How to Use Prologues, Part 9, In Media Res

open book with sketch of 3D pirate and treasure on the left and a sailing ship on the right.
Image courtesy of Tumisu via Pixabay

Hi SErs! It’s a day of Harmony here at Story Empire 🙂 Today, I’d like to talk about using In Media Res in a prologue. Here’s a link to the previous post on Outsider’s Reports in Prologues.

How do you write an In Media Res prologue, and do it well?

NOTE: In Media Res is from the Latin for ‘In the midst of things.’ In the case of a prologue, In Media Res starts the story without any introduction …

  • In Media Res opens in the middle of the action.
  • The purpose of an In Media Res prologue is to inspire intense curiosity in the reader by slamming them into the midst of an action-packed, emotionally charged moment.
  • Such a prologue is good for sensation-focused narratives such as erotica and horror. It also works well with westerns, spy thrillers, war chronicles, etc.
  • This type of prologue opens with an effect, then the ensuing chapters will backtrack to explain the cause.
  • You put your reader in the thick of the action with characters they haven’t yet met with things happening that they don’t yet understand.

Warning: In Media Res is easy to write but difficult to do well.

How to Write a Bad In Media Res Prologue:

  1. Withhold crucial information from your reader.
  2. Miss the fine line between ‘too much exposition’ and ‘no exposition’ at all.
  3. Give the reader no reason to care about the protagonist or situation.
  4. Dump them in the middle of things without any clue at all as to what is happening or to whom.
  5. Write far too much and make the prologue far too long … this kind of prologue needs to be kept short!

How to Write a Good In Media Res Prologue:

  1. Hook the reader with a mystery that’s full of emotion, so they want to read on to learn the why and the how.
  2. Be clear and concise.
  3. Cut to the chase–but make sure your reader knows who is who. One prologue that ignored this point deliberately was a book I identified in Part Six, Spoilers Ahoy: The Catch by T M Logan. In this book, the prologue was quite short, and it showed one person being murdered by another. However, it gave away no identities nor other crucial plot details. The essential point here is that the whole prologue was no more than a page long. In fact, the whole prologue holds six paragraphs, and many of those are only one sentence long … furthermore, one of those sentences contains just the one word … you get the idea.

An In Media Res prologue has done its job if the reader feels compelled to read on to learn more about what’s just happened. At this point, they won’t know any character history, or why such emotively compelling events just took place. But the action is emotive and charged enough to make the reader care and want to find out more.

TOP TIP: When you write a good prologue, and have a valid reason for using one, it will enhance your story rather than detract from it.

Remember: There are NO hard-and-fast rules. You can do anything you want, as long as you do it well and with good reason.

That’s it from me today. I hope you’ll find this series of posts useful. I’ll see you again on Monday 28th November, when we’ll take a look at How to Write a Prologue—Recap of Tools 🙂

Bio Box for Harmony Kent that links to her website www.harmonykent.co.uk

The prologue series so far:

Part One, Prologues Overview

Part Two, What a Prologue Is and Isn’t

Part Three, Prologue Dos and Don’ts

Part Four, Does Your Story Need a Prologue?

Part Five, Backstory Delivery

Part Six, Spoilers Ahoy

Part Seven, Unexpected Clues

Part Eight, Outsider’s Report

©2022 Harmony Kent

60 thoughts on “How to Use Prologues, Part 9, In Media Res

  1. Pingback: How to Use Prologues, Part 10, Recap of Tools | Story Empire

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  3. Prologuing in media res has, when I’ve seen it, mostly felt like a chapter one. My rare prologue use has been only where pre-story is needed to understand the instant story. Harmony is right in that it’s difficult to do well, and I would add that sometimes it really did not need to be a prologue. Thanks for excellent advice, Harmony Kent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great points. I can’t emphasise enough that a prologue should only be used for material that both enhances the story and won’t fit into the general narrative as a chapter. Thanks for sharing, Stephen 💕🙂

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  4. Excellent post, Harmony, and I liked that you mentioned that these are hard to do well. They have to hook the reader’s emotions and/or curiosity without a lot of context, and that’s hard to do. I liked the example and how that illustrated your points. I especially like In Media Res prologs that give me a sense of what happened and then surprise me when the event actually occurs in the context of the book (for example, it’s the good guy who kills the bad guy, when I thought all along (from the prolog) that it was the other way around). Great post.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I haven’t done this with a prologue but I did use Media Res for the opening scenes in both End of Day and Eventide.

    I’ve read several books that start off this way (either with a prologue or opening chapter) and then backtrack to show how things reached that point. A lot of psychological thrillers make good use of it. A good prologue done that way can definitely hook me!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I used in media res for Acts of Convenience because the first part of the book covers several decades highlighting how ordinary families are affected by new legislation, and in the next part it shows the dangers people put themselves in to expose this corruption. It’s just a short section where the protagonist is preparing herself to go through a door and start something that might harm those she loves most. I hope it works, but it’s a risk I took. I have seen some dreadful examples… xx

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m definitely not the ideal reader for this type of prologue. Or maybe I’ve just never seen it done well. I’m always more interested in character than plot (though both are important), so I want to connect with a character and care about him or her before I see the conflict that needs to be overcome. In movies and television, it’s okay. The spectacle often is enough to entice me to keep watching when the hard break hits the screen for the credits then the “24 hours earlier…” words appear. But in print, even with my imagination on overdrive, I find it difficult to care. I’ll likely continue reading, but my opinion has been soured, which makes the author’s job harder to move my needle to “favorable” moving forward.

    But like I said, I may never have seen this technique done well in fiction. Regardless, excellent description of this type of prologue, Harmony.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Good points. I believe that when done properly, you’ll care about the character even without knowing their name because the author will have drawn you in via emotion and tension as well as making you question. Agreed that this is a real tough type of prologue with which to hit those marks. Thanks, Staci! 💕🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree this works in movies, Staci. I’m thinking of movies that start with a scene that happens after the main story, while the credits are rolling. Then a quick switch to the real beginning. If a writer can achieve that kind of effect, they’re doing it right. (Of course, in the case of a movie, the audience has paid already and are in their seats with their popcorn. That keeps them watching, whereas the potential reader may be still in the bookstore or using “Look inside” and hasn’t bought the book.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I am currently reading a book that started with a prologue like this. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to find out what happened and why. This is another great segment in this series. Such helpful information, Harmony. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thanks for your insightful post, Harmony. I’m using your article as a checklist for a WIP using in medias res for the prologue to make sure I get it right.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Harmony
    I have followed this series with enormous interest. As you know, I’m using a prologue on my current WIP. I also added one – three short paragraphs on less than a page – to the first book in a series of sizzling romances. A trauma suffered by a boy of seven was to affect the next 50 years of his life, and I wanted to intrigue the reader – and warn them they good expect graphic sex.
    However, this week I actually stopped reading a book that fits all your BAD In Media Res prologue points. Anyone considering them might like to read it on the Amazon “look indide” feature. (I’d be interested to know if I’ve found a good example too.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sarah, I followed the link and took a look. This is a first chapter rather than a prologue, but you spotted the attempt at In Media Res, which falls way short. As you say, it uses all the ‘Do Not Do This’ items. Add to that the short info dumps and passive writing, etc., and this would be a DNF in the first couple of pages for me.

      I’m so pleased you’re finding these posts on prologues useful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 💕🙂

      Like

  11. Pingback: How to Use Prologues, Part 9, In Media Res | Legends of Windemere

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