Examples of In Medias Res in literature

The Latin term “in medias res” means “into the midst of things.” As a literary technique, in medias res refers to opening a story in the middle of the action, rather than beginning with exposition or backstory.

In Medias Res has been used for millennia to immerse readers right into dramatic tension and excitement. By analyzing the definition, history, and examples of in medias res, we can explore why this technique packs such a powerful punch.

Definition of In Medias Res


In medias res plunges readers into the heart of the action. Rather than preamble or prologue, the story starts at a gripping or suspenseful point mid-scene. The beginning establishes conflict, drama, and engaging questions that pull the audience in. Exposition about backstory and characters comes later to explain how they arrived there. This structure creates an urgent desire to find out what happened before and what happens next.

The effect is one of briefly disorienting the reader before revealing the context. Since there is action without explanation, the audience must piece together characters’ unspoken motivations and backstories on their own. This active engagement creates greater intrigue and investment in the narrative. In medias res works especially well for tales of crisis, conflict, action, and high tension. It leaves no time for ambling preamble before adventure. We learn by doing, plunged in without warning.

History and Origins

Homer’s Odyssey provides one of the first examples of in medias res opening lines: “Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy.” This epitomizes the technique by beginning at a critical moment when Odysseus is already far from home after the Trojan war, rather than starting with his backstory.

The Aeneid likewise starts mid-storm as Aeneas and his men are thrown off course en route to Italy after fleeing Troy. Virgil’s lines, “I sing of arms and of a man,” also use in medias res by focusing on conflict without preamble. Many Renaissance poets emulated these Greek and Roman epic examples of poetic in medias res.

Novels increasingly utilized in medias res openings in the 18th and 19th centuries. Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe launches mid-storm, with Crusoe stranded after a shipwreck. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice starts at a ball where key characters first meet and impressions form amid charged social interactions and drama. 19th century novels increasingly employed this device to start with compelling action.

Examples of In Medias Res in Literature

The Iliad – Homer’s epic poem opens in the tenth year of the Trojan War, skipping the events leading up to the conflict. We are thrown into the action as the Greeks quarrel with Agamemnon.

The Odyssey – This sequel to The Iliad begins years after the Trojan War, with Odysseus lost at sea trying to return home. There is no background given to explain the journey.

Twilight – The first book in this series starts with Bella moving to Forks, Washington. Her backstory is filled in later, but the narrative starts in the midst of her new life.

A Tale of Two Cities – Dickens’ novel begins with a famous opening line about the times being the best and worst. There is no preamble before this declaration.

The Fellowship of the Ring – Tolkien’s epic plunges us into the Shire with no introduction. Background on Middle Earth comes later.

In each case, the author starts us in the midst of the action rather than providing background first. This in medias res technique allows the story to begin at an exciting or significant moment. The background is filled in later through exposition or flashbacks.

Why It Works?

In medias res grabs attention by starting stories amid action and intrigue. It requires audiences to actively discern context and characters’ motives without explanatory exposition. This discovery propels the narrative forward. In medias res creates immersion in the events, making readers feel dropped into the thick of things. Danger and conflict also make the story gripping right from the start. This narrative device can seem disorienting initially until the backstory is filled in later, but that fleeting confusion pulls audiences in. In medias res is powerful because it thrusts readers right into stories without losing momentum or natural curiosity. No lengthy preface can match its in-the-moment immediacy.

From ancient epics to modern novels, in medias res remains enthralling and effective. This literary device engages audiences by starting stories in the heart of drama then propelling events forward. In medias res exemplifies how a text’s structure and opening lines are key to hooking readers. Though initially opaque, a gripping entry point into the midst of things creates instant intrigue and an irresistible desire to elucidate context later. Not beginning at the beginning, but rather in the middle, turns stories into active discovery rather than passive report. Medias res forever remains storytelling’s most powerful invitation to embark on an urgent journey through oracle, muse, and imagination.

Read also: Literary Devices That Start With ‘I’

Related Terms

Nonlinear narrative

A nonlinear narrative is a storytelling technique where the events are not recounted in chronological order. Writers using in medias res often employ nonlinear narratives, revealing backstory events out of order after starting in the midst of the action.

Frame story

This is a literary technique where a main narrative is framed within another story. An example is a story within a story. Frame stories are sometimes used with in medias res, where the opening action is presented within a frame that provides context. For instance, a character might be recounting the events that are shown in the in medias res opening.

Examples of In Medias Res in Literature
Examples of In Medias Res in Literature

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