Tricks of the Trade: Section Breaks vs. Scene Breaks

Have you noticed that when you read a novel, sometimes a break in a scene is depicted by an asterisks or some other fancy symbol, and sometimes there is only a wide space before a new scene begins? What’s the difference between the two, and how do you know which to use?

A scene break is hitting enter (or return) three times, in a double-spaced document, to leave two blank lines between one section of text and the next section of text. A scene break is used to indicate time passing or a change of location that continues in the same scene. It’s a separation between related scenes. In the following example, you can see how the scene break shows that time has passed.

Ex:

          Every so often Spencer turned around to see Isabel engrossed

in conversation with Beth. Their giggles haunted him throughout the flight.

 .

 .

          Claustrophobia. Spencer had never understood the full meaning

of that word until now. He played with the air nozzle above his seat, as if

it offered some secret…

.

A section break is made by hitting enter to leave one blank line, centering three asterisks on the next line, hitting enter to leave another blank line, then hitting enter to type the next paragraph. A section break is used to indicate a complete scene break or a character point of view change. In the next example, you can see how the section break separates two different scenes.

Ex:

          Spencer scowled behind the screen door. “You know him?”

          She gave a contented sigh. “Oh, we go way back.”
.

                                                    *          *         *
.

          Spencer woke at noon on Saturday, still tired. A nightmare of a

wolf chasing him through a forest had kept him awake half the night.

.

I used to get confused about which to use, so I just always used the asterisk-section breaks and my publisher changed them. So when in doubt, be consistent.

And keep in mind, publishing houses have different formats for sections breaks. Some want four asterisks with no spaces, some want three asterisks single spaced apart, some want a single number sign. As long as you are consistent and use the scene breaks and section breaks appropriately, editors won’t care that your manuscript uses asterisks or number signs. Should they choose to publish your work, they will reformat the manuscript to their company’s specifications.

2 Responses to “Tricks of the Trade: Section Breaks vs. Scene Breaks”

  1. Vrenith says:

    I use the asterisks, except I don’t bother to put them in the middle, since its just on my computer. They’re just right at the first.
    * * *
    ^ Like that.

    –Vrenith

  2. Rachel says:

    Thanks for that. I had always wondered what the difference was and what I should do and now I do. I will have to put this into practice. Thanks again.

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