I put my kids in front of the computer to watch “E.T.” as a generational experiment, to see if it takes. Right away, Charlotte (7) starts firing off questions: Who’s that? Where are they going? Is he a bad guy? The story has started in medias res, “in the middle of things.”
After the movie we put on music videos. Lily likes a song called “Skinny Love” and I jump at the chance to connect with her, but it’s not Bon Iver, it’s a cover by someone called Birdy.
We make a deal to play both versions side-by-side and vote on the best.
The Birdy video features the somber and talented artist drifting through muted scenes, lingering by a window with dead flies. It’s that kind of mopey self-indulgence I was into with The Smiths and never grew out of.
I say let’s watch this instead, and I put on a different female artist who goes by the moniker The Knife. It’s called “When I Grow Up,” and features a similar somber girl, but she’s walking out on a diving board above a swimming pool that’s full of dead leaves.
Again, Charlotte is firing off questions: What’s she doing? Why’s she dancing like that? Daddy, I’m scared.
This is the sign of good art, good film, good music video. In story-telling, give your readers questions, don’t give them answers. Let them come to it on their own, treat them like adults.
We get enough spoon-fed content, it’s refreshing to use our minds. Which is why perhaps we retreat to books, to film, to museums: to come to things on our own terms.
Jeff Tweedy from Wilco said they’d write pop songs and then deconstruct them, put them back together again. That’s what makes it interesting, something seems off or missing, unexpected.
The writer Lawrence Block gives his advice about fiction writing: take your first chapter and flip it. Start with the second one, instead.
What are some of your favorite first scenes from books or movies, that start in the middle? (Mine is the first scene from Episode 1 of Lost.)