Thoughts on “in media res” (and how “The Crimson League: The Fight for Hope” began)

I remember learning the term “in media res” in middle school, when we were learning about Homer, “The Iliad,” and “The Odyssey.”

The teacher told us that “in media res” in a narrative technique in which a story starts in the middle of the action. I was much older when I started studying Latin and realized “in media res” LITERALLY means “in the middle of the thing” (which still makes me laugh!)

Reflecting on this now, it strikes me how awesome it is that there is no one way or one correct way to tell a story (though, perhaps, based on the specific story you’re telling, there may be a better or even best way). Even in media res doesn’t necessarily mean one thing, and there can be degrees of it.

One of my favorite examples of a kind-of in media res introduction comes from “Theft of Swords” by Michael J Sullivan. Two characters named Hadrian and Royce are in the middle of an ambush. Right now, funnily enough, I don’t remember if they were the ambushees or the ambushers. (Either is just as likely, if you know the story!) I just remember being blown away at how that opening scene drew me in, how it reveled the character of these men and the spirit/ethos of their world through gripping action. I didn’t fully understand what was going on, or what the stakes were… but I knew that information would be revealed eventually, and I was hooked. I remember thinking, “THIS is how you do in media res.”

My novel doesn’t begin quite that intensely, or in that quite that degree of in media res. “The Crimson League: The Fight for Hope” begins in the middle of a magical civil war in the kingdom of Herezoth, but not in the middle of any particular battle, raid, or especially pivotal event IN that war.

Through Kora’s Eyes

Though the war has been going on for two years, it was important for me to use a point of character for my novel who is a newcomer in the resistance movement, not knowing much of what the strategic or tactical objectives are–and not really knowing her fellow combatants.

That’s because I needed her to be a stand-in, in a way, for the reader. As the POV character meets people and learns things, the reader can do the same. (This is why book one of the Harry Potter series works SO well… Harry is an outsider to the wizarding world, so we, as the reader, get introduced to all its wonder right alongside him.)

To accomplish this, my first thought was to have a main character named Lucia, who is from our world and somehow (maybe with friends) enters some kind of portal and finds herself transported to Herezoth.

Back in 2003 or 2004, I actually started writing the novel this way. And it was awful. I didn’t like it. I didn’t feel it worked, and it didn’t grip me. I gave up after maybe three scenes. I think, looking back, it didn’t work because Lucia didn’t have enough stake in Herezoth.

Fast Forward Two Years

I was sleeping at my aunt’s house one summer night before starting my senior year of undergrad. I woke up, and inspiration hit me out of nowhere. (I still wonder if the source was my guardian angel, knowing that that was the time for me to start churning out this story! It was THAT sudden and unexpected.)

All my roadblocks went away.

  • I realized the protagonist needed to be FROM Herezoth, a peasant girl. No portals. No one from our world. How this took me TWO YEARS to figure out, I will never know. It seems simple enough. But I just couldn’t see it.
  • I knew her name: Kora. Kora, from the Spanish “corazón,” meaning heart.
  • As soon as I had her first name, her last name followed immediately: Porteg. I liked the rhythm, and I liked how it instinctively had a down-to-earth feel.
  • I knew she had a snot-nosed little brother who meant the world to her. (I was studying Spanish literature at the time, and I just HAD to make her brother something of a pícaro, a kind of cunning and brave rascal in hard times trying to survive).

That very morning, I started writing what became the first draft of the first edition. The opening scene has never changed in substance from that draft: Kora telling a bedtime story to her brother.

Now, the definitive second edition is set to release June 15, 2023!

-To read an excerpt from The Crimson League: The Fight for Hope, click here.

-For more information about the novel, check out this post

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5 responses to “Thoughts on “in media res” (and how “The Crimson League: The Fight for Hope” began)”

  1. Thank you for sharing insight into developing novel, struggling, giving up and then finding unexpectedly a fix years later! I gave up on my novel twice over past two years! I’m now away from it focusing on short stories instead. This post gives me hope someday I’ll get back to it and figure out how to structure it differently to make the story work.

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    1. oh wow, I’m so glad this gave you hope!! There is nothing at all wrong with letting a work in progress stew while you work on other stuff! I don’t know if you’re like me, but I totally don’t write with outlines, so my first drafts tends to come in fits and starts as I figure out where things are going and what the character are going to do next (letting them drive things). Admittedly, that two year issue took the cake! I wrote an entirely different (awful, awful) novel in the meantime that I never can publish, but it taught me how to develop a cohesive plot and not force things just because I want them to happen.

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  2. Over several years, I did many rewrites of the first six chapters of “Sail Away on My Silver Dream.” Each time, I hit the wall at Chapter 7. I tried re-planning the book based on miscellany―letters, David’s report cards, notes from his teacher, etc. I also did a transcript of a therapy session, which came alive. It was a good character development exercise, but, more importantly, it showed me the power of first person. I started over and finished the book a few months later.

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    1. what a cool development of your story! I admit I have never been able to write first person. I know it’s very popular these days, though, more so than not. I don’t mind reading it, but it is not my way to write. I would feel like I’d need to know where things are going if I wrote in first person and I write without outlines for first drafts.

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      1. Popularity is not a rule to follow. The only rule is “Don’t be boring.” Stick with what works best for you and for the story.. My “Unconscious” guides me as I write. It’s not really “unconscious,” though. It’s autonomous, sentient, and very fast. Carl Jung said, “In each of us there is an ʘther, whom we do not know. He speaks to us in dreams . . . “

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