Flash into the Middle of Things
by Gila Green
Why do writers use in media res (Latin for “into the middle of things”)? There is nothing new about this narrative technique, which we find in everything from Homer’s Odyssey to films, poetry and plays. In media res is neither a frame nor a story within a story nor a self-contained story.
In media resallows the audience to jump into a story right in the middle of the action. If done well, the audience is quickly consumed by the narrative, even though many questions are unanswered. For example, if a story begins with a murder we do not know the victim, the motive, whose side we are on, but our curiosity is immediately addressed.
In Flash fiction in media res can be particularly useful because of the very short word count allowed. Yet, I find many writers find it difficult to break away from the beginning-middle-end pattern most of us learned so well in high school essay writing.
In a longer writing form it is much easier for a conflict to nip at the heels of your main character, slowly growing long fangs around the middle of the novel and classically sink its teeth into your heroine towards the end, with just enough time for the wrap-up. But in Flash your time is limited. In media res is an excellent way to jump into the action, saving you time while hooking your reader.
Remember, Flash fiction is nothing if not about focus. Jumping into the middle of things can help you focus on your message about that one moment in time, not everything leading up to—often called backstory—and following it.
A simple way to attempt this technique in your Flash is to start in the middle. Think of a film or a play in which the audience first sees a girl walking down a path. The audience will lose interest if it has to watch the girl walking for too long. The director needs to get it to across to the reader that the girl has been walking for a long time (she wipes her brow, she stops a moment to catch her breath, she appears dirty and worn out), but soon the child will have to come to a fork in the road, an edge of a cliff, a house or any other example you can think of. In other words, soon the girl has to come to a change. There is no need for us to see the long miles already behind the child.
This technique takes practice as the introduction-body-conclusion pattern is so drilled into many of us. Does this mean we can never show any parts of that long, dusty walk? No. In media resoften makes use of short flashbacks for vital information. In our example, there might be a line later on in your Flash about a key/charm bracelet/cell phone the girl found on her walk. If you must use flashbacks keep them brief and necessary.