Monday, April 27, 2020

What’s “In Media Res”?

In eighth grade, I had an English teacher named Mr. Biggs. We met during fifth period—right after lunch—every day. 

Mr. Biggs loved to share “cocktail information”—random tidbits of information that might one day come in handy as we tried to make small talk at a cocktail party. What I remember most is the enthusiasm with which he shared these tidbits.

Mr. Biggs was enthusiastic about everything—especially the stories we read and analyzed, which is probably why much of what we learned that year remains firmly in my memory. One example is the term “in media res”—a story that starts in the middle of the action and then backtracks to the beginning. 

While most narrative nonfiction for children has a chronological sequence text structure overall, in media res openings are quite common. One of my favorite examples is Bomb by Steve Sheinkin.

Recently, author Heather Montgomery sent me this wonderful piece from Transom in which Rob Rosenthal dissects a radio story that employs what he calls the “e” story structure. Turns out e = in media res, but after hearing Rosenthal’s explanation, I might just prefer his terminology. Sorry, Mr Biggs. 

If you’re interested learning more about how narrative nonfiction can be constructed, I highly recommend you take 26 minutes to listen.

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