1. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    In media res opening

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Justin Phillips, Apr 13, 2016.

    So I'm experimenting with an in media res opening for my WIP. I'm not really trained in writing, so I have a question for the masses. Do you think that it is necessary to reveal what the character looks like in this type of opening? The one I have written is really tight, gets you in there and out so that I can actually start the story at the beginning. I planned on taking my time to describe setting and character afterwards. Here's an example of what I wrote- be gentle, I know it's rough right now. Just wondering if (roughly) this will work without describing my character, which I can do in the next scene.

    Chapter One
    1.​

    The shuttle ripped through Earth’s atmosphere, shattering any hope of turning back now.​

    I sat alone next to a large, rectangular window on the observation deck, wondering what the hell did I get myself into. Clouds smothered the window beside me—we were going through them, I figured, straight up like a rocket. Seconds later the sky outside faded; the dull, blue stratosphere melted away into a rich, deep black as we finally broke the threshold. My mind raced wildly—doubts creeping in much sooner than I predicted. Was I doing the right thing? Could I really live off planet for twelve months?​

    And then I saw it. The first star.​

    There it was in the top right corner of the window. So solemn, so majestic. It stood there alone, twinkling earnestly in a vast ocean of darkness. Soon it was joined by other stars—more and more of them—blinking, burning. Calling me. Sunlight filtered in once more, but it was different than I had ever seen before. It was richer, brighter… more golden than yellow. A sun not tainted by the pollution of Earth’s dimming skies.​

    And it was beautiful.​

    2.
    [This scene will pick up that morning, or day before, describing how he came to be on the shuttle leaving earth, and I planned to describe my character and setting here.



    p.s. If you DO have any tips on how to make the opening stronger, feel free. Just remember this is the roughest draft available. I literally wrote it last night before bed. It's probably too short, I reckon, muddled with complicated sentences and whatnot, those can be fixed later
     
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2016
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  2. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Can someone give me a couple of examples of non-In media res openings from famous works? I feel like a lot of openings start in media res.
     
  3. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    a lot do. a lot don't. If I find a good example, I will post it. It's just that I'm getting conflicting opinions that I SHOULD describe my character in the opening, and I don't think it's necessary.
     
  4. Guttersnipe
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    Guttersnipe Member

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    It's way more important to hook the reader early than to describe the character. So given a choice between an action opening with subsequent description, and a descriptive opening with subsequent action, go with the former.
     
  5. Guttersnipe
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    Guttersnipe Member

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    You should give the reader some idea of what the character is like, in the first couple of pages, before they build up too much of an image in their mind. But you have (maybe) two pages to get the description in, and only two paragraphs to hook the reader.

    I know I'm sounding like a one-note musician here, but opening a book with a lot of irrelevant detail and scene-setting is a very common noob mistake. Many agents will fail a sub if something doesn't happen in the first paragraph.
     
  6. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    Yeah, with the opening as short as it is, the next scene which would get more descriptive would very well sit on that first page or second page. This version that I have may be too passive though, is that what you are saying? I guess I'm going more for intriguing, than action.
     
  7. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    Intriguing is just fine; that counts as something happening :p You can describe characters literally anywhere, it's fine to fit it in as needed. You can just drop in a few quick cues early on and fill in the rest when you're more fully introducing the characters as a person. Just tall/short, fat/thin, blonde/brown, that'll do fine.
     
  8. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    ok thanks, i might add in that the window was 6 feet tall, just coming up over his head from the floor. something like that. I think the imagery I use in the later part (about the stars bursting into view) could really be nice, if i can word it right.
     
  9. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    It's a nice start. Gets you hooked. Not overly descriptive (which is good). The information you give is balanced and it flows easily.

    Most of the stories I've read in first person revealed physical characteristics via comparison. You know, because it's kind of irrelevant to say, "Did I mention that I'm tall, thin, etc?" Actually, I've read a description like this before in one of Jo Nesbos' books, but thank god it was at the epilogue, added as some kind of extra. All the way through the story we didn't get a hint of a description and I was fine with that. I can always place a face to a character. Sometimes I prefer to do so. Anyways... What was I saying? Right. All due time. You have to figure an instance in your story when a description can seamlessly fit in. There's no rush.

    For example in a fight scene:

    "In order to stand a chance against this guy I knew that I needed a weapon. Two things you learn in battle is to never underestimate your enemies abilities and be realistic about the odds, otherwise it would be over once and for all. Only fools took risks and I wasn't so patriotic as to be used as collateral damage. In contrast to my slim physic, he looked like a flaming bull, ready to take charge and obliterate me. His body was ridiculously sturdy, overfilled with muscles that I didn't even know existed until then. I knew that it wouldn't matter if I was more experienced than him in combat. If he managed to grab me it would be over. A good thing though about being slim is agility and speed. He was much stronger alright, but he looked heavy and cumbersome. If only I could find a stick or something, even a rock would be nice, the odds would shift more to my favor."

    In first POV stories, physical description doesn't matter so much because the reader falls in love with the brain of the MC. His psyche. He could be the ugliest motherfucker or the most boring looking person, but he's got to have charisma. That is shown through his actions and thoughts. I hope this helps.
     
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  10. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Example of novel opening that is characterisation rather than media res - American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

    Shadow had done three years in prison. He was big enough and looked don't-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time. So he kept himself in shape, and taught himself coin tricks, and thought a lot about how much he loved his wife.

    The best thing—in Shadow's opinion, perhaps the only good thing—about being in prison was a feeling of relief. The feeling that he'd plunged as low as he could plunge and he'd hit bottom. He didn't worry that the man was going to get him, because the man had got him. He was no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, because yesterday had brought it.


    The rest of the first chapter can be found at: http://www.neilgaiman.com/works/Books/American+Gods/in/181/
     
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  11. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's a decent opening, and you definitely don't need to go into what the MC looks like at this point. Len Deighton made a very good living out of not describing his MC at all (not even giving him a name), and an MC who describes himself is likely to come across as being way too self-absorbed. As @Malisky suggests, maybe working it in by comparison with another character.

    To pick a nit, if you're going up like a rocket, taking seconds to go from cloud cover to the dense black of space, I doubt that you'd see a solitary star, to be followed in quite lethargic sequence by the remaining stars.

    Also, cumulus clouds (the kind that are thick enough to "smother the window") only reach about 6 km above ground. Thunderclouds may be as high as 12 km. Travelling at escape velocity of around 25,000 mph, it would take just over one second to reach this point, and a further 8 to reach the Kármán line at 100 km above the earth. OK, you'll need to accelerate from rest, so you can more-or-less double the time taken, but this doesn't leave a lot of time for leisurely taking in the view. The impression I get is that it's a time filled with the oh-my-god of being pinned into your seat by the g-forces, followed by the thrusters cutting out...and THEN you've got a moment of peace to take in the scenery, as you start to float up against your seat harness in the weightlessness.
     
  12. Justin Phillips
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    Justin Phillips Active Member

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    thank you, that is very helpful and informative. I wrote that sequence ten years ago when I was a teenager, and way too lazy to do any research. Nowadays, I tried googling it but it's hard to get such a visual description, especially because my MC is not traveling in a normal rocket shuttle. This shuttle has low gravitational fields that keep the g force at comfortable levels, no matter what speed or direction they are going. Yes, I completely made that up, and have no idea if a low level gravitational generator could have such an effect, but this is near distant future, so perhaps they have the technology.

    I agree that the stars popping in slowly is kind of lackadaisical, but it really is supposed to be happening in a matter of seconds. The idea is that it takes his eyes a second to adjust to the low exposure, following a blast of darkness as he broke through the bright sky, and the first star is the one his eyes adjusted to first, followed by the others. the brain can process thoughts up to microseconds so I thought that it might work, but I can definitely change that. It's not imperative to the story at all. Perhaps its just a matter of wording it better.
     
  13. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    There is a way of describing your character by way of implication. If and when you do decide to describe him. I don't think it's necessary in the piece you posted. But certain details and the tone of how your character talks and describes things and moves will give your readers a good image of what he looks like.
    Right now because the focus is on the mc's awe and doubt I'm picturing a very young inexperienced man.
     

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