Scene writing: In Media Res

You may be familiar with the advice to begin a scene in media res, or the middle of the action. In cinematic terms, this means your characters are on stage, ready to discuss the scene’s main purpose. Another way to describe this is in terms of a waiter carrying a glass full of red wine to a patron wearing a white evening gown. Ask yourself, “Where does the story begin?”
Writing Tip for Today: When the waiter is just coming out of the kitchen, it’s a so-so situation. He could deliver the wine flawlessly. Meh. Not much of a story.
As the waiter gets closer to the lady in the white gown, maybe he trips. If he’s still far enough away, he could either manage not to spill the wine or the wine could land on the carpet. Still, no big deal.
But, as the waiter gets closer to the woman, it becomes inevitable that the wine will land on her beautiful gown. We begin to pay attention. A great way to open a scene in media res is to think of the moment when the wine arcs out of the glass, heading for the woman’s gown, but just before it hits her.
Notice we don’t want the scene to begin after the wine stains the dress. We already know the outcome. The moment(s) prior to possible disaster provide instant tension and rising action, two keys to scene writing. Don’t be afraid of in media res. It’s a tool you can use to keep the story moving.
Try This! Look through some of your work. Are there scenes where the characters are getting out of bed, dressing or shuffling off to find the coffee? Although in real life we do all these things, your characters don’t need to. If you see scenes that start slowly with set-ups that take up a lot of space, consider moving the opening of the scene to just before something big happens. That scene writing in media res.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

2 comments on “Scene writing: In Media Res

  1. Pingback: Quick Fix: Edit Your Scene | Linda S. Clare

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