What do you call the writing technique that shows an incredibly tense scene at the beginning, and then transitioning to a more peaceful pace in the first chapter?

The only novels that I can remember that has this kind of intro is Dan Brown's Inferno and Robert Ludlum's Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Identity.

I'm not talking about the excerpt because it could be a different scene and not really taken from the story. (but please correct me if it is the excerpt)

It's like a teaser intro, something like that. Does that mini-chapter have a name?

  • 3
    On TV it's generally referred to as a "cold open" (technically means 'intro before the opening titles' but can refer to this sort of scene even when opening titles aren't involved). I don't know if anyone uses that term for books though.
    – Tin Wizard
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 18:01
  • I've seen it done with prologues quite often in fantasy; but I assume you're talking about something more specific than that.
    – JMac
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 18:47
  • 1
    @JMac you could say it's a type of prologue Commented Oct 30, 2018 at 3:50

2 Answers 2


The more classic way of describing this is called "in medias res," which often also implies the action scene is from the middle of the story, considered chronologically. But more generally, and in a modern context, this can be considered an action hook.

"Hooks" are a more recent way of conceptualizing things that rapidly and reliably draw the audience into a piece of art. In an environment of short attention spans and limitless choices, hooks have become ever more important and emphasized across a wide variety of disciplines (older works often began more gradually-- and when they had "hooks," they weren't generally called that).

  • 1
    The opening scene of a narrative begun in medias res need not fit anywhere else in the narrative, Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet starts in medias res but proceeds in a direct chronological order from there on.
    – Ash
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 16:25
  • @Ash - Thanks, I've edited to address that. That's new info for me, I always assumed in medias res implied the middle of the story, not just the middle of the action. Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 16:38
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    It is often used to denote starting in the middle of the plot, because that's how it is often used; starting in the chronological middle and working forwards and backwards simultaneously until the whole story is told. It has been used that way since Homer wrote down the Odyssey but technically all it means is starting in the thick of the action so you're not obligated to go back and explain in detail how you got to the starting point.
    – Ash
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 16:43
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    "but technically all it means is starting in the thick of the action so you're not obligated to go back and explain in detail how you got to the starting point" I'd argue that is a misuse of the term. The term originates with Horace contrasting beginning with the egg (ab ovo) with beginning in medias res. In medias res is less about "starting with action" and more that the plot is in the middle and the exposition is revealed in conversation/flashback.
    – eques
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 17:23

This sounds like a special case of starting in medias res, or jumping into the story during an action scene. This is usually followed by more action before a pause to reflect on how the characters arrived at their current situation but in this case the deescalation occurs very quickly.

Depending on the proper chronological order of events this may also constitute a flashback structure if the calm scene actually precedes the action that started the story.

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