En Medias Res
First sentences are nerve-wracking. It’s the first chance someone has to judge your writing. My first creative writing professor in college told us a good first sentence is the difference between a piece that gets published, and the rejection pile. I reflect on this idea when I have a hard time getting into a popular book. The first sentence makes you curious. En medias res means “in the middle” so why don’t I feel like the most popular series do that anymore? It’s meant to be intro-free. Here are my theories on why it still applies in popular fiction today.
A Special Day
Most fantasy and romance novels start on a special day for the main character. They could get married, train for a goal, or face a life-altering decision. The end of their previous lives puts them in a middle position. Whatever decision they make will set them on a new path.
My favorite example of this is Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. It opens with the protagonist walking to her execution. The unknown direction of the story intrigues me. She’s steps away from her death. Is the story from a ghost’s perspective? Will it switch point of view? The story could be retold by a descendant of the first chapter’s protagonist after a time jump. It keeps the audience curious and flipping pages to find out what happens next.
Break from the Norm
A break in routine can demonstrate characters are involved in something. For instance, the key player could go to a party when the central character prefers to read at home in their favorite armchair. Uncomfortable situations for characters drive plot and character development. Being able to focus on their daily routine describes the social norms of society, and how our central character fits into their world.
Meet-Cute is used to describe an adorable encounter between two people. E.g. While reaching for the last croissant, they decide to split it and strike up a conversation. My favorite trope is enemies to lovers. An argument starts between the love interests. Thus, they spend a good chunk of the book fighting both their feelings and each other. They have a transformative effect on each other, and sparks fly.
Any experience can influence one’s life direction through fiction. We’re all amid life ourselves, so it makes sense the concept would apply to anything we create.