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Author Antics In Medias Res

In the dark ages, we would drag a large rock from the cave, find a fallen tree trunk, and balance it on the stone. One person would sit on each end of the tree. When you pushed with your legs, your pal on the other end went down and their weight lifted you up. If you were good friends, and you were on the low end, you would suddenly jump off sending them crashing to the ground.

Great fun, but what does that have to do with writing? Glad you asked. The Latin phrase that serves as the title of today’s post means “in the midst of things”. Every story begins in the middle. Aha, you say, “What about the Bible?” Well, the line “In the beginning” is talking about the beginning of creation, not the beginning of God or His story.

The opening line/chapter of a story is the rock upon which the trunk of the text is balanced. The characters and the readers are friends sending each other up and down. The fulcrum must be in the middle for the whole thing to work. Getting it there can be a problem for writers.

Speaking for myself, I never tell all the story that is in my head.  The towns are laid out, characters have pasts—the towns have pasts for that matter. All that is in my head and much of it stays there. In my latest book, there is even a creation story that probably will never be told. But it’s there in my head governing what happens in the story.

Balance is the key to this game. There are things that happened before the story begins that are important for the reader to know. However, you can’t just jump off dumping your reader. Backstory needs to be doled out a little at a time in a way that engages the readers’ imagination.

There’s no better feeling for me than to lead the reader where I want him/her to go through backstory tidbits and “carelessly” dropped words. Then, spring the disguised truth or twist the story in a way they didn’t see coming. but will tell themselves that they should have seen it.

Literary prestidigitation—it’s all there to see but show the reader only what they need to see to bring about the big finish. The difference is showing rather than telling/explaining. Jump into the middle and leave the explanations to the English and Lit teachers. They’ll come up with better explanations for what you’re doing than you ever will.

Jack LaFountain

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