In this edition of coming to terms, I am going to be addressing three terms relating to the parts of a story. That is to say, the beginning, the middle and the end. Each term relates to a technique for presenting a story in a fashion that breaks with the traditional order for the sake of creating a different mood and feel to the writing.
In The Middle
First, is “In Medias Res”, which means into the middle of things in Latin. It is a literary technique where the narrative starts from the middle of the story. This flies in the face of the traditional style where you start at the very logical point of the beginning. Characterization, motive and setting are revealed through a series of flashbacks. One of the strongest values for using this method is that it allows you to begin at a point of action and draw the reader quickly in. It can also be a great way to create a twist if the incident that put everything into motion isn’t revealed until the end of the story. In both cases, it creates a narrative hook by putting the reader into the thick of things right away. I am Legend is an example of this, where the protagonist is revealed dealing with the events of a vampiric apocalypse.
All Mixed Up
Next is “Nonlinear”, where character and plot are revealed in a non-chronological manner. This requires a skillful hand to execute properly and the reader must attempt to put the timeline together in order to properly understand the story. Again, this allows for a twist ending readily by holding information until the climax and can alter the perspective of the reader about what they thought they knew regarding the events and characters involved. Among the examples of this method are Catch-22 and The Odyssey.
Two Steps Back
Third among these terms is “Reverse Chronology”. This is where the writer reveals the plot in reverse to the order in which they happened. The final event of the story happens at the start of the writing and the first event happens at the end. In this sort of work, the event that caused everything the reader has seen is where the twist of the story occurs. Two notable examples of this technique are Counter-Clock World and Time’s Arrow.
Most of what you write is going to be in the traditional style, but you may find that one of your ideas works particularly well if pulled outside of the standard layout and rearranged in one of these fashions. At the very least you will know how to describe the books you are reading or writing in a way that sums up the basic structure without lengthy explanation. Until the next entry of the Coming to Terms series, I hope you’ve learned something of value!