It was not a mutiny in the old-time sense, of course, with flashing of cutlasses, a captain in chains,and desperate sailors turning outlaws. After all, it happened in 1944 in the United States Navy, but the court of inquiry recommended trial for mutiny, and the episode became known as “the Caine mutiny” throughout the service.
The story begins with Willie Keith because the event turned on his personality as the massive door of a vault turns on a small jewel bearing. Caine’s Mutiny by Hernan Wouk.
These are the opening lines for the 1951, Pulitzer Prize novel, which starts the story at the court martial; whereas, the 1954 movie version begins with the 2nd Lt. Willie Keith being assigned to the Caine ship. The screenplay builds the characters and the causes for the mutiny. The book novel is a good example of In Medias Res.
Today, I will introduce, “In Medias Res,” or learning how to begin the story in the middle where there is an action or dramatic scene that captures, engages, and motivates your listener to want more. In Medias Res creates questions. Questions like, ‘What happened before this?’ or ‘What caused this to happen?’ or ‘Who is he?’ These questions create engagement and capture the audience’s attention.
In Medias Res is a well establish style of storytelling. For example, Homer’s Odysseus’ journey already is at the end when the story begins, what happens after this are flashbacks to different points of time, building the story, the characters, and answering the ‘Why’ questions. William Shakespeare also used this format in one of his plays called, “Cymbeline.”
There are three good reasons for considering the use of In Medias Res. The first has an advantage of focusing attention to the high point of the story. A good analogy is on how movie trailers are designed. They tend to place the audience right into the middle of the action to entice and motivate future ticket sales. In storytelling, placing the audience in the middle of the action or dramatic scene has advantages.
The second reason gives you an opportunity to seize the attention of your audience. But what is meant by attention? The attention here means to engage or to invite a listener along the journey.
The third and what I think is the most important point is it creates questions immediately. If the next turn on the road can be anticipated there isn’t much suspense. Suspense comes from not knowing what will happen next. The middle initiates the action, the beginning explains how we got there, and the end, which we are not sure, still lies around the bend unknown.
OPENING SCENE: The soldier is writing into his diary his last thoughts before the final battle, he then stops to reflect on his earlier entries as we journey back in time through his memory. Suddenly, we’re back, the battle begins. How will it end? Will the soldier survive? We don’t know. That’s the advantage of In Medias Res.