In Medias Res: For Marketing Communicators And Dorks Alike


I am a big fan of using story when we are advocating for our businesses, brands, or big ideas. I believe that story is the royal road to understandable and engaging communication. It’s a time-saver, actually. Art: enhancing efficiency. Who would have thought?

In my own business, I offer story-based communications services, which means different things at different times. The ‘story’ in ‘story-based communication’ is anything that helps a reader or a listener to effortlessly imagine a concrete situation, rather than struggle to comprehend abstract ideas. That might mean I’m only using a briefly described scenario, example, or analogy, depending on the communications piece. But whenever it is appropriate or effective, I will include a fleshier, more traditionally story-like narrative. And when I do that, I get to use dorky literary devices. Why not? These devices exist to make the stories we read ‘for pleasure’ more interesting, compelling, and artful, and they function exactly the same way when we use them in business storytelling.

‘In medias res’ (from the Latin for ‘in the midst of things’) is a storytelling technique that builds intrigue quickly by starting the narrative from the middle of the action rather than the beginning. So in order to understand the significance of the scenario they have wandered into, the reader or viewer has to keep paying attention. They have to hang around to hear the ‘backstory’.

Here’s a quick example. When I helped the nutritionist Melanie Brown Preston to rewrite her website content, I discovered a perfect way to use ‘in medias res’ to amp up the storytelling juiciness of her ‘About Melanie’ page. She had written a wonderful account of her life in Ibiza and how her early exposure to traditional Ibizan food culture informed her values as a nutritionist. The major edit I made was rearranging the sequence of events. I chose to begin her account with a paragraph about receiving a phone call from her daughter. In Melanie’s original draft, this detail about the phone call occurred closer to the end of the story. But I felt that this phone call framed the account beautifully by establishing the significance of the story right off the bat. Readers understand that these details about life in Ibiza matter because they are ultimately about the health and wellbeing of children—Melanie’s as well as their own. And ‘health of children’ happens to be the big, major, crucially important consumer benefit that Melanie’s services represent. For this communications piece, ‘in medias res’ brings all the elements together exactly the way we want. So after my rewrite, this was how Melanie’s story began:

One day, when my eldest daughter Gisella was in her second year of chiropractic college, she phoned me, completely out of the blue. She wanted to thank me. She was grateful, she explained, for her healthy body and perfect immune system. She was grateful for the healthy food I had always fed her and the exercise I had always encouraged her to do. She was grateful that she had only been on antibiotics once in her entire life. This is the phone call that I remember when I contemplate my life experiences and how they inform the mission of the Food Reconnection. I simply think about my thriving, successful, happy children and it all comes into sharp focus. Allow me to explain by telling you a little bit about my life.

In medias res. A neat storytelling technique, a new Latin phrase, and a less boring Internet. All in a day’s work, no?

[Author: Kristin van Vloten]

December 23, 2014

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