It’s completely dark except for some twinkling stars. Hundreds of people surround me. Then…that starry sky moves upwards. A tiny gray moon appears from below. Then a larger gray one. Music builds back up around us. The curve of a giant, cloudy tan planet moves up. It swallows the horizon.
A spaceship comes from behind us. It’s shooting red lasers backward at something. That “something” emerges. It’s a vast triangle-shaped ship. It dwarfs the first vessel. This gigantic triangle ship fires back with green lasers.
One emerald beam scores a direct hit and causes an explosion.
We see 3 robots walking down a bright white-walled hallway. The same explosion is rocking them. We must be inside the smaller ship!
This is the start of the first “Star Wars” movie through my 3-year-old eyes back in 1977. “Star Wars” is an excellent example of “Starting in the Middle of the Action” or “In Medias Res.” In-medias-res is Latin for “in the middle of things.”
You drop your audience right in the middle of the action from the start. Little explanation is given or needed.
I created a story within a story above; both use in medias res!
“Star Wars” does start with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”. The Star Wars logo bursts onto the screen. A short scroll of text then gives some plot. But then we are thrown right into some action.
This powerful method of storytelling has been used by many great movies, TV shows, books, and ads.
In literature, “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” both use this. They’ve excited audiences for more than two thousand years.
The iconic “1984” commercial by Apple blew people away. It used in medias res. This ad aired during the 1984 Super Bowl. A scary future of colorless, robotic humans is shown. Then a brightly dressed lady breaks the monotony. She has a sledgehammer. She’s running somewhere. We must know how this all ends; even if we don’t know how it started!
Use this type of storytelling in your marketing and copywriting to persuade. You’ll end up making more sales.
“Beginning a story…in the middle of action can generate the momentum a reader needs to stay engrossed. When we launch in medias res, the conflict can already be at a high pitch, so our reader has something to worry about right away.” — Paul Buchanan, novelist, and professor of English at Biola University
Let’s return to the Summer of 1977 to illustrate the power of in medias res.
I was almost 4 years old. I still remember lining up outside the strange dome-shaped movie theater. I entered and sat. The lights went dark. The 20th Century Fox logo appeared with the famous fanfare music. Then “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appeared.
No movie opening ever struck me like the first “Star Wars.” Starting in the action with such striking visuals got us instantly involved. The sound effects were uniquely alien yet realistic. I felt like I was on the spaceship.
I now know the names of 2 of the robots we first see: C-3PO and R2-D2. Their realistic, futuristic, exotic look suspended my disbelief. I thought we were watching actual live events.
Let’s get back to where we left off with the robots. We see some humans in weird white helmets rushing past those robots. More explosions rock the ship. We finally hear someone speak. It’s C-3PO.
“Did you hear that?” C-3PO asks.
R2-D2 responds, at least I guessed he was responding, with some beeps.
C-3PO continues, “They shut down the main reactor. We’ll be destroyed for sure. This is madness!”
R2-D2 responds with a long electronic whistle noise that sounds like he agrees!
The “white hats” reach a hallway. They get set to fire their guns towards a closed door at the far end. The music builds suspense about what lies beyond that door.
C-3PO comments, “We’re doomed.”
R2-D2 replies with some noises that sound like disagreement.
C-3PO answers, “There’ll be no escape for the Princess this time.”
R2-D2 blurts something in reply.
Echoing metal noises come from above. C-3PO looks up and asks, “What’s that?”
The white hats also look up in a mixture of confusion and terror. We see their tiny spaceship brought to the docking bay of the triangular ship.
Anticipation builds as weird metallic noises echo from beyond. The ominous white door lights up like a sparkler. Fire erupts around it. BOOM! Several lightning cracks sound. The door disintegrates into a cloud of sparks and smoke.
Weird white robot skeletons emerge from the smoke. They’re firing loud laser beams at the white hats!
I later learned they are called stormtroopers.
But that is the power of in medias res. We don’t need everything explained to us. We just need enough info matched with interest, emotion, and excitement to keep us engaged in the story. This style of storytelling will hook and persuade your prospects. You can keep them on the path to buying your product.
I’m a copywriter who has also seen and read thousands of movies, books, ads, and shows. I now notice how powerful in medias res is in much of all that. I also spot it in powerful, persuasive copywriting.
Start your story in the middle of the action. Have it show a problem, worry, or pain point your target audience has. Your product then becomes the savior.
Start somewhere with exciting action, emotion, and suspense. Understand your product’s target audience. Have your story resonate with them. What problem is your product solving? Illustrate that with your story. The reader gets confronted by the problem they have. It catches their attention. The Reticular Activating System (RAS) gets activated! (see my earlier article on RAS: https://lnkd.in/gC8enWt).
Persuasion expert Robert Cialdini writes about the power of an unfinished story in his book “Presuasion.” With in medias res, you are instantly creating an unfinished story. The reader will want it resolved. They’ll ask, “What happens to the cute puppy named ‘Mr. Jingles’ about to be eaten by the tiger?” You are persuading the reader to keep noticing your ad. You are leading them closer to buying your product down the road.
Get started with your first in medias res story now! Here are 3 actions to get that done:
- Action 1: Write a short story that relates to your marketing material. It should speak to your audience and what they care about.
- Action 2: Find a pivotal moment in the story. It should have action, emotion, and suspense. Having trouble? Inject some action, emotion, and suspense into the story. Or just get a better story with all this!
- Action 3: Start telling your story from this middle-of-the-action part of the story. Put that into your marketing material.
“In medias res story beginnings: A story that starts in the middle of events has the advantage of cutting preamble out. You can launch into a pivotal event (such as a historic battle) before telling the story of how things came to this point.” — Bridget McNulty, author at NowNovel.com
About Charles Polanski: I help people prosper through online marketing. Click this link to unlock a world of possibilities with online marketing.