What is this narrative technique?
May 8, 2009 5:55 AM   Subscribe

What is the name for the narrative technique whereby you start in media res in the middle of the story and then jump back to the beginning to tell the story in a nromal linear fashion?

Examples might include Swordfish (film) or Scott Lynch's Red Seas Under Red Skies (novel). There are loads of other examples but I can't think of any off the top of my head (although there is a very sophisticated version of this in Serenity).
posted by ninebelow to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
isn't it just called in media res?
posted by TheOtherGuy at 6:07 AM on May 8, 2009

What is the name for the narrative technique whereby you start in media res in the middle of the story

I think you answered your question before you finished asking it, unless I'm not understanding you correctly.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:10 AM on May 8, 2009

If the flashback forms the present of the story, it would be Analepsis:
posted by dov at 6:10 AM on May 8, 2009

posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:14 AM on May 8, 2009

By the way, it's in medias res, not media.
posted by dfan at 6:21 AM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, in medias res, oops.

What I was thinking of is essentially a linear narrative that happens to start in the middle at point X then returns to the beginning and moves forward to point X and beyond. This is different to a flashback structure that starts at X and progresses from there whilst fleshing out the story through flashback. Perhaps there isn't a word for it.
posted by ninebelow at 6:39 AM on May 8, 2009

There may not be a word for it. Singin' in the Rain does this.
posted by argybarg at 7:05 AM on May 8, 2009

So you want a specific label for a story structure that starts at X, then goes back to pre-X in one lump, hits X and then goes on to post-X; as opposed to starts at X and then goes back to pre-X as needed to flesh things out?

I think in medias res is the specific phrase for the first structure, and the second form is just one that utilizes some flashbacks.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:15 AM on May 8, 2009

Brick is another good example of this. And yes, in medias res is exactly what you'd call it.
posted by escabeche at 8:48 AM on May 8, 2009

So after the initial sequence, the narrative returns to the 'real beginning' of the story and then proceeds all the way through to the end? In that case, the flashback would instead be a flashforward - technically a prolepsis. I don't think there's a specific term for this; you could go with proleptic narrative maybe.
posted by permafrost at 9:01 AM on May 8, 2009

Prolepsis, dov's link has a great example.
posted by Kattullus at 9:01 AM on May 8, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire also does this.
posted by pmdboi at 9:01 AM on May 8, 2009

Doesn't Chronicle of a Death Foretold do this? You know roughly what happens just by looking at the title.
posted by oaf at 9:32 AM on May 8, 2009

I've always called this a 'wraparound.'
posted by tomboko at 9:43 AM on May 8, 2009


I've always considered framing more like a story (or multiple stories) within a larger frame story, like Canterbury Tales, Arabian Nights, or The Princess Bride. Where the characters in the frame aren't participants in the story or stories told within the frame. But maybe there is some overlap, as in Heart of Darkness, where the character telling the story was involved in the story he tells. Framed stories don't start in the middle of action and flashback, though, they start and end with the framing story.

But the specific narrative you are talking about, I've always thought of as flashback narrative, and I don't think I've heard any other more formal term.
posted by JenMarie at 10:51 AM on May 8, 2009

Isn't this how The Odyssey works? That was where I first recall hearing the term.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:41 AM on May 8, 2009

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