How to use scene breaks in novels, short stories
Often in novels and long short stories, a scene break is needed. A scene break is a visual marker that lets readers know the setting has changed.
The scene break is important as it skips over the unimportant stuff in the story. For example, if our protagonist secret agent learns that another character in a different location has information he needs, there’s no need to show him driving to that site, stopping off for dinner along the way, or filling his sports car with gas afterward. Instead, just jump to the point in the story where he’s already arrived and is scoping out the locale to find a way to sneak in.
A scene break can be visually created by simply placing a blank line or three centered asterisks between the two scenes, as in:
“It was Gravin – Gravin was the one who smuggled the diamonds,” the scar-faced man gasped, as the cord around his neck tightened.
Ryan loosened his hold on the cord and gently set the scar-faced man’s head against the concrete floor. Then Ryan kicked the man’s head, pulled out his Glock G-43, and pressed his thumb against the trigger.
As Ryan’s head peeked above the shrubbery, his eyes scanned Gravin’s compound for an easy entry.
Dispensing with the here-to-there action ensures you keep the story’s level of suspense high. Readers are savvy enough to know that time has passed and could care less what the main character did during the interim.
A scene break can be used for other dramatic purposes than showing a change in setting, though. For example:
Jack wished they'd move on; he didn't know how much longer his sweaty hands could hold on to the cliff's edge. And then the dirt beneath his thumbs crumbled.
Sarah wrung her hands as gazing at the sunlit cliff above. Jack never was late.
In this case, the scene break occurs when the characters that the narration focuses on changes. (One scene is about Jack, and the other is about Sarah.) or when the point of view of view changes. (If Sara also was hanging over cliff with Jack and the narration switches from Jack's to Sara's perspective, then a scene break also is needed.)
The three centered asterisks aren’t the only way to show a scene break. Other symbols can be used; for example, a novel set at a marina might use a centered sailboat rather than asterisks. Or you may simply place a blank line between the two scenes; this can be problematic, however, if already using a blank space rather than indentations to mark the end and start of paragraphs, as is often done in ebooks.
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