A Hearty “No Thank You” to Interstitial Cut Scenes in Novels

In my recent reading, I’ve discovered something: I dislike the use of interstitial cut scenes. In particular when used to “Announce Off-Screen Badness”. Apocalypse World provides the Master of Ceremonies with a series of moves. One move foreshadows future adversity—Announce Off-Screen Badness.

The anatomy of an interstitial cut scene:

  1. It occurs between chapters. The prologue from Game of Thrones is not an interstitial cut scene.
  2. It is 2 or so pages, something shorter than most other chapters.
  3. The narrative jumps to third-person limited, focusing on painting a scene, usually one outside the purview of the main characters.
  4. OPTIONALLY: The chapter introduces a likely opponent or complication.

Rephrasing that: the author crafts a short chapter with the sole purpose of describing some imminent or looming source of conflict. And while they “show” me the genesis of this calamity, it feels like a really heavy handed foreshadowing—no “telling” me—that the main characters will face this calamity. I do prefer the Show, Don’t Tell writing technique.

In showing me these off-camera happenings, I feel a diminishment of suspense, as though the author got lazy (or rushed). If some event—especially triggered by a character in the book—gives rise to a big bad monster, I would rather learn about the monster by rumors or second-hand accounts. Then, as the story progresses, the author can reveal events from the monster that strike closer and closer to the main character(s).

In an interstitial cut scene, don’t show me how the monster takes shape—Describing the tendrils and blood smells of a declarative statement. When writing, I leverage two grammar editors: Grammarly and Write Good. I set Write Good to create warnings when I use “to be”, a violation of E-Prime Writing. I have found that aiming for E-Prime compliant writing improves my creativity and pushes me to describe something instead of declaring something.

Instead show me the impact of the monster, in particular from other accounts or describing the crime scene. Eventually, reveal that badness on screen, and let the foreshadowing fall into place. Use a cut scene or introduce a minor character to convey that information.

Who among the cast of characters can bear witness to the intentions of the interstitial cut scene? What grim portents, as an author, can you set in motion? How will you telegraph to the reader that doom approaches the main characters?

I say “No thank you” to interstitial cut scenes, because I believe authors can do better.