in medias res

Posted On August 16, 2009

   “In the midst of affairs” is the literal Latin translation, but it is easier to remember “in the middle of things”. That is what I’ve read writers must do in order to get readers interested in their piece. I don’t know that I’ve ever written something that wasn’t in medias res, except a descriptive paragraph about a bowl of fruit, and even then I’m sure I included the shy orange being squeezed out by the a-peeling banana, before he was pummeled by grapes, as a-pear-ently no one noticed.

   In one of the writing workshops I attended, where participants spend six hours in a classroom with someone who is viewed as a “published author” and took copious notes on how to succeed, I met up with a woman who has turned into a dear friend. I don’t think she’ll mind that I’ll print our time together here as some of the best impromptu writings I’ve attempted. It was really another attendee’s suggestion that we meet after the class as a writing group. I was doubtful that this was something that I wanted to partake in, as I was always rushing here and there, and at that time believed my writing to be a luxury, not a necessity. A few weeks later, I received an email stating a date, time, and place where we would meet, talk about all the terrific words we’d written, respond to a prompt, and then share it with the group. Well, I showed up to Martha’s house and the two of us had a grand time.

   She read some of what became Of Gifts and the Goddess and I read a piece that she’d started in the workshop and continued to add bits to the plot. Martha’s enthusiastic response to my “action, details, and intimate scenes” were exchanged with my remarks of “incredibly descriptive, unique use of language”. We shared bits of our personal lives, hopes for the things we’d written, and made tentative plans to meet up again. Since then, we’ve met several times, communicated via email and phone, but have always stayed steadfast in encouraging the other to finish, to publish, to share the wonderful words that flow through us and onto the paper to be read by those who wanted to escape and be entertained, and perhaps learn something about themselves as well.

   We took turns bringing prompts to our meetings, which turned into a tour of local restaurants, along with current pieces. Martha branched out with other art projects, and when she sent out hundreds of query letters looking for editors and publishers, was rewarded with several who showed serious interest in what she had written. I continued on the path of action/adventure/love, which I think sums up a lot of life. It always amazed Martha that given three words, such as kettle, labor, and foot, that I could write two pages in about ten minutes of a woman with a magic sword whose foot has morphed into a kettle, and knocking on her door is the being she’d been hiding from. No great description of the kettle, or the woman for that matter, the cottage where she spends her time after laboring in the field, and no background information as to why she is in hiding, who Aiden is, why she draws her sword when he comes to her door, or even where the story takes place, other than a rocky landscape and a red light that frames his silhouette . . .

   As I explained in my last blog, I write as the the story comes to me. I rarely “plan” anything out, and so far, the plots unfold in chronological order. So, why do I always begin in medias res instead of “On a dark and stormy night . . .”? Because one has to begin somewhere, and that is what I “see”, what is given to me at the time I sit with my pen in my hand and briefly close my eyes and ask, “And then what?” Of Gifts and the Goddess could have begun, “Anne McCleary was a woman of healing that survived the burning of her village.” I don’t know about you, but that would cause me to put the book back on the shelf and look for something that reached out and grabbed me by the “Wow! What happened? How did they get there?” Of Dolphins and Desires could have started with, “Enrique was angry as he floated on his stolen yacht,” or something equally mundane. So that is why I began chapter one for Of Stars and Secrets (sneak peek here!) as, “Ignoring the sweat that dripped into his eyes, he put up his left forearm to block the punch from the Tamplian.”

   And since I’m in medias res with Of Prophesies and Promises, the sequel to Of Stars and Secrets, I leave you with an invitation to begin your next email “in the middle of things”, and to visit my web site, which is being updated with some of my other writings, that I’m sure you can guess, begin in the middle . . .

Written by Michele Venne

Writer of immersive and intriguing stories.

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