in media res

How Come The Fault In Our Stars Opening Works?


Dear Editor…

I am currently devouring your Writing New Adult Fiction. You strongly encourage authors to jump into the action from the very first sentence but a few current best sellers begin with backstory or as the day is dawning, as in The Fault in Our Stars and If I Stay. Can you give any insight as to what makes those slower beginnings work so well?

Thank you,

Dear Diane…

In media res, or “in the middle of the action,” is about timing your book’s opening so that readers join a life in progress rather than shake your hand and read your cast list. This strategy is coupled with other strategies intended to intrigue readers, like piquing curiosity, startling them, triggering fears, etc. The Fault in Our Stars opens with Hazel going to the Support Group meeting where she’ll meet the love of her life. It’s the right time to enter her life even though the action isn’t bold. John Green then startles readers with first lines that defy expectations: a teen poo-poos her impending death. He then makes sure all teens can relate to that teen narrator even though they don’t suffer terminal cancer: Hazel suffers adults who claim to know how she should handle her problem because they are adults and adults know best. I feel your suffering, fellow teen! Her description of the meeting and how she’s been pushed to go feels more like commiserating with peers than a backstory dump. Slow? For those who want more action, perhaps. But the book’s success suggests its opening intrigues. I love this question and will explore If I Stay‘s opening in the next post.

Happy writing!
The Editor