Scene breaks transition from one place to another, one time to another, or one character to another.
Building a scene
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.
Sometimes a scene is a super paragraph or a mini chapter. A paragraph presents a single idea: 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.
The transition could be simply words: “After driving to San Francisco” or “After they unearthed the body,” even something simple like “Later in the day.” Naming a different character and continuing the story from his/her/their point of view is 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, transition to another scene, and then come back to the action begun in the first scene to build suspense.
Creating the scene break
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 visual scene break may be as simple as an extra line or two between what just happened and when/where the reader is “now.”
- Some writers use three to five non-letter characters, such as the pound sign or the asterisk (with a blank line above and below).
- This is especially helpful if the transition occurs at the bottom of a page.
- A scene break could also be written.
- Two days later,
- After the storm passed,
- Meanwhile, back at the ranch (for those who remember Roy Rogers’ movies),
A scene break may accomplish any or all of these tasks:
- 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.
Sometimes the break might occur within a dialogue, within conversation between two characters. Rather than filling the time with frivolous details, a scene break in the middle indicates that time has passed but they are still talking. Of course, this can be done with words (“They walked on, deep in conversation”).
Do we have any idea who …" "Not a clue. All I know is that James wasn't where he said he was." "What about Betsy?" "She couldn't have done it, because she's not tall enough to reach it."
+ + +
"I just can't figure out who, or why, anyone would do such a thing." "Beats me."
The scene break here indicates that nothing the reader needs to know has been discussed, but time has passed.
(I used plus signs instead of asterisks or pound signs, because either of them created something other than what I wanted.)
Credit: Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash