Monday, September 5, 2016

J is for Jump Cut

Ana muses about a technique for opening stories

In his great little book, Hooked, Les Egerton discusses techniques for hooking a reader on page one and never letting them go.

In the early 1900s, silent films adopted the techniques used in novels. Novels were expected to have lyrical transitions that explained the next scene would be set, so "Meanwhile, Back On The Ranch..." appeared on the big screen explaining where the next scene would be set.

In 1960, French film director Jean-Luc Goddard changed everything about how films and novels were structured. He invented the Jump Cut out of financial necessity. He'd shot eight thousand meters of film, and his producers allowed only five thousand meters. He had to drastically cut the film or it would not be financially viable, so he and his editor cut the transition scenes.

Some critics hated it, but some loved it, and love prevailed.

We know now to open stories with action, close as possible to the Inciting Incident. Television and movies have trained readers to expect action, not descriptions, on the first page. Backstory is to be doled out through the story, not be the opening chapter.

All because a director had more footage than allowed.


  1. I'm quite surprised the jump cut came in movies as late as the 1960s. Although I recall films with the words 'Two Weeks Later' or similar on the screen, I can think of others where there were no transition scenes like that. It seems that today's movies and TV dramas jump around all over the place e.g. from upstairs to downstairs in Downton Abbey. I'm not sure that would work in novels though, as in many cases we still need a smooth transition from one scene to another without writing 'Two Weeks Later' or simply jumping ahead. Getting that smooth transition can often be quite difficult!

  2. Transitions are always tricky. Sometimes a smooth path from A to B to C works best, other times a jump cut is the most effective technique. Interesting post!

  3. An interesting post. I haven't yet tried a jump cut and have always been hesitant about doing it