A scene break is a transition between scenes. (Yes, I know, that’s obvious.) It may be indicated by extra line spaces or by several spaced characters (i.e., “# # # # #”) between line spaces. (Three or five symbols is better than a full line.) A printed character makes the line break more obvious if the scene break comes at the bottom of a page.
Scenes may be long or short. Often scenes fill an entire chapter so that no break is necessary to indicate a transition. Other times a scene may be only a page or two, even only a paragraph or two.
Something happens in each scene. It may be bad, or it may be good. Something changes to move the story forward. It might be the “disaster” causing conflict in the character (a “cliff hanger”) or what the character does in response. It could include description of the setting, of a character, or of the background. Sometimes the scene includes both the conflict and the response.
Think of a scene as a super paragraph or a mini chapter. A paragraph presents a single idea, ending with a change of time, action or description. A scene shows a continuous unit of action, changing to indicate the passing of time, a shift in the action, or a change in the point of view.
Visual scene breaks help the reader recognize the transition in place or time or character. They have become more common as writers attempt to cut unnecessary words.
A scene break could be simply words: “After driving to San Francisco” or “After they unearthed the body.” Naming a different character and continuing the story from his/her/their point of view would be better with some kind of printed break to warn the reader of the transition.
Interrupting a scene with a break and then continuing on with the same action and characters would confuse the reader, as would putting a period in the middle of a sentence. However, a scene may end, change to another scene, and then come back to the action begun in the first scene to build suspense.
A scene break can show a transition as it can
- change the point of view within a chapter.
- show a change in setting or time, forward or backward (to include backstory).
- build tension if the scene ends at a pivotal moment, creating a cliff hanger.
- skip over the common ordinary moments that would bore the reader. It will catch the reader’s attention better than a detailed description of someone changing his clothes, brushing his teeth, and combing his hair.