Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Ab ovo" versus "In medias res"

"From the beginning" versus "In the midst of things"

I have heard two very different schools of thought on where to start a story.  It is such a contested subject that there are words for both methods.

Ab ovo: From the beginning.  Followers of this method argue that a reader cannot car about a story if they do not first care about the character.  In this method the story starts with the main characters day to day life and gives you an opportunity to get to know them and care about them.  This does not necessarily mean you see the them from birth, you just see their normal life before the inciting incident (the event that happens to the protagonist to change their life from the norm and sparks the action of the story).

For example: We see Dorothy in Kansas before she goes to OZ.  We see Katniss in District 12 before the reaping.  We see Harry with the Dursleys before the owls start to show up.  There are many who start their stories in the most logical of places, the beginning.

In medias res: In the midst of things.  This school believes that the story should start as far into the action as possible with out confusing the reader.  The idea is to let the action grab the reader and hold on.  Your feelings for the characters come as you get to know them.  Backstory is delivered through flashbacks, frame narrative and various other plot devices.

Examples:  When we first meet the Pevensie children they are escaping the air raid in London.  Mr. Bennet has already lost his fortune when we find the Bennet sisters vying for wealthy suitors.  Shakespeare himself started many of his plays in the midst of action.  We do not know why Capulet and Montague despise each other, but the war is so violent that we want to find out.

So now I am facing a dilemma and I would like opinions.  My story as it stands begins with the inciting incident.  We meet our heroine just as her life changes forever, but I find myself wondering if we need to see what her life was before.  Do we need to see just how horrible it was to understand how she is able to leave it behind so easily?

So here is my question: Backstory or action, where do you start?


Rachel Hartman said...

I'm of the "try it and see" school of writing. Go ahead and write the additional material and see how you feel about it. Even if you don't end up using it, you will have gained new insights into your character, which adds depth as you continue to revise. Writing is never wasted.

Kelly said...

Thank you so much, Rachel. That is excellent advice. I hadn't thought of that before.

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