About Writing, Life and Writing About Life

Last week I was thinking about what I needed to learn in terms of writing fiction. The first one I want to talk about is In Media Res, which literally translates as ‘Into the Middle of Affairs’. This is all about where the story starts, and involves jumping right into the middle of the action, then usually telling the beginning of the story in one or more flashbacks. This is a very common technique in movies, for instance. I had a try at using this technique in one of my Friday Fictioneers stories, which you can read here.
Some (for instance Stephen King in his book On Writing) would say that In Media Res is over-used, and not a good technique to use. But I think it is only an extension of what every story does. They don’t generally start with something like ‘Anne was born in Yorkshire, the second child of Barbara and Jeff Lomax’, so there is always a lot of story that comes before what you write. This is called the backstory. This can be introduced in flashbacks, by characters referring to events that have gone before or internal musings of the main characters.
I think different techniques probably work for different books, but you might have to make a decision before you begin writing. I think the opening lines of a novel are very important, and using the technique of In Media Res can help to set up a very intriguing beginning that makes the reader desperate to know how this point was reached.
This is all relevant to me as I consider where to start the main part of my novel. Does it begin with my character’s life spiralling into poverty and deprivation, or with her standing in the dock (or at one of the other eventful moments in her life, such as this snippet which formed another Friday story) and then proceed to tell how she got there? It is possible that I don’t need to know when I start, and that this can be developed in the rewriting. I would be very interested to know how other authors make these decisions.

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