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Soviet stamp, part of a 1967 series depicting ...

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The beginning is a pretty bad place to start and exposition is for suckers. The key to good writing, be it journalism, fiction, screenplay or science fiction trilogy, is to start in the middle of things.

While it is tempting to lead a reader by the nose through your way of thinking and bring them step by torturous step to your conclusion, in the end that’s not fun for either party. Contrary to The Sound of Music, the very beginning is a bad place to start.

In medias res, used in many epic poems, is the art of starting at a moment of importance, interest or action. This is pretty different from the way most people are taught, it is the antithesis of the five paragraph essay, which plods from point A to Z of your concept in strict, ordered regimented steps.

The alternative is excitement. Starting with the most important or interesting part of the narrative has many benefits, especially when writing in modern mediums. You are building an effective hook, one that can pull your reader in. This is especially important as attention spans grow shorter.

It’s easier to write when you start with excitement. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to get to the part you actually want to say. Journalism calls it burying the lede and you have almost certainly done it. You may be up to a point or trying to explain a complicated topic. There are any number of reasons that it might have made sense at the time. However, it is rarely, if ever the right choice.

If you are trying to tell a story of any kind, the place to start is in the middle. Lead off with action or intense detail relevant to the rest of the story. You’ll see this in the truly good journalism as well as good prose  in any medium. As the narrative goes on, you can add in the history to support the present and subtly build in references and explanations.

Remember the slow reveal.

Oh… and it is great for SEO.

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  1. on Thursday 3, 2011

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