Originally posted 5/23/08
Where to begin or not to begin--that is the question. Many writers (including myself) tend to fall short when it comes to the beginning of our writing, whether it is a novel, short story or magazine article. We want to give all the background, set up the scene and gently introduce the reader to our character or topic. It seems to make sense when we are writing because we forget that we have all the other information in our head. We know how the murder happens and gets solved, we know how the hero and heroine get together at the end...we know it all. The reader enters our world-fiction or not fiction-completely in the dark.
In media res is a Latin phrase that means 'in the middle of' and is an effective way to start our writing. You drop your readers into the middle of a scene, already in progress. The idea is to hook them and compel them to keep reading.
Here is an example from Melina Bellows' novel, Wish:
"Is he dead? I jump off my Vespa and race past a fire engine, an ambulance, and the F.D.N.Y. scrimmage blocking my street. There, in front of my apartment, is my brother's body, sprawled on the sidewalk."
We are immediately put into the middle of a scene. Bellows didn't take 3 pages to introduce us to her main character, she got us hooked right away. She has the rest of the book to tell us about the character and the story. But now, as the reader, you want to know what happened and is the brother really dead.
You can do same thing in non-fiction. Here is an example from an article I found on NPR, from the Associated Press.
"First, there was a run on energy-efficient light bulbs. When those ran out, people began asking for lamp oil. But when they started demanding clothespins in this land of mist and rain, it was clear Alaska's capital city was caught in a serious energy crunch."
This scene is not as action packed as the first example, but it does the same thing. It shows us what is going on right now--it paints a scene. Then it goes back to explain how Juneau got to this point.
Give this technique a try with your own work and see what happens. You will find your writing will pack a punch right out of the gate. Then it is your job to keep your readers hanging on.