There’s a very thoughtful video by Every Frame a Painting about the editing in Jackie Chan’s movies that directors and editors the world over ought to watch, but it’s a surprisingly relevant video for writers as well. In some ways we have a lot more freedom than people in the film industry; an entire story without a cut is more easily done than a film in a single continuous shot, and to go the other way, a section of a story can be a single sentence and not, if done well, cause any confusion. There’s also a lot less need to worry about the budget when writing a story. That said, there is still a lot we can learn from other art forms, like film. Here are a few questions to think about:
How do you use the establishing shot? A lot of stories begin in a somewhat aimless manner. That’s no surprise—a lot of us don’t know exactly where we’re going right at stories’ start. When you begin to revise, your priorities have to shift from finding the story to making sure that it is told in the most compelling way it can be, which can mean cutting the very start until you have something that’s both compelling and does the necessary work to set up the rest of the story.
If you’ve described the environment, how can you make that description relevant later? Beyond the opening, the language of film gives us another way of looking at the old writing adage “every part of the story should be doing more than one thing,” whether that be characterization, world-building, or setting the tone. Description should never be just that—while you don’t necessarily have to have someone get knocked down the staircase you just described, make sure your scene setting is doing work to support other elements of the story.
When you move from one scene to the next, when do you make that transition? Much of the video talks about cutting on the action vs. cutting to emphasize the action. A lot of stories do exactly what Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou criticize in their video: cut when the drama happens, rather than when its impact can be felt. Try pushing the scene just a little bit further after some plot or character development so that your readers can really feel it. Worst case scenario, it doesn’t work out and you throw it out later—editing, after all, is an ongoing process.
Gideon Simons is a first year fiction writer at Virginia Tech. He is the fiction editor for the minnesota review.