In medias ras – in the middle – drops us into the middle of a story and grabs our attention. Then through flashbacks, we learn the full story. It’s been used in epic movie series like James Bond, and Indiana Jones. In complete contrast it was also used in Forrest Gump.
For 58 years Eon Productions has used the same pattern every time with the 24 James Bond movies. Their combined gross? Over Seven Billion dollars.
The style sucks us into a spot of high tense action. Small wonder it’s so popular for the action genre.
But as Forrest Gump shows us, it’s also useful in other situations. Situations that are much closer to what we need in alternative health stories.
Our hero is the storyteller…
We meet Forrest sitting at a bus stop in Savannah, Georgia. A white feather drifts down and lands at his feet.
Carefully, Forrest leans down to pick it up.
As the camera pans from the ground up we note his aged running shoes, neat pale grey business suit, a box of chocolates in his lap, and buttoned-up blue-plaid shirt.
He opens the suitcase sitting next to him, and gently tucks the feather inside the book Curious George.
A young woman in a crisp white nursing uniform joins him on the bench to wait for her bus.
Never knowing a stranger, Forrest offers the woman chocolate from his box but she shakes her head keeping her focus on the People magazine she holds..
“My Mama says life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
“Those are nice looking shoes. I’ll bet you can walk all day and your feet won’t hurt”.
She takes her gaze from her People magazine to reach down and slide one hand inside a shoe to rub her foot. “My feet hurt.”
Forrest muses. “I’ve worn all sorts of shoes. I‘ll bet if I think about it I can remember my first pair of shoes.”
We flashback to Forrest as a child in his doctor’s office. The screen focuses on Forrest’s feet encased in braces that extend to his knees.
“His legs are strong but his back is as crooked as a politician,” states the Doctor flatly to Forrest’s Mother. “We’ll get him sorted out.”
His mother confronts the principal who tries to turn Forrest down as a student. Forrest scored 75 on the IQ test.
Holding a small chalkboard in his hands he shows her the chart he has drawn of IQ standards.
“These folk are very high, smart. This is the school standard. And here is where Forrest is.” He taps below the school standard line with his pencil.
His Mama Fights for Him
As with all things about her son, his mother will have none of it. She argues with him and it’s very quickly we see Forrest waiting to get on the school bus.
Clearly Mom isn’t going to allow anything like a little slowness to hinder her boy.
His first bus ride is disturbing. Child after child blocks the seat next to them preventing Forrest from sitting down.
“Not here, it’s saved.”
“Can’t sit here.”
He moves toward the rear of the bus.
“You can sit here if you want,” the little blonde girl says softly.
Forrest maneuvers into the seat.
“Are you stupid?”
“Mama says, stupid is as stupid does.”
“My name is Jenny.”
“I’m Forrest Gump.”
They were like “peas and carrots,” best friends.
Run, Forrest run!
When boys start picking on Forrest as he and Jenny are walking home and throwing dirt clods and rocks at him she yells, “Run, Forrest, run!”
We see him racing down the road, the braces breaking and flying off in bits. Forrest just runs faster.
The words become a theme song that follows Forrest throughout his life.
In highschool boys chase him in a pickup. Forrest shifts into high gear, outruns the truck, and jumps a fence to get away.
The fastest runner football coaches have ever seen, Forrest becomes the king of the gridiron and earns a college scholarship.
Then he joins the army.
The bus ride to bootcamp is a repeat of Forrest’s first ride to school.
This time his rescuer is a big African-American guy.
“My given name is Benjamin Buford Blue, but people call me Bubba. Just like one of them ol’ redneck boys. Can you believe that? “
“My name’s Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump”.
Forrest excels in bootcamp.
“You just say, YES SIR, MISTER DRILL SERGEANT! and make your bed nice and tight.”
He sets a new record for tearing down and reassembling his rifle. And he runs.
Amidst the backdrop of Bootcamp and Vietnam, Bubba talks constantly…teaching Forrest all about the shrimping business. He even elicits a promise from Forrest to go into the business with him after the war.
Then their platoon is attacked in the true Vietnam war style.
Forrest does what he’s told and runs to the rear. But he quickly realizes his friend Bubba is no longer with him.
On his way back to find Bubba, he keeps getting diverted to rescue others.
Finally, he finds Bubba near the river. His friend has been severely injured and Bubba’s blood coats Forrest’s hands as he holds Bubba.
“Bubba was my best good friend. And even I know that ain’t something you can find just around the corner. Bubba was going to be a shrimping boat captain, but instead, he died right there by that river in Vietnam.”
I remember the sting of tears at his words. Though Forrest could save so many others, he couldn’t save his friend…
Underdog stories are powerful
I’ve known others, my sister included, who like Bubba faced what seemed like insurmountable odds. They just wanted to be an accepted member of society.
They were surrounded by people who only saw them as different.
In ignorance, many people seem to fear differences. I remember in high school when a guy I liked jerked back as my sister with cerebral palsy reached out to him.
He didn’t want her to touch him…
I never dated him again.
Stories like Forrest and my sister are poignant, memorable and evoke deep emotions in us.
We love to see the underdog achieve success.
They have a power like no other.
Here’s a tip…
It’s possible to take the same story and tell it in different ways. Some stories may only fit one format. Others can be viewed through several different lenses.
Forrest’s story could have been told in a linear fashion like a biography. We could have followed the child as he overcomes one challenge after the other.
Starting the story at the bus stop, in medias ras, gives us a different perspective. It also allows Forrest to tell his own story from his own viewpoint.
I think his viewpoint is part of what makes the story such a success. This wouldn’t have been possible in a linear fashion.
It effectively sets the hook in our attention. It emotionally connects us with Forrest’s feelings and perspective.
Totally different content but just as effective as the opening from an Indiana Jones or James Bond hi-action movie.
Three techniques to keep in mind as you write in medias ras…
- Don’t start at the beginning.
The beginning makes a story linear, so a different format. Too close to the end and it would spoil the reason to read.
The in medias ras can start anywhere behind the opening. It can be the midpoint or even later. The goal is to get the reader/viewer’s attention and keep them with you.
Look for a place, like Forrest Gump’s park bench where you can set the stage and hook the reader. You can also use it to establish your narrator.
We aren’t seeing the world through his eyes. It might feel that way in the book version. But in the movie we see Forrest. But we view the world from his perspective through his words and telling of the story.
- Use flashbacks
Once you have your readers’ attention and the stage set, you flashback to the beginning. Now let the hero, if you’ve chosen him as the narrator tell his story. Let the reader follow as you unfold the hero’s experiences.
In Forrest Gump, the director keeps us anchored to the park bench so we see how different listeners respond to Gump’s tale.
He takes periodic breaks from telling the story to revisit the bench and see how the person now listening is responding to his tale.
Then we are taken on another flashback to pick up the story at a later point in Forrest’s life.
- Tie into the in medias res point
As your story reaches the in medias res point, it is important to tie back into that. The director does that beautifully in Forrest Gump.
The sweet elderly woman seems enchanted by his story. She eagerly helps Forrest with directions to where he needs to go setting him off toward the rest of the story.
It’s so powerful because of the emotion involved. We feel Forrest’s emotions. His embarrassments, challenges, and a commitment to be the best he can be.
Once you have anchored the reader to your in medias res point, move forward with your hero to the end of the story.
Use their story to guide your customer to a solution that will improve their life.
Judith Culp Pearson is a problem solver. She puts those problem-solving skills to work to help others. She loves to help people tell their personal stories, their product stories, and their client success stories.