How do you write out the second build up without killing the essence of the masterpiece?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using Medias Res?

  • 2
    Hi @Phantom, and welcome to Writing.SE! I'm having trouble understanding what exactly you're asking -- it feels like you have a few different questions (connected to one another), and I don't understand all of them.
    – Standback
    May 6, 2018 at 12:52
  • 4
    Can you explain what you mean by a "story curve," and why beginning in medias res might have a different curve than anything else? I'm not sure what you mean by "second climax," nor by the "essence"; I think if you just explain in a little more detail, your question will be clearer, and we'll be much more helpful :)
    – Standback
    May 6, 2018 at 12:54

3 Answers 3


In Medias Res: in the middle of things. What you're referring to isn't commonly done (that is to say, starting your story at the climax or at the end of the story). That doesn't mean it isn't done, just not commonly.

So. Let's tease this apart somewhat. In Medias Res typically starts the story in the action (not the climax, but simply action). The reason this is often done is to immediately grab the reader (or viewer, if done in a visual medium). This is to show exactly what's going on, and what the plausible story is going to be about. The problem, is that this is so easy to get wrong.

For example. You're writing a WWII retelling, or just in the setting thereof (not important for this scenario), and you start off by putting your protagonist on the beach of Normandy on D-Day. There's explosions and the staccato of gunfire almost deafening. People are dropping like flies.

Then, in the next chapter, we have the protagonist being recruited into the US Army. This is the 'correct use' of In Medias Res, but it's also annoying. Because you're making a promise by starting in the action, that this is about heart-pounding action. Then suddenly we need to see him being trained and deployed, and possibly other stuff.

However, note that if this is your climax... this isn't In Medias Res. (just reiterating, for the sake of clarity).

What you're doing is essentially taking the tension and action in the beginning, strapping it to a rocket, and launching it into space. Then showing the astronauts in zero-G. It can be interesting, if done right, but it isn't usually what people sign on for.

But alright, let's look at the other one. Starting at the climax (or even starting at the end, which I've also seen done well). In this you are essentially 'spoiling' (as in spoiler-warning territory, not ruining) your own tale. Now, this can be done well, and is far more common for historical events, but it means you need to raise the bar in the story itself.

If the reader knows what's going to happen (and that's absolute fact if you tell them via In Medias Res, or with starting at the climax/ending), you need to make sure they understand that the journey there will be worth it, even if they know how it ends.

Example. I don't remember the name of the comic anymore, but there was one that had its opening scene showing its entire cast being slaughtered by the big bad. Then, it winds back and shows the main protagonist laying in the shade of a tree with his fairy, just before he meets one of the other member of the party.

The advantage of this is that it tinges every interaction with a sense of loss of that which you know is coming. Part of you wants to scream at them not to do whatever they plan on doing, knowing their eventual, and seemingly unavoidable fate. And yet, other than the opening of the story, it reads like every other tale in its genre.

You know these people are going to die. Not in the abstract, not in an "Oh, it's possible" kind of way. But you know, you've seen it. It colours your interpretation of everything beyond that point. And it's therefore so powerful you wouldn't be able to unsee any of it.

Every time the budding romance takes a tentative and unsure step forward, the knife in your heart is jerked just that much deeper. Every happy memory they make together hurts you just a little more. And I love the story all the more for it (honestly, if anyone knows the name of that comic, please tell me! I'm dying to read it again).

But. It's something you need to decide in advance is crucial for the story you want to tell. This isn't something you can do haphazardly, nor is it something that an amateur should attempt. This is something that has the potential to go horribly wrong at every moment. Because the reader knows that no battle other than that last will kill the cast, so it removes a lot of tension. But if you want to tell a melancholic tale of adventure, of bonds, of making the most of now... this is how you can do it well.

  • I’m also curious about the comic. Could you give a few more details? Was it color of BW? Manga or Comic? Country of origin? From what year? Can you describe the world further? Do you remember the name of any character? Single issue graphic novel, or series?
    – user137369
    May 6, 2018 at 20:30
  • @user137369 Manga, though I can't say if originally in Japanese or not. The big bad looked like a lich almost. Main protag was a scrawny thief-like character. His main love interest was a mage-type, I believe. I remember seeing it in colour, but I don't know if that was only the first few, or all of them. (it's been a good number of years, so I really can't say too much about it). Umm. Party of 4-6, I think. Can't remember their names to save my life.
    – Fayth85
    May 6, 2018 at 20:53
  • 2
    Why not ask that as a story identification on Science Fiction and Fantasy?
    – Obie 2.0
    May 6, 2018 at 21:42
  • @Obie2.0 Good point. Will ask there.
    – Fayth85
    May 6, 2018 at 21:44
  • Any interested in the comic, or wishing to help identify it: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/187128/…
    – Fayth85
    May 6, 2018 at 23:36

As everyone else notes, In Medias Res only means "in the middle of things."

It does not necessarily mean a climax, or action, or foreshadowing the ending. For example, if I were writing a Sherlock novel, I might begin with Sherlock closing a previous case to the one the novel is about. Jump in, show his conclusions astounding the police, the arrest being made.

The point of IMR is to engage the reader immediately, skip boring introductions and explanations about how a character became who he is, his relationships, etc.

In a way, IMR echoes reality in some ways; IRL we also meet most of our friends, lovers, bosses, politicians, heroes and villains in their fully formed adult state, process their personalities and beliefs without any back-story, and get along with that just fine. Nobody has to take our hand and tell us that this guy had a troubled childhood, crime was the only way he could survive, his father beat him bloody, blah blah blah.

Whether in a novel, teleplay or stage play, IMR not only saves time, it prevents boredom. It doesn't TELL us anything, it shows us characters in action revealing their personality (Intellect, morals, emotional expressivity), their situation, their talents, etc.

The scene in question can be a throwaway, it does its job if character is revealed. Of course, if it has some resonance to the plot and can be referred to later as a touchstone, then all the better, but that is not strictly necessary. I think I've seen IMR used this way in some Bond stories; Bond is wrapping up some previous assignment and gets the call he is needed for a new one. I've certainly seen some hard-boiled detective stories begin with an argument over billing or payment, or a romantic encounter, then a new client walks in to interrupt this. Whatever was interrupted is never mentioned again.

Nevertheless, often the opening scene can actually be critical to the plot: Then IMR is doing away with some of the boring backstory that led to this juncture. (or postponing it). The teens are drunk, driving fast down a back farm road, having a party, the driver is being sexually distracted by his girlfriend -- And they hit and kill somebody.

How this party got started, where they were going and why, how they came to know each other, what all their names are, who knows? We reveal character (and sometimes relationships) by how they react to this incident. Who throws up? Who laughs at that? Who suggests hiding or burying the body?

Some of that backstory may come out, but we don't need it to appreciate this scene. The point is this drags the reader in for pages, and in those pages we can build characters, setting, and backstory that gets them fully immersed in the larger story, so when they finish this chapter, they need to know what happens next.

Could you have written the story to introduce Alice, then Bob, then Candice, then Dave... at the school dance, sneaking out in Dave's car because Dave's father is a rich lawyer, and do all that leading up to this scene?

Sure, but you risk bored readers. They don't want a bunch of facts, they want action and conflict. IMR gets around that. The fact that Dave's dad is lawyer is bound to be mentioned by one of them at the accident, standing over a dead body. But now that fact is revealed in dialogue instead of just being told; and Dave can create conflict by arguing: "My dad is a tax attorney, that won't help us here."

IMR is a very good writer's trick for engaging the reader fast by putting them in a scene that can reveal important elements of character, setting and plot. That scene may or may not be used for foreshadowing, it may or may not be plot critical; it may be devised solely as a good scene for showcasing important character & setting points, and then forgotten.

  • Are there actually any Bond stories which do not begin by a wrap-up of the previous case? May 6, 2018 at 18:24
  • @Angew I'm not sure, I enjoy them but seldom analyze them. I seem to recall one that begins with Bond and a woman the morning after a sexual session; also a throwaway scene but character revealing. But I could be thinking about some other movie.
    – Amadeus
    May 6, 2018 at 18:30

Media Res does not mean "start at a climax" it means start in the middle of things without dwelling on the set-up/past. Media Res can mean start some place exciting, but things still get worse from where you are. You should still be at a low point in your story curve -or- you should be building towards a very quick drop. Then for every increment of plot progression things should "get worse" until you get to your actual climax and start resolving plot points.

  • I would agree with Kirk, but 'for every increment of plot progression things should "get worse"' seems extreme… urely, jumping right into the action is about the start, not what follows? May 6, 2018 at 13:45
  • The asker wanted to know what the plot arc would look like (typically looks like a roller coaster with a steep fall off after the conclusion) would look like with media res. And the answer is: the same. And things should always get worse, even if it's in relatively small increments. Conflict and a worsening position until the climax is what keeps books interesting. Modern-novel-writing-101. Search: Yes, but / No, and.
    – Kirk
    May 7, 2018 at 0:44

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