Starting In the Middle

Starting your story means balancing audience demands for information with moving the story along.
Photo by Sebastian Voortman on

Don’t start your story too early. That’s the advice most of us have heard. Start your story in the middle of things. Another name for this is starting your story in media res.

Most of us interpret this to mean that we need to start with some piece of action. The reader needs to meet our character in the middle of some tense situation. Sometimes this works better than others.

Last weekend, my husband and I got around to starting the Marvel series, “Moon Knight.” In episode one you meet Steven who wanders about in his sleep. To avoid this, he wears a leg restraint to bed. He scatters sand around the bed so he can tell if he’s tried to wander away. He also hears voices and finds a phone he doesn’t recognize hidden in his apartment. By the end of episode one, we were thoroughly confused.

We didn’t have a firm grasp on who this character was or what was going on his life. We knew that he just wanted to live a normal, torment free life. But that was about it.

And we are serious Marvel fans. I love the movies. He loves the comics. And we still felt lost. That’s a serious problem. There’s a big different between enticing your audience and confusing your audience.

As with so many things in writing, starting in the middle is a bit of a balancing act. You have to give your reader enough information to have a footing. You can tease, but you have to give them something.

In my class with Madeline Dyer, she explains that you have to answer at least some of your readers questions. I think Madeline said at least one out of every three. To answer the questions, you have to anticipate what these questions will be. But if you give too much information, you slow the story down.

And that’s why starting in the “middle” is a balancing act. Decide where you want to start. Then figure out what your audience needs to know at a minimum to understand what is happening. Otherwise, they might decide to read, or watch, something else.

Incidentally, episode 2 gave us the information we needed to keep watching.