is the fourth installation. The battle would be essentially a prologue. But for. The purpose of introducing the protagonist he is NOT in the battle but close to the problem. That help?

      • #15 by jcollyer on July 12, 2013 - 2:46 pm

        Ah yes I see what you mean. So where as it does start with a battle, that protagonist is not involved, though it does spark off the action that becomes significant to him. And I see what you mean about bringing in the story with Luke rather than anikin. Thanks! I’ll have a think about my own story cos I do think you’re right

    • #16 by houseboatonstyx on July 13, 2013 - 1:25 pm

      I saw Star Wars 1977 *in* 1977, haven’t seen the new version.

      1977 took the best of both ways: started in the middle of a space battle and left a cliff-hanger, then quickly switched to Luke at home.

      “Raiders of the Lost Arc” started in the middle of a pyramid in South America, then quickly switched to Indy=same protagonist at home. “The Wizard of Oz” started in the middle of Dorothy being chased by the mean neighbor, then quickly had her at home in a quiet and wistful situation. “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” started in an airplane in the middle of the Blitz, then quickly switched to Peter=protagonist at home with his family (though in the middle of running to a shelter) and wound down to their peaceful arrival in the country where the real story would start.

  14. #17 by joannayla on July 12, 2013 - 2:04 pm

    This is very helpful. I’m newer than I thought to creative writing as I work on a memoir that climaxes with my high school sweetheart finding me on fb after 39 years of no contact. (We we were married this past Dec.) I have rewritten our opening chapters many times. Maybe I’m just an analytical type of person, but I do want to know a little about how magic works. I wouldn’t mind understanding more about how the Force. Yes, the original 3 Star Wars movies are better than the prequels, (I saw A New Hope 10 times when it first came out) but it was much more satisfying to find out that Annie really did bring balance back to the force after feeling the despair of seeing the damage he did in turning to the dark side. I love it when you think things are so wrong and there is no hope, and then, if you wait long enough, good things come from what you thought was a horrible mess.
    Thank you, from joannaoftheforest.

  15. #18 by joannayla on July 12, 2013 - 2:10 pm

    Reblogged this on Anything is Possible! and commented:
    Thanks for explaining this so clearly!

  16. #19 by pamelacreese on July 12, 2013 - 2:12 pm

    This is wonderful, as usual, Kristen. I never could see the appeal of the prequel series. Anakin was a whiny, spoiled brat and since I already knew he was going to turn, I didn’t really care about him. Period. And then Padme…talk about wasting what started as an interesting character. Sigh. Blech.

    This post has none of that. No whining and def no disappointment.
    On revision I think I finally have my opening for my current wip right where I/the readers want it. Right before the meat. But not by much.

    You confirmed one of my most worrisome issues with fantasy…the age old battle of whether or not magic needs explained. Tolkien never did, and like you, I feel it steals a bit of the writer’s magic to try to explain it all. Yet many sources out there insist that ‘modern’ readers want to know how and why everything works and that we need to provide some reason for it all. I prefer to keep the magic…magical. Thank you for making me feel less amatuer in making that decision.

    Going to def link to this one. So many I have thought I should, but since my blog really isn’t ‘for’ writers, I was never sure it actually served a purpose. This one I am sure. The rest of the SF/F universe can learn a lot about something they DO relate to here.

    Thank you so much.

  17. #20 by Stacey Haggard Brewer on July 12, 2013 - 3:44 pm

    Always a useful topic. It’s so tricky to pick just the right starting point. I think that I am learning more about how to find the sweet spot since I started editing. I find it easier to spot the flaws in my own work after I have been actively looking for them in everyone else’s (Editor know thyself… Right?)

    BTW – “A New Hope” is the first movie I ever saw, and I have been a sci-fi geek ever since. I was 6 months old. My parents knew how to start a kid off right!

  18. #21 by pamelacreese on July 12, 2013 - 3:56 pm

    forgot in my excitement…to leave the link for you and can’t figure out how to edit it, so here it is: http://another-wip.livejournal.com/?r=h

  19. #22 by Indigo Grace on July 12, 2013 - 5:24 pm

    I totally agree with what you’re saying about striking the fine balance between too early/too late to care. Since you mention prologues and flashbacks, I’m curious to what you think about the current trend in movies or TV shows that start at the Big Boss battle and then “rewind” to say, 24 hrs earlier? Or for that matter, the flashback/flashforward technique used on Lost?

    I know you’re a fan of the Gears of War series. Have you read the novelizations by Karen Traviss? The entire series is structured on a Present day/Past alternating chapter sequence, almost like there are two stories in one. They’re really good BTW and give nice insight into all of the characters if you haven’t read them. But, I’ve been intrigued by this structure since I watched Lost and was thrilled when I found it in the Gears series. I’m toying with the challenge of doing this in one of my books in my current series because I want to parallel what happens leading up to the climax with what happens after it. Any thoughts or insights? Or am I nuts to even consider this as a newbie, unpublished author?

    And yeah, growing up with the “real” Star Wars made me hate the pre-quels. I spent three movies waiting for the epic showdown between that whiny brat and his never-say-die mentor who should have left his ass back on Tatooine. It was the best part of those movies but totally ridiculous to take place in the middle of a volcano? Ugh. I too hope that JJ Abrams make it cool again like he did with Star Trek. Oh how I love the new stuff!

  20. #23 by Elle Carter Neal on July 13, 2013 - 1:50 am

    I’ve just cut 20 000 words from the beginning of my book to bring the really interesting stuff closer to the start. And then I inserted some information from the end of the book in Chapter 2 because my editor thought most of the book was far too confusing. But I’m happy with my first few pages, in which we see the protagonist in her ordinary, but extraordinary, life and witness her spunkiness–just before she makes a decision that catapults her into an adventure.

  21. #24 by shundayah on July 13, 2013 - 3:19 am

    Some good advice I came across once regarding this very topic – when you finish your book go back and cut out chapters 1 and 2 and then start your book with chapter 3…

  22. #25 by shundayah on July 13, 2013 - 3:23 am

    Also one person who intertwines backstory through the novel like magic is Maggie Stiefvater in her Wolves of Mercy Falls series. She folds it in in a way that really works well.

  23. #26 by Zoe Y on July 13, 2013 - 4:33 am

    Yes, I’ve been having discussions with my Crit partners ever since I started my WIP who wanted me to start much further in. But I’ve held my ground though I did rewrite the first chapter many times. Here’s hoping I’m right! Well I think so, let’s hope editors agree.

  24. #27 by houseboatonstyx on July 13, 2013 - 1:53 pm

    Thank you for very good points to think about! Mine starts with a small “All aboard!” and the Protagonist watching as a late passenger/refugee rushes up to beg asylum and is hastily gotten aboard by the crew. Then that scene winds down with conversation about with Where everyone is going and Why. From what you say, maybe I need to make a clear contrast between the action pace of the departure and a much calmer pace for the conversation.

  25. #28 by danielocceno on July 13, 2013 - 4:21 pm

    “In medias res means we start as close to overall story problem as possible.” In my current project I started chronological but I will be using (into the middle of things) to explain the conflicts of my story. But I like the idea for action suspense thrillers and “fancy meeting you here” type of romance.

  26. #29 by Michelle Somers on July 13, 2013 - 4:41 pm

    Hi Kristen
    Thank you for this blog!
    You just made perfect sense out of something we are told over and over but not really explained.
    I finally understand where a story should start for punch!
    Michelle

  27. #30 by Mary on July 13, 2013 - 5:43 pm

    One notices that one way to help keep us awake in Luke’s normal life is that he’s having conflict there: he wants to go, his uncle and aunt want him to stay. It helps to have bridging conflict to establish that there are problems while establishing enough to make the full stakes apparent.

  28. #31 by M T McGuire on July 14, 2013 - 3:16 am

    Mwah hahahrgh! Loved it. And don’t knock Annie. Small brillo-headed boys everywhere no longer loathe their curly locks because….. dan dan daaaaah, they’re like Anakin Skywalker.

    Cheers

    MTM

  29. #32 by Marilyn Hudson Tucker on July 14, 2013 - 8:27 am

    You are so right about not starting too far into the story. If the first Harry Potter book had begun with Hagrid telling Harry he was a wizard and was invited to attend Hogwarts, we would have lost so much background. The beginning made us care about Harry before he got his big break.

  30. #33 by Deb Atwood on July 14, 2013 - 10:02 am

    Thank you for illustrating this delicate balance between action and setting so well. This is probably the most critical element to get right before submitting to agents who claim to be able to tell within the first page or even the first paragraph if a work has potential.

    I do confess to still loving prologues (done well, of course). One of the best prologues I’ve read is a 17 page discourse on the “world before” in Empire Falls. But publishers, do we really need to put prologues in italics? Seventeen pages of italics hurts the eyes…

  31. #34 by Jennifer Allis Provost on July 14, 2013 - 4:23 pm

    I love you for this post. And, midichlorians = overexplaining badness.

  32. #35 by pamelacreese on July 14, 2013 - 5:01 pm

    And it is indeed a delicate balance because while many are tempted to drop the reader too far into the story, the usual problem I see (esp with unpublished or newer writers) is starting far, FAR too soon. Dragging on and on for pages of backstory and history with no hint of a plot in sight and when you tell them they should do as is so often recommended and consider lopping off that first 40-60 pages (depending on whose advice you are reading ;) they are outraged and even miffed that anyone would even suggest such a thing! How can we expect the reader to understand or care for this character without knowing allllllllllll the backstory leading up to this story?

    When the question I always wonder about is how can anyone expect the reader to care at all about character or story if you make them wade through this mire to get to a beginning that is 3 – 4 – sometimes even 6 chapters further into the work.

    A very individual process of learning to identify this ‘perfect’ opening moment, indeed.

    Thanks for helping us see it more clearly, Kristen.

  33. #36 by rcprice on July 14, 2013 - 5:30 pm

    Hey, I would like to let you know I nominated you for the Super Sweet Blogger Award. Please check out my latest post for details.

  34. #37 by Debra G. on July 14, 2013 - 11:12 pm

    I love the comments almost as much as the article! I, like a lot of others here, am struggling with the beginning of my story. It’s a historical and sometimes when everyone knows how the story ends, how you get there is the E-ticket ride.

    Good luck everyone!

  35. #38 by Vanessa on July 15, 2013 - 12:56 pm

    I, like a few others here, just chopped off thousands of words from my WIP. It was backstory. Now it’s hopefully a lot more interesting. Only now, I’m not sure what my inciting incident is. Maybe I’m too much in medias res… Urg.

  36. #40 by Katie Cross on July 15, 2013 - 6:33 pm

    Great article! I loved the roller coaster comparison. I love adding another trick in my hat bag of writing. Thanks Kristin!

  37. #41 by everwalker on July 17, 2013 - 3:43 am

    Reblogged this on everwalker.

  38. #42 by Scott Seldon on July 18, 2013 - 9:22 am

    Wonderful post. I have to say that I have found the exact same thing to be true. You have to find that sweet spot where you have a strong opening scene to hook the readers without it being overpowering. Your example of Luke Skywalker is on the nose. For those who have seen the deleted scenes included with the Blu-ray, you’ll know that there was an earlier set of scenes with Luke that really didn’t add anything. They were a great introduction and showed Luke at work and with his friends, but that wasn’t key to the story. Fun to watch, but not necessary.

    That said, I have to say that Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope is a poor example of this. While Luke’s story does match exactly what you were getting at, the movie does not. It starts with a space battle followed in short order by a massive blaster fight between Storm Troopers and Rebels. In the midst of that we meet R2-D2 and C-3PO, Princess Leia, and Darth Vader, long before we get to the surface of Tatooine. A New Hope does exactly what you are advising not to do; it begins with a bang and then slows down for a long time before the Millenium Falcon blasts its way out of Mos Eisley and the action really picks up. Lucas used a neat trick for A New Hope; he followed the two droids and introduced each subsequent character one at a time. First Leia and Darth Vader (who intersect again later), then Luke, Ben, Han & Chewy. That was the biggest reason he cut the earlier scenes with Luke. The second movie (considered the best by many) is a much better example. We star with a probe landing on Hoth and Luke investigating and a conversation with Han over the comlink. Good establishing character moment before Luke gets hit by the Wampa. Return of the Jedi similarly starts slow. A New Hope starts with two bangs before it ever gets to Luke and a good character building moment. In fact of all 6 movies, it starts with the biggest bang and least character development (though perhaps the most for our Laurel and Hardy-esque droids).

    • #43 by Author Kristen Lamb on July 18, 2013 - 10:21 am

      I use it because it’s HOW we meet the protagonist. The opening battle would be the equivalent of a prologue) since this is “technically” the fourth installment in a series and there is NO WAY I am using an example from the prequels unless I am talking about what NOT to do, LOL. But a lot of writers try to introduce the protagonist in the gun battle. In this case, life wad very mundane for Luke. He had to have a call to action and make a choice. We HAVE to see his normal world to know WHAT has been disrupted by the antagonist’s agenda.

  39. #44 by Miss Alexandrina on July 23, 2013 - 8:13 am

    This is such a good point. Whilst I’ve never been keen on starting in the middle of melodrama, I am prone to the Dickensian setting of scene (because, as a reader, I enjoy Dickens a lot). So, this is useful in hunting for that necessary balance. And using nerdy examples wins hands down!

  40. #45 by Lauren Craig on August 28, 2013 - 8:44 pm

    Reblogged this on Blog of a College Writer.

  41. #46 by nikkiharvey on April 17, 2014 - 12:22 pm

    So I read your post from today and commented that I would love more advice on getting the balance between too much action and enough happening to hook the reader. I saw someone else had commented something similar and you directed them to this post. I’ve read the entire thing and still don’t get it. Maybe it’s because I’ve never seen Star Wars.
    This is my Star Wars knowledge: there’s darth vader who speaks weird in a black mask and says ‘I am your father’ to one of the good guys and there’s the big bear like thing called Wookie.
    But I like the magician analogy. You don’t want to start with the assistant already floating, but you don’t want the strings and wires either. But applying it to my writing is where I get lost. I’m going to have to spend more time thinking this over.

    • #47 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 17, 2014 - 1:29 pm

      You start with SOME kind of conflict (a problem) that makes us sympathetic to the protagonist and foreshadows the overall story problem ahead. For instance, I am working on a trilogy. The first scene of the first book is my protagonist walking into the Unemployment office after months of being unable to get a job (problem, we empathize). Within five pages, we find out she can’t get a job because she has been blackballed (bigger problem). Her being blackballed is directly linked to the overall story problem (her dirtbag ex pulled an Enron and left her as the FBI’s prime suspect and she has to clear her name to get her life back). But in the beginning, she isn’t diffusing a bomb or in a car chase, she is simply in a real, human conflict. Make sense?

      • #48 by nikkiharvey on April 17, 2014 - 1:41 pm

        Ah yes, it starts with an everyday problem rather than an end of the world problem, makes a lot more sense now, thanks :)

  1. RT~ Should a story start at the beginning? | Tales From The Fifth Tower
  2. Where do you start? | Author D.J. Lutz
  3. Mind Sieve 7/15/13 | Gloria Oliver

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