View Full Version : Stumbling into the middle

Home - Discussion Forums - News - Reviews - Interviews

New reviews, interviews and news

New in the Discussion Forum

April 3rd, 2006, 02:27 AM
Dazed and in pain, a man awakes in a grove of bamboo. Bushes rustle, revealing a dog that sniffs him briefly then runs off, barking. The man gets to his feet then checks himself for injuries. Fishing in his pockets, he produces a minature bottle of vodka. He starts running, stumbling, until he's clear of the bamboo and arrives at a beautiful tropical beach.

He hears cries and looks to his left. There, lying on the beach is the middle section of the plane, surrounded by other survivors either stumbling around dazed or crying out in pain. The doctor swings into action.

Later, after night falls, the survivors are gathered around small bonfires, looking out at the sea. Suddenly a strange metallic scream sounds behind them. Looking, the survivors watch as something unseen shakes and knock down trees in the jungle.

Anyone who's seen the first episode of LOST recognises the scene above. The characters arrive on an island but actually at the middle of a mystery. Things are going on and they've got to figure out what.

Instead of starting at the begining of a story, why not add a sense of mystery and start in the middle, hooking your readers as they join the characters trying to figure out what's going on?

April 3rd, 2006, 07:40 AM
This is the term in media res (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_media_res), or "into the middle of things." The most famous example of this is The Odyssey, in which the story begins towards the end of Odysseus's voyage, and at one point he recounts everything that happened to him after leaving Troy to return home to Ithaca up to the point of his recounting. Then the story continues, Odysseus returns home and kills all of Penelope's suitors.

Many stories employ this technique insofar as they may contain "back story," i.e., story that covers the background of the characters and explains how they got to where they are or how they became who they are at the start of the narrative. Lost does this by focusing each episode on a character's back story to reveal why they were on the plane, why they act the way they do, and how either or both relate to the mysteries they encounter on the island.

An extreme example of this technique is the movie Memento, which starts at the chronological end and scene by scene goes backward in time to explain how the main character got to where he was in the previously shown scene.

April 3rd, 2006, 01:39 PM
Well you can get mystery out of the beginning too. It's just that to work as a series, rather than a movie, "Lost" -- an American t.v. series -- uses an elaborate flashback structure. Since they knew they would be doing lots of flashbacks, they knew that they could flashback to the plane flight and the crash whenever they liked. It's a story structure, and obviously there are many structures that work non-chronologically. SFF writers use them a fair amount

A fun in the middle one is David Brin's "Startide Rising" where the starship is stuck and trying to hide from pursuers on a planet. You get bits of the backstory -- that they picked up an important artifact and that's why they were getting chased -- as you go, but the action all starts on the planet, with a crew who know each other pretty well.