In my summer Seattle writing class, we’ll discuss In Medias Res openings, one of the most effective ways of opening a story. To write in medias res, you’ll need a strong scene from the middle of your story. Pick the most vivid and dramatic moment in the story, for example, when the canoe is about to go over the falls, or the killer is making his last stand, or the argument is reaching its climax. You’re looking, in other words, for a scene that has conflict and drama. These qualities are essential to any in medias res scene, because they will bring the readers quickly into the story.
After finding the scene, divide it in half. Use the first half of the scene in the lead and save the second half of it for right near the end of the story. By dividing it in half, you’ll create suspense within your story. The reader will get hooked on the first half of the scene and then read to the end of the story to see what happens. In the process, readers will finish the rest of story.
After putting first half of scene in lead, make transition to actual start of story. For example, tell how you came to make a rafting trip down the Salmon River. Readers will follow this discussion because it will reveal whether you survived going over the falls. From time to time, foreshadow the falls and give the reader hints about what is going to happen.
Once you’ve reached the point where the second half of scene occurs, insert it without repeating the opening scene. Just use summary or a repeated detail to remind the reader of what happened at the start of the story. Then go through second half of scene. End with a conclusion that makes sense of the trip and gives the reader a sense of what you learned from it.
In my writing classes, I emphasize the need to bring people to life on the page. I recently interviewed mountaineer Ed Veisturs for a magazine story and sought to bring him to life through a focus on his efforts to climb Mt. Everest. Writing a short profile is a great way to do this, one of the techniques I discuss in my Seattle writing classes, including my summer writing class, Writing for Story. When writing profiles, I like to focus on a specific event that illustrates the person’s character. Here are some excerpt from that story.
What was the weather like you when you summited Everest without oxygen?
The weather was perfect that day. It was cold but nothing I couldn’t deal with. I started out using headlamp in the dark and then it gradually got bright. It was my third attempt, and previously I had been 300 feet from the summit. For me the motivation was the mystery of the last 300 feet. At 29,000 feet, 300 feet is huge. That was the barrier I wanted to discover. I was breathing 15 times for every step take. After 15, I had to take another step. You have to do it. It’s step by step, towards a rock 100 yards ahead. That was my next goal. Then I found a another goal. You have to be focused and deliberate. If you look too far into the distance, you can’t do it.
I got to the top around 1 p.m. It was 12 hours from high camp,.
How did it feel to stand on the summit?
It was one of those dream come true moments. Growing up in Illinois, one of flattest states, I had a dream of climbing an 8000 meter peak without oxygen. I had a poster of Jim Whitaker in my room. He was the expedition leader on that climb. So I lived that dream. I achieved the goal of doing it without oxygen. I was alone on the summit. To have that place to yourself was pretty special.
Travel and Adventure Writing is some of the most enjoyable writing I do. It gives me an excuse to get out into the wild and leave behind all the email, texts, phone messages and other things I need to keep track of as a writer and founder of The Writer’s Workshop.
I had the pleasure of going on a press trip recently to the Home Ranch in Colorado. During the three-day visit, I took skate skiing lessons from Matson Tew, one of the guides at the ranch. The ranch offers lessons for cross country, skate skiing and even telemark skiing, which allows guests to try all kinds of skiing. I have telemarked for years and done classic cross country skiing a lot, but I had done little skate skiing and the times I’d done it, it had kicked my ass. It was so strenuous that I could only do it for a few hundred yards. But I figured if I had good instruction and the right equipment and a good course, I could at least make some progress, and get some material for travel and adventure writing.
In addition to taking lessons, I planned to write about it. The lessons and trip were essentially research for me. I no longer attend many city council or county commissioners meetings, as I did when I was a newspaper reporter, but I try to get out in the field as much as possible. I always learn a lot on such trips, soaking in the geography, the landscape, the people. And I usually return with a story as I did on this trip. As I teach students in my Travel writing classes, Seattle writing classes, and online classes, I like to use scene to organize such stories. Take a look at the story I wrote about the trip for a demonstration of how to do this. http://www.mountaingazette.com/blogs/kicking-and-gliding-at-the-home-ranch/
These leads attempt to grab the reader through use of graphic detail and gripping suspenseful storytelling. These leads do not attempt to tell a complete story as do anecdotal leads, but they give the most appealing, eccentric or dramatic part of the story.
NEW YORK – Caprice Benedetti stared fixedly at herself in the mirror, surveying her beauty, and saw that her color was just not right, so she repaired that deficiency quickly. She daubed on a touch more lipstick. Self-absorption is expected of a model. It was late in the day, and she had already changed clothes and make-up a half-dozen times, piling new look upon new look. “OK,” she said. “I’m the next me.”
She bounced out of her apartment building in Manhattan, the doorman nodding to this latest version of her. Quickly, her long legs propelled her into the humming convoy of pedestrians, those who had uncomplainingly lived with the same look all day long. “Some days, I’m changing my face and changing my clothes 10 times,” she said. “I’m elegant. I’m casual. I’m chic. I’m downtown. I’m sexy. I’m theatrical. I begin to wonder ‘Who am I?’ I’m 10 different people. Where’s the real me? You have an identity crisis. Who is this?”
As she wove through the crowds, there were, as always, covetous stares, but no sense of recognition. For hers was not a face that many would know.
Caprice, as she is known professionally, is an average fashion model. She is not Cindy Crawford or Naomi Campbell or Niki Taylor, and never will be. She is one of “the other girls.” While she makes abundant money, never does her face decorate the covers of Vogue or Elle or Harper’s Bazaar. Never has she been the Clairol girl or the Revlon girl. She wallows in the vast anonymity of fashion, her scrupulously made-up face blurring with thousands of others.
From “Fame Can Elude Models Who Are ‘Just Average’” by N.R. Kleinfeld in The New York Times.
One of the pleasures of my job includes doing “research” such as my recent trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. I had a wonderful trip organized by Solitude Rafting Company of Ketchum and wrote about it for a story in the latest issue of Mountain Gazette, with the link included below. As I tell the students in my Seattle writing classes, travel writing classes and online writing classes, such trips are full of the rich and significant detail that make for great scenes and great stories. Here’s a link to the story; please let me know what you think: Baptism by Whitewater: Running the Salmon River
Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.
The forms of things unknown and the the poet’s pen…
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
William Shakespeare (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Just follow your hero.
First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!
…with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always.
I was trying to write then and I found the greatest difficulty was to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced…the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion and which would be as valid in a year or ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always.
One false word, one extra word…
One false word, one extra word, and somebody's thinking about how they have to buy paper towels at the store.
There are only two or three human stories.
Isn’t it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes for thousands of years.
Writing a novel is a terrible experience.
Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I'm always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it's very shocking to the system.
Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you.
Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
It is wrong to have an ideal view of the world.
It is wrong to have an ideal view of the world. That's where the mischief starts. That's where everything starts unravelling.
Literature is nothing but carpentry.
Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Pleasure in a good novel…
The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.
For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth.
For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.
The difference between the right word and the almost right word…
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.