On Easy Street? (In Medias Res)

A Fitting Place?
A Fitting Place?

With the plethora of good advice, from grammatical niceties to beat sheets, from POV to first versus third person, none of it helps me at this moment. I am struggling with the whole damn fangle of a book that will insist on escaping from enclosure between covers. Rather like trying to bury a corpse that thinks it has a veto  when it comes to incarceration.

But my good husband who only reads-and re-reads- the classics sometimes has his uses. He thought after much dinner table discussion of the stray hairs and neglected detail, that this perhaps might help me, and insisted on reading it aloud over post-prandial wine. For once he was spot on. I thought there may be others for whom this high vantage perspective might prove useful.

A flourish of authority
A flourish of authority-Anthony Trollope.

“In Medias Res”

Perhaps the method of rushing at once “in medias res” is, of all the ways of beginning a story, or a separate branch of a story, the least objectionable. The reader is made to think that the gold lies so near the surface that he will be required to take very little trouble in digging for it. And the writer is enabled,— at any rate for a time, and till his neck has become, as it were, warm to the collar,— to throw off from him the difficulties and dangers, the tedium and prolixity, of description. This rushing “in medias res” has doubtless the charm of ease. “Certainly, when I threw her from the garret window to the stony pavement below, I did not anticipate that she would fall so far without injury to life or limb.” When a story has been begun after this fashion, without any prelude, without description of the garret or of the pavement, or of the lady thrown, or of the speaker, a great amount of trouble seems to have been saved.

Was it here that it happened?
Was it here that it happened?

The mind of the reader fills up the blanks,— if erroneously, still satisfactorily. He knows, at least, that the heroine has encountered a terrible danger, and has escaped from it with almost incredible good fortune; that the demon of the piece is a bold demon, not ashamed to speak of his own iniquity, and that the heroine and the demon are so far united that they have been in a garret together. But there is the drawback on the system,— that it is almost impossible to avoid the necessity of doing, sooner or later, that which would naturally be done at first. It answers, perhaps, for half-a-dozen chapters;— and to carry the reader pleasantly for half-a-dozen chapters is a great matter!— but after that a certain nebulous darkness gradually seems to envelope the characters and the incidents. “Is all this going on in the country, or is it in town,—or perhaps in the Colonies? How old was she? Was she tall? Is she fair? Is she heroine-like in her form and gait? And, after all, how high was the garret window?” I have always found that the details would insist on being told at last, and that by rushing “in medias res” I was simply presenting the cart before the horse . But as readers like the cart the best, I will do it once again,— trying it only for a branch of my story ,— and will endeavour to let as little as possible of the horse be seen afterwards.

Extract from Trollope’s ‘The Duke’s Children’ Chapter Nine.

I bow to the Master and bid you adieu.Trollope shooting-pony

Author: philipparees

A writer ( mostly narrative poetry) of fiction and non-fiction. Self publisher of fiction and Involution-An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God (Runner-up Book of the Year (2013), One time builder ( Arts centre) Mother of four daughters: Companion of old man and old dog: One time gardener, lecturer, wannabe cellist, mostly enquirer of 'what's it all about', blogger and things as yet undiscovered.

6 thoughts on “On Easy Street? (In Medias Res)”

  1. For the same reason I distrust sensational headlines, I close a book that tries to pull me into a story with this trick. It resembles rape, harsh penetration, a turn-on for emotionally repressed people. Commercial success aside, I’d feel a cheat drawing in readers through a false pretence.

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    1. Sometimes I am seduced by the very thing Trollope identifies, the easy surface gold, but it never nourishes for long. I dislike abandoning a book ,once begun, so I am careful not to start! Thanks for the comment.

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    1. What adventure mihrank? The adventure of writing an impossible book? Or tailoring it to an impossible market? Or simply absorbing Trollope? Other posts about South Africa are easier on the brain! This blog breaks all the ‘good practice guidelines’ which say that readers only read one liners and need graphics even to help them do that. You have proved them wrong! So many thanks for being in the minority I believe exists.

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