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Let's say that we have a plot that goes from A-Z and M is the middle (climax) part of it. There is this style of writing in which we start from M, then again back to A-Z.

At the start of a book is the chapter containing that M. What is it called? Prologue? Prelude? Or is it something else? I've Googled for this for almost 20 minutes with no luck. It isn't mentioned anywhere.

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    Are the climax and the middle of a story the same? In movies, the climax is usually near the end. – Taladris Mar 20 '18 at 11:00
  • Please correct me if I'm wrong but I believe that Dan Brown does this in his novels. He starts with a middle portion as a special chapter. After that he starts chapter 1 where the story starts from the beginning. – Mugen Mar 20 '18 at 12:44
  • Would this be categorized differently from a story that starts in the "middle", jumps back to the beginning, and then alternates between telling the "past" and "present" stories until you finally catch up to the middle of the story just in time to then read the end? – Michael Richardson Mar 20 '18 at 13:20
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    @Mugen From what I remember, the special chapter isn't from the middle, but rather a prologue that kickstarts the events of the plot, usually with a murder or death. For example, Angels and Demons starts with the assassin killing the CERN scientist. The Da Vinci Code starts with the monk killing the Louvre curator. Inferno starts with the creator of the Macguffin stepping off a tall tower. It's something that happened a few hours BEFORE the start of the book, but isn't part of the book itself. – Nzall Mar 20 '18 at 13:53
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    @Mugen I think prologue is just the name for the introduction to a story, i.e. the part before chapter 1. To me, at least, the name does not imply anything about the time at which the events of the prologue take place relative to the events in chapter 1. You could have a prologue with a flash-forward, and start the "actual" chapters describing the timeline leading up to the events revealed in the flash-forward. This is something that many movies do as well, especially where the flash-forward is intended to leave the watcher/reader puzzled as to how that situation could arise. – CompuChip Mar 20 '18 at 17:24
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In medias res does not mean that a story is narrated from its middle. It means that a story begins in the middle of events instead of introducing the characters and the setting first (this is called ab ovo, "from the egg onwards").

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight does not employ in medias res: the novel opens with a slow and quiet scene in which the protagonist moves to a new home; we learn of her family background, and her new surroundings are extensively described. The events that are relevant to the story in Twilight begin after this introduction and not "in the middle of things".

Horace coined the term in medias res when he praised Homer's Iliad in his Ars Poetica for not beginning his narration of the Trojan War at its beginning but in the middle of things. The Iliad begins at a point in the story where Troja is already besieged by the Greeks and Chryseis is held captive by Agamemnon. The narration does not start in the middle (where Hector bursts through the defensive wall) or near the climax (when Achilles stabs Hector), but it does start in the middle of an existing problem.

The following schema illustrates the difference between narration that begins in the middle of a story, and a story that begins in medias res:

enter image description here

You can think of a story that begins in medias res as one story in a sequence of stories. For example, the Iliad is preceded by the works of Euripides, Sophocles, and other literary works and legends about the Trojan War. Twilight on the other hand is the first story told in its world and it does not have a prehistory that its protagonist is already involved in at the beginning of the narration. Bella's story begins as she moves to Forks and meets Edward there.


Stories that begin in the middle, usually tell their beginning "in flashback". A flashback is "an interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point in the story" (from Wikipedia). Sometimes a large part of the story or all of its beginning is told in flashback from its middle, as in the Odyssey:

In the Odyssey, most of the adventures that befell Odysseus on his journey home from Troy are told in flashback by Odysseus when he is at the court of the Phaeacians. The use of flashback enables the author to start the story from a point of high interest and to avoid the monotony of chronological exposition. (Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. Flashback)

In my schema above, the dotted part of the story that begins in the middle is told in flashback. See also the illustration below.


Apart from stories that begin in medias res and stories that begin in the middle, there are also stories that prepend an episode from the middle to their beginning. These stories employ a

flashforward

A flashforward is "a scene that temporarily takes the narrative forward in time from the current point of the story" (from Wikipedia). Often, especially in crime fiction, a flashforward is used as a prologue.

The following illustration shows a narrative beginning in the middle of the story and recounting the beginning of the story in flashback (left) as well as a flashforward to the middle of the story prepended to the narrative (right):

enter image description here

I believe "flashforward" is the term you are looking for. There is no special term for narratives that begin with a flashforward.


There is a term for a story told in reverse order from the end to the beginning, and that is "reverse chronology", but that is not what you're asking.

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    Lord of the Rings spends a fair amount of time describing hobbit life, the lead up to the party, the party itself, the transferring of the ring and then Frodo's life between receiving the ring and starting his adventure. I think the movie is a fair example, but the book hardly starts in the middle of action. – Cubic Mar 20 '18 at 10:29
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    I think you misunderstood my question. The method that I'm talking about, doesn't "backtrack" as such. We have a chapter in the beginning that shows the middle part of the book - the climax part. After that chapter 1 starts with no connection to the previous chapter. The previous chapter is there just to build interest. By the time the audience reaches the middle part of the book they understand the context behind the opening. – Mugen Mar 20 '18 at 12:48
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    @Mugen What you have there is a flashforward. I have edited by answer accordingly. – user29032 Mar 20 '18 at 12:59
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    > For example, the Iliad is preceded by the works of Euripides, Sophocles, Virgil, Virgil is much much later than the Illiad. He used the Illiad and the Oddessey as inspiration for the Aenid – eques Mar 20 '18 at 13:53
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    The Illiad is not "in medias res" because other books written before talk about the story (just as the middle books of Harry Potter aren't in medias res because they have a book before them). The Illiad starts at year 9 of the war and then narrates how the Greeks, etc got to where they were by flashback, internal narration, etc – eques Mar 20 '18 at 15:32
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TVTropes.org refers to this as

How We Got Here

A type of In Medias Res/Whole Episode Flashback, where the story opens at a point at the middle or near the end of the story, and the bulk of the story is spent showing how the character got to this point.

A great example would be the episode of Firefly called "Trash" that opens with Mal sitting naked on a rock in the desert saying "Yep...yep, that went well."

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