Every story needs scene breaks, but what exactly are they and why do we use them?Writers use scene breaks for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, they are a way of showing the reader that there is a normal break in the narrative. This is a way for the reader to take a breather from continual narrative and reflect on previous chapters or scenes. More importantly, it also gives the writer the opportunity to move the story forward.
There are two ways to denote a scene break. First there is the clean space which leaves a gap between the end of one scene and the beginning of the new scene. The second one is the use of three asterisks centred on the page. This is known as asterism (from the Greek word for star).Writers should remember that scene breaks in novels differ slightly from short stories because the requirements in terms of scene breaks can differ between editors and publications.
Where novels are concerned, writers use double line spacing, so to show a scene break they leave a clean blank space between the end of the last scene to the beginning of the new scene, and they do this by pressing the ‘RETURN’ button on the keypad three times:↲
This ‘three returns’ method then gives a wide enough space to denote to the reader that the new scene is a completely separate scene from the previous one. It defines a nice clear break.
For some short stories, you may be working to a specific requirement of single line spacing (or even 1.5 spacing) requested by an editor or publisher, so it’s appropriate to return four or five times to denote a large enough clean break. It doesn’t have to be precise – these are just guides, after all – but once you do it, you must stick to that throughout the story so that the breaks remain consistent and clean.So, why do we need scene breaks? Are they really necessary?
In truth, yes we need them and there are several reasons why they’re required, so I will try to explain how they work and why.
1. To show a change of scene from one location to another
Scenes are never constant; they switch from one place to another to keep the momentum of the story going, so rather than spend two pages describing how the characters move from one location to the next during a lull in the action, or how a scene changes from one to the other, it’s much simpler to insert a break.
The new scene then starts with a new location, without the need for the writer to explain everything. For example:
Jason slammed the phone down, the conversation with David rattling around his head like a loose pebble. He grabbed his car keys and rushed out the door. He got in the car and raced out of the gates, determined to find David.
(SCENE BREAK HERE)
Here, the example shows how a simple scene break helps to magically transport the character and the reader to the next new scene. It’s done seamlessly and unobtrusively and feels natural to the story.
2. To show a change of character viewpoint
Scene breaks are also a perfect way to show a change of viewpoint from one character to another, and that’s because viewpoints should never change mid-scene. The end result will be confusing and disjointed and won’t be an enjoyable read.
If you want to concentrate viewpoint on a new character, always insert a scene break and start your new scene. For example:
Dave stirred the coffee. ‘Isn’t it about time you kissed and made up with Anna? You two can’t avoid each other forever.’
Jane had initially decided against contacting Anna, but the enforced silence between them now grated against her. It had been so long that she had forgotten what had sparked their fall out three years ago.
‘Too much time has passed,’ Jane said. ‘Besides, there’s too much resentment. She probably hates me even more.’
(SCENE BREAK HERE)
Anna stared at the photograph of Jane and Dave. She looked up at her husband. ‘Look what I just found, hidden in my old purse…’
Here the scene break shows the scene ending with Jane and then beginning a new scene with Anna, with the story from her viewpoint. It’s done cleanly and seamlessly and this is what writers should aim for.
In part 2, we’ll continue our look at why we need scene breaks in our stories, and we’ll also look at knowing when to insert them, because it’s just as important to know when to use them as well as knowing why.
Next week: Scene Breaks – Part 2