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How To Write A Time Jump In A Screenplay

Adam Scott

The biggest challenge facing any screenwriter is how to write a good time jump in a screenplay. The big plus for writers is that they are as simple as they are time-intensive.

For a screenwriter, a time jump is an opportunity to shake up the story by adding new plot lines.

A time jump does not necessarily need to make the movie more complex. In fact, writers often use these big jumps as a way to introduce new characters to a movie.

Here are some of the best ways to write a time jump into a screenplay.

Use a pilot episode

Rather than rushing through the plot or adding big new developments, use a pilot episode to set the tone for your movie. Use a short flashback to set the tone.

This will help you paint a clearer picture of your movie so it can then be rewritten to fit the entire movie.

By using a pilot episode, the rest of the movie will take shape much easier. The pilot episode should set up an important goal for your movie.

In the example from Avatar, it is the beginning of the journey, and the movie is designed to continue from here.

Consider the starfind more at @joshrh19 (Instagram)

The star of your movie is often the one who makes or breaks it. They must be appealing to audiences.

Make sure that your star is likable and relatable. A likable star will also be more easily understood by your audience.

Create memorable characters who you want audiences to care about. In the example from Miss Congeniality, the main character isn't likable.

The audience hates her. But she is likable enough that they actually root for her.

Samantha and Rudy from Miss Congeniality are likable characters because they are easily identifiable and you can understand them. They both have no care in the world about what other people think of them.

When it comes to likable characters, star power is critical. Amy Poehler was the star of the movie.

But she also helped sell the movie by working with the producers on many of the behind-the-scenes aspects.

Get characters involved

In any story, you need characters to interact. In this example from Team America, a lot of the main character's problems stem from the fact that he was cut out of the action.

He became a spectator. But he's a good enough actor that he can create some drama for himself.

You need characters to interact to create conflict in your screenplay. In the example from The Help, the black characters are angry that their lives aren't the same as the white characters.

This is a great opportunity for the white characters to interact with the black characters in a meaningful way.

Set up a larger conflict

In the pilot episode of Avatar, we have a conflict between humans and Na'vi. We do not have a conflict between humans and Na'vi in the film until the final act.

By using a pilot episode to establish this conflict, it sets the stage for everything to come.

The story does not start until the time jump takes place, and that story is clearly different than the earlier story. It is much more specific than the earlier story.

Set a conflict for your story, and you will set the tone for the rest of the movie. The more specific the conflict, the more likely it will be carried out in the rest of the movie.

Use a quick time jumpBlack and white photo of a man pointing at the camera

One of the most common ways to do a time jump is to jump into the story in a way that introduces a large conflict, and then use a quick time jump to resolve it. In the example from American

Gangster, we jump to a few months after their initial conversation.

We jump into this conflict to help us understand the story and get ready for the final conflict. A change of place is just the opening act to a story.

It is one of the first things you want to establish as a writer. But it doesn't tell the entire story.

Set up your characters

A small detail will help viewers identify the characters and what they are feeling. If the female character is wearing a long coat, then the audience can expect her to turn into a lover.

If the male character has a beard, then the audience can expect him to do drugs and have sex.

Creating characters will help the audience understand the story better. In the example from Meet the Fockers, we learn that the father and son were both competing for a woman.

This helps the audience understand the conflict of the film better.

Use visuals

Audiences have short attention spans. In fact, the average attention span for a film is just 10 minutes.

Make sure your characters are always moving to keep the audience engaged. Keep your characters moving in different directions and make sure they are doing something interesting.

In the example from Citizen Kane, we have a number of characters but none of the characters are actually interacting. The characters are just walking around the set and talking about something else.

But they are all clearly moving to keep the audience interested.

Use actors to kill charactersman in white and black jacket and pants sitting on black surface

The audience always likes to see violence. The more violent the scene, the better.

Set up a scene in which a character is killed and a small body movement or quick shot of blood gives the audience a sense of tension.

In the example from Happy Gilmore, the whole thing is a plot to kill a balding man. The directors made sure the entire scene was shot from the back of the man, so that the audience would focus on him and not the women.

Set a scene at night

When it comes to a black and white movie, there is a rule of thumb: color equals emotions, and darkness equals emotion. In the example from Where the Boys Are, we have to go through a sequence of scenes.

At the beginning, a gay man and a girl with long hair get together, and they eventually have sex. The only emotion you can see on their faces is fear.

But by the time the scene changes to the following scene, all of the actors are jumping around because they are partying. This brings the two characters out of their shell and the scene moves from fear to joy.

Use shadows

In the next example from Moonrise Kingdom, it is hard to see much emotion on the characters' faces, so the directors had to find other ways to make them seem emotionally intense. There are a few scenes in which the actors walk down a dark street.

While one actor is moving, the other is in shadow.

This creates a feeling of anxiety in the viewer.


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