First things first: hello, new followers! I'm very excited to see you! Thanks for following :D
Next: today's topic is a little spiel on a very common writing term, and what it really means. Onward!
In Media Res
If you've studied writing for any length of time at all, you've probably heard the term "in media res." You're probably also aware of its translation ("into the middle of things") and what it refers to (beginning a scene in the thick of already-occurring action). You know that it's one of the oldest tropes in written history, and that it's preferred by many as a novel opener.
But what does "in media res" really mean?
Oftentimes it seems this technique is employed very narrowly. We hear "start with an action scene" and assume that means to start with a battle. A gunfight. A car chase. Something big and explosive and exciting. The word "action" puts us immediately in mind of action films. Unfortunately, such scenes don't always work. The opening sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Open with a plane crash, and readers are going to expect certain things from your story. If they don't get those things, they're going to be confused and annoyed.
Beginning "in the middle of things" does not necessarily have to mean a big, bloody, explosive action sequence. It only means to start later in a scene, after certain things have already occurred. A "media res" beginning can be quiet and nuanced. An argument between lovers. An in-progress funeral. A student stressing out in the middle of an exam.
This type of beginning must also be appropriately balanced in order to work. Starting things in the middle of a scene always carries the risk of leaving readers confused or wondering why they should care about the POV character, since they don't know anything about him/her yet. If you're mindful of your language and the groundwork you lay, a "media res" opening can be incredibly powerful. It can contain a great hook and plenty of tension to propel the reader forward while also planting the seed of future plot developments and dropping hints of character.
"In media res" is a classic technique, and it's more than a one trick pony. Let your mind branch out. Play with language and characterization. Have fun with it!