Cut to the chase

In media res – in the middle of a sequence of events, as in a literary narrative

Peter FitzSimons – journalist, broadcaster, author, speaker, former Wallaby – delivered a keynote address recently where he spoke on the importance of story and in particular how he found the right way to tell the stories that matter to him. 

The method FitzSimons descibed reminded me of a comment by educationalist Leonard Sax, who says: draw boys into reading by starting ‘in media res’  – in the middle of the story or with the action.

Peter’s books range from sports biographies (Nick Farr-Jones; Les Darcy) to the stories of major battles in Australian history (Tobruk; Kokoda) and most recently Charles Kingsford-Smith and Those Magnificent Men. (Find out more about the books here.) To get right at the meat in a story he often uses little know vignettes which are uncovered in research – the soldiers’ reaction immediately after Hitler’s death for instance – to make a big story personal. He has equal success in using this method as a speaker.

Peter credits American writer Gary Smith with teaching him how to pull a reader right into the story. Smith writes for Sports Illustrated and has been one of it’s top performers for some years.

Smith doesn’t start an article by describing the cafe where he is meeting his subject. He begins a piece on golfer, David Duval, by describing a painful scene from Duval’s childhood, pulling no punches and showing why it might be that Duval has a lot of grit. (No Man Is An Island by Gary Smith)

A more recent piece, an article on surfer Kelly Slater from earlier this year, Ready For The Next Wave, Smith introduces this way: “Kelly Slater is winning world titles again—a record nine and counting—and planning to bring his sport to the masses. But before he could do that, the uneasy rider had to solve the nagging mystery of why he surfed.”

Sports Illustrated is a great example of a magazine with a large, searchable archive of articles, many of which will fall into the theme of belonging. Search for some more of Gary Smith’s stories, or seek out similar quality articles on topics of interest.

Photo: Peter FitzSimons at Mosman Library Originally uploaded by Mosman Library

More from Shaun Tan

Panel Borders: The Art of Shaun Tan is a podcast interview with Tan which allows him wide scope to relate the history and experience of his writing and illustrating life. In particular we get some great insight into Tan’s two major recent works, The Arrival and Tales From Outer Suburbia.

Hearing Shaun Tan speak about his art (and in this case also about other graphic artists) is an illuminating experience. Starting out as an aspiring writer in his teens (and treasuring the experience of his first rejection letter, which made him feel like a real writer) Tan kept getting rejected until he happened to add an illustration with one story he submitted to a scifi mag. They still didn’t want the story but published the picture as their cover.

Panel Borders is a longer, podcast version of a UK radio show about comics presented by Alex Fitch. The Art of Shaun Tan was broadcast on 11th June, 2009 in an edited version as an episode of Strip! on Resonance 104.4 FM in the UK. You can download the podcast from the Panel Borders website, or subscribe via iTunes.

[The Skull Boy illustration on this page is by Gareth Courage and is the cover of a mock graphic novel which he designed to be used in a low budget film. See the rest here.]
SKULL BOY Originally uploaded by Gareth Courage