Jump Cuts on the Page



close up head & shoulders golden Labrador with pink tongue hanging out

by Libby Sommer:

After a big storm, a golden Labrador goes missing in Sydney’s Cooper Park. This is the scene that begins my new novel-in-progress. I use the search for the dog as a linking device for my characters who are all at a turning point in their lives. I jump cut between discreet scenes (not a continuous narrative) which, unfortunately, is very confusing to the readers in my weekly feedback group.

Transitions are important in fiction because you can’t possibly show or account for every moment in a character’s day, week, or life. A story may stretch over years—readers don’t need to know what happened every minute of those years. A scene transition takes characters and readers to a new location, a new time, or a new point of view.

Scene transitions in movies are easy. The screen fades to black at just the right moment, and when it lights up again, you’re watching a new scene. But how do you write transitions on the page? How does your character get from Point A to Point B without too much boring detail and telling description?

One way to write scene transitions in novels is to Jump Cut. The term usually refers to Cinema.

‘When Jean-Luc Godard popularized the jump cut in 1959 when he made his breakthrough movie Breathless, it has since become a useful and intriguing editing tool. For those of you who don’t know what a jump cut is: (per Wikipedia): “A jump cut is a cut in film editing in which two sequential shots of the same subject are taken from camera positions that vary only slightly. This type of edit causes the subject of the shots to appear to “jump” position in a discontinuous way.”’ – posted by Tyler on Southern Vision

‘The quick-paced German thriller throbs with jump cuts, zoom shots and the speedy sense of an instinctual filmmaker.’ – Charles Taylor, reviewing Run Lola Run

If you want to keep the narrative moving at a fast pace, you can jump cut on the page from scene to scene. But each scene needs to have a beginning a middle and an end.

This technique can be confusing at times, but effective and very readable.

One way to make Jump Cuts on the Page less confusing is to have a strong sense of place. The place is the setting of the story, where the action is located. Setting can be the connective tissue. For me it’s Cooper Park with its cafe, tennis courts, children’s playground, etc.  So, the missing dog, the park and the cafe lessen the confusion, make the transitions smoother – hopefully.

golden Labrador and black and white cat on black leather couch

What about you? Do you find writing scene transitions to be one of the most challenging aspects of writing a novel?

15 thoughts on “Jump Cuts on the Page

  1. Thank you very much for your good wishes. In fact, I am writing my sixth manuscript. My Year With Sammy was number five, The Crystal Ballroom number four, and I’ve posted number three to my publisher. Waiting to hear back. It took five books to get accepted by a publisher and now I’m making my way backwards (as well as forwards) 🙂

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  2. Did you do any rewrites on the earlier manuscripts prior to resubmission, or did the publisher accept them as written once you’d made that crucial breakthrough?


  3. i rewrite my manuscripts endlessly. i’ve only had two manuscripts accepted so far. still waiting to hear about the third one. i get feedback from others as i write (my weekly writing group), and then ask for readers for the final manuscript. i paid professional writers/mentors to read my earlier manuscripts and then reworked them. writing is rewriting, as we know. you only get one chance when you send a manuscript to a publisher or an agent, so the manuscript needs to be as perfect as you can make it.

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  4. If you’re using scenery to transition, are you writing third person? If find it easier to jump cut when splicing two different narrative points of view together. First MC, Second MC, First MC, etc. I don’t usually jump cut within a scene, if I understand this term properly. I’m writing a YA in first person, so the trick is to ground the reader immediately in each new scene by voice and location. I do passage of time between scenes rather than within scenes. Are you saying you do it within one scene like a movie does? If so, I’d love to see an example from one of your published books.

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    1. yes, i’m writing third person. but multiple third persons. i use dialogue/voice mostly to transition. they are like mini new chapters. yes, a different POV each time. this is a new technique i am using for my current novel-in-progress. in my two published books, My Year With Sammy and The Crystal Ballroom (Ginninderra Press) i did not jump cut as each is from a first person POV. so that’s the difference you have identified. jump cuts only work for multiple third person POVs 🙂 thanks so much for your comment. i might use an example of my technique in a future blog post. thanks for the idea 🙂

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      1. I was especially interested as I am splicing scenes together in my book, too, wondering when to dip into the action and when to elide. The author has such awesome power to know what’s going to happen and just drop hints. It’s such fun.

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      2. yes, writing can be fun. at other times, excruciatingly difficult 🙂 good luck with splicing your scenes together in your new book. that balance between scene and summary when writing gets easier as we become more experienced.

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  5. When I was a beginning writer, I started each scene with “A week later,…” Ugh. Ha. Fortunately, that version was edited to death. I don’t find these as difficult now, but they do need some care. I hadn’t heard of the jump cut. It’s an interesting device.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. i’ve made the term up: Jump Cut on the Page. i come from a film and tv background and that’s where the term Jump Cut originates. i’ve always been interested in ‘transitions’ and how one sets the story out on the page to show meaning. so much to keep on learning about writing process and its possibilities 🙂

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