I love it when a movie drops me off in the middle of the action with no exposition about what's happening. I like that the story unfolds as I am submerged further into this foreign, yet familiar, world. Starting a story in the middle is a literary device called in medias res. The term is officially defined as, "in or into the middle of events or a narrative." Great examples of the technique include texts as old as Homer's Odyssey.
This doesn't mean tossing a car chase into the opening credits. One blogger writes, "In medias res means we start as close to the overall story problem as possible" (Lamb). The movie Drive (2011) is a good example. We are dropped into the driver's life as he prepares to do another job. The voice over says, "...hundred thousand streets in this city, you don't need to know the route. You give me a time and place, I give you a five minute window. Those five minutes I'm yours. Whatever goes down I'm yours. Minute either side you're on your own..."(Source: IMSDB). You don't know who he is or who he's talking to, but after about 10 minutes, you'll know that while this may be the beginning for you, it certainly isn't for him.
I often use in medias res in my storyboards. Here's a quick and dirty example.
I don't know about you, but I know which course I'd rather take. We will soon get to who Roselle is and why she's relevant. The point is, in some cases, that exposition may not be necessary on slide one.
This is not a trick to grab the learner's attention. The truth is no story starts at the beginning. What's happening now is influenced (if not created) by what happened before. In real life, we may never learn about past events and the influence they have over the current circumstances and the people involved. In our sample passage above, it is possible that a long-time employee may quit abruptly without the new supervisor knowing why. She'll have to find the answers by asking, listening, watching, and waiting -- which is more than likely the skills we are teaching her in the course. Starting in medias res just puts us closer to the problem from the beginning.
If you design courses and haven't tried in medias res, give it a shot.
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Hadiya Nuriddin is the CEO of Focus Learning Solutions and the founder of Fresh Eye Reviews.
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