Differentiating major and minor scene breaks | Proper Manuscript Format | William Shunn


Differentiating major and minor scene breaks

A reader writes to ask:

[My question] regards major and minor scene breaks. I understand that one sets off a blank-line break with #, but what about a more significant scene break, the sort one usually sees in print marked with a blank line, a divider (often three asterisks, centered), and another blank line? Is it as simple (and aesthetically unappealing) as placing # signs in the blank lines? Or does one leave the blank lines blank in this case?

The answer may be blindingly obvious to everyone but me, and if so, my apologies for troubling you. But I find both options to be less than pleasing to the eye, so if I'm going to inflict one on an editor, I'd much rather inflict the right one.

An excellent question. I think we've all seen major scene breaks like the ones you describe in published books—something less than a chapter break but more than an ordinary scene break. Sometimes they might be rendered in a book as several blank lines followed by an unindented paragraph with the first several words in bold. But how should one render this super-scene break succinctly in a draft manuscript?

I've never seen this done, but my suggestion would be to use three hash symbols centered together on a line (# # #) as opposed to just one (#). The hash symbol is the typesetters mark for indicating space, so I think any editor or typesetter worth her salt would recognize that you intend this to be a higher-level scene break than ordinary. (Of course, you could also explain your intention in your cover letter to the editor.)

Here's a quick example to show you what I mean:

of her jeans.  "Fine, there.  If anyone wants it, they'll have to talk to me about it."


As Hasta knelt beside Ivan again, she heard a shout from the direction of the wooden building.  Moses started barking.  Juan and Bobby were just rounding the gas pumps, running toward the minivan as fast as they could.

"Fire!" Juan yelled.  "Fire!"

# # #

Lamm emerged from the comm window into a fiery maelstrom.

The input window from the McDonald's freezer had led him to a shed behind a rest stop in Wisconsin.  There he'd hunted around until sensing another recently used window in a men's room supply closet.  And now he was here, in the midst of flames.

To me, the three marks together get the point across elegantly without cluttering up the page.

(And for discussions of related issues, you might refer to the sections on scene breaks and chapters here in the archives.)  

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