Author Topic: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.  (Read 374 times)

Llano

Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« on: February 09, 2019, 05:41:08 AM »
There's another thread about typesetting and scene breaks, but this is a discussion that probably needs its own thread in another sub-forum.

First off, the terms "scene" and "scene break" in reference to novels, seem to be made up fairly recently by authors, not typesetters or book designers (although they have to deal with them). I never heard the terms (in relation to novels) before I started haunting indie author forums in 2012. If anyone can cite a reference from earlier I'd love to see it. I suspect that the terms migrated from film or plays. Some of the online dictionaries use it in reference to books, but Merriam-Webster doesn't.

My first novel, 40 years ago, had no scene breaks at all. At the time it seemed a foreign concept to me. My next novel, in 2012, was based on my own screenplay and the first draft had lots of scene breaks. I made an effort to eliminate some of them, but too many for my taste remain. The next three novels were a continuation of that series and had fewer scene breaks, but still more than I would like.

My latest, also based on a screenplay, had far fewer scene breaks, this time because of a conscious effort on my part, as well as an extensive expansion of the story, in which previous "scenes" became entire chapters.

As a screenwriter, I'm a big fan of parallel action, which is incredibly easy to do in a screenplay (although it gives the production manager fits), and works (or can work) extremely well on the screen. As a result I end up trying to do the same thing in a novel, and it just doesn't work nearly as well as in a movie.

In paging through a few of the classics <150 years ago, I'm hard pressed to find even a single scene break. Many authors today don't use them, especially those who write lots of short chapters. Even books 50-100 years ago didn't seem to have nearly as many scene breaks as books today.

A few years ago I wrote a novel in first person from the POV of an eighteen-year-old girl. There were no scene breaks. I didn't plan it that way. It just seemed that with first person, in almost real time, they weren't needed. It was an interesting exercise, but I abandoned the series, in no small part because of the inability to jump through time and space and heads.

Which brings me to the purpose of this thread. When did writers start using scene breaks and why? When did we start calling them scene breaks? Do you use them? A lot? A little? Do you wish you didn't have to use them?

 
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APP

Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2019, 06:31:47 AM »
Personally, I like and use scene breaks all the time.

All of my novels and novellas have multiple POVs. If one of my POVs is not interacting (in the here and now) with another POV, then that chapter will not have any scene breaks. But if one or more of my POVs are interacting, then that chapter will have scene breaks. Of course, I could create separate chapters instead--but in many cases, they'd be short chapters. And even if they wouldn't be all that short, that's not my writing preference.

Bottom line: To each their own.
 
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Maggie Ann

Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2019, 07:23:41 AM »
I use them, I like them, they seem natural to me.

When I'm writing, I add scene breaks as I go. When I finish the novel, I search for scene breaks and that gives me places to add in chapter breaks.

Without scene breaks, chapters might end up being as short as one page. James Patterson gets away with it but I'm sure I wouldn't.

           
 
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Bill Hiatt

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Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2019, 07:32:58 AM »
There's another thread about typesetting and scene breaks, but this is a discussion that probably needs its own thread in another sub-forum.

First off, the terms "scene" and "scene break" in reference to novels, seem to be made up fairly recently by authors, not typesetters or book designers (although they have to deal with them). I never heard the terms (in relation to novels) before I started haunting indie author forums in 2012. If anyone can cite a reference from earlier I'd love to see it. I suspect that the terms migrated from film or plays. Some of the online dictionaries use it in reference to books, but Merriam-Webster doesn't.

My first novel, 40 years ago, had no scene breaks at all. At the time it seemed a foreign concept to me. My next novel, in 2012, was based on my own screenplay and the first draft had lots of scene breaks. I made an effort to eliminate some of them, but too many for my taste remain. The next three novels were a continuation of that series and had fewer scene breaks, but still more than I would like.

My latest, also based on a screenplay, had far fewer scene breaks, this time because of a conscious effort on my part, as well as an extensive expansion of the story, in which previous "scenes" became entire chapters.

As a screenwriter, I'm a big fan of parallel action, which is incredibly easy to do in a screenplay (although it gives the production manager fits), and works (or can work) extremely well on the screen. As a result I end up trying to do the same thing in a novel, and it just doesn't work nearly as well as in a movie.

In paging through a few of the classics <150 years ago, I'm hard pressed to find even a single scene break. Many authors today don't use them, especially those who write lots of short chapters. Even books 50-100 years ago didn't seem to have nearly as many scene breaks as books today.

A few years ago I wrote a novel in first person from the POV of an eighteen-year-old girl. There were no scene breaks. I didn't plan it that way. It just seemed that with first person, in almost real time, they weren't needed. It was an interesting exercise, but I abandoned the series, in no small part because of the inability to jump through time and space and heads.

Which brings me to the purpose of this thread. When did writers start using scene breaks and why? When did we start calling them scene breaks? Do you use them? A lot? A little? Do you wish you didn't have to use them?
I use them as little as possible.

Although some scene breaks occurred, as you point, in earlier books, I think they expanded considerably after the advent of film and television. Scene breaks are typical in those mediums, and as audiences adjusted to them, it was natural for them to occur more often in literature.

This brings up an interesting issue I've had with a couple of my editors. In both cases, they wanted scene breaks in spots where I wouldn't have put them. I wanted a quick summary statement to bridge a short period of time. (Yes, I know that's telling, but a little bit of telling is sometimes not a bad thing.) In one case, the sentence an editor wanted to replace with a scene break was covering a couple of minutes walking from the house to the car.  :hehe

My personal preference is to try to synchronize major breaks (long time gaps, changes in POV) with chapter breaks. If I must break in chapter, particularly for a POV change, I try to do that sparingly. It was unavoidable in my last novel because the POV character had a past-life persona that kept surging to the surface. Even in that novel, though, I think I had fewer than ten scene breaks in 431 pages.


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sandree

Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2019, 08:38:22 AM »
I have a lot of scene breaks and my editor added a few more. As you said, Bill - there were places I felt that I had a sentence bridging the short gap in time but she added scene breaks.

Thatís something Iím going to think about on the next one and do some reading, noticing how other authors handle it.

Iím not bothered by them when I read but perhaps I could - or should - reduce the number...
 
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Jeff Tanyard

Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2019, 10:20:20 AM »
I use them all the time.  Perhaps too often.  On the other hand, when you condition your reader to expect short scenes, and then you hit the reader with a long one, it can work to your advantage in a pacing sense.  Or, at least, that's my theory.   :shrug 

Scene breaks also allow you more options concerning timing of events, especially when you have multiple POV characters whom you want to bring together for a final battle or something.  You can interlace quick snippets of action between POVs instead of doing it in longer chapter-length blocks.

Frankly, this isn't even something I consciously think about that much.  For the most part, I just end the scene when the interesting stuff is done for the time being and the characters are about to travel somewhere or go to sleep or do something else that's similarly dull. 

As always, I encourage authors to play around with different techniques and do whatever works best for them.


I use them, I like them, they seem natural to me.

When I'm writing, I add scene breaks as I go. When I finish the novel, I search for scene breaks and that gives me places to add in chapter breaks.

Without scene breaks, chapters might end up being as short as one page. James Patterson gets away with it but I'm sure I wouldn't.


This is also what I do.  When the story's approaching a climax, I often have a series of very short scenes to accelerate the pacing.  If each of those was a whole chapter, it would just look goofy, I think.
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PJ Post

Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2019, 01:14:58 AM »
I use the whole toolbox.
 

Denise

Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2019, 01:37:18 AM »
Older fiction used transitions to change pov in a single chapter and to indicate passing of time. In contemporary fiction, you can simply use a scene break. I think it improves the pacing and flow, and you can use neat scene endings for impact. Transitions can be neat too, though. I'm not sure I agree that they should always be replaced by scene breaks.

I agree that scene breaks have some influence from cinema and TV. Older fiction had influence from theater, but theater doesn't have abrupt scene breaks like cinema and TV.

I use them because I have multiple POVs. I sometimes use them to replace transitions within the same pov.

 

Tom Wood

Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2019, 01:50:27 AM »
I use them, but since my chapters are short (+-2500 words) they act as scene breaks anyway. Since I'm writing in cinematic POV, I tend to set up the cut-to-next-scene at the end of the chapters. I have a few places where I need an intra-chapter scene change and some others where I cut back and forth between concurrent events as they converge.
 

fleurina

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Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2019, 01:57:49 AM »
Quote
I use them all the time.  Perhaps too often.  On the other hand, when you condition your reader to expect short scenes, and then you hit the reader with a long one, it can work to your advantage in a pacing sense.  Or, at least, that's my theory.

Same here.  I read your Mr Wilson the other day, Jeff. LOVED it!

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Bill Hiatt

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Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #10 on: February 10, 2019, 02:03:29 AM »
I use them, but since my chapters are short (+-2500 words) they act as scene breaks anyway. Since I'm writing in cinematic POV, I tend to set up the cut-to-next-scene at the end of the chapters. I have a few places where I need an intra-chapter scene change and some others where I cut back and forth between concurrent events as they converge.
You and Jeff are both making the good point that circumstances differ from book to book. If you're writing in a cinematic style, then it makes sense that you would have more scene breaks.

In general, probably either approach (scene breaks or transitions) will work for time breaks. (Transitions are harder to use for POV shifts.) I've seen situations in which a transition isn't good for the flow, as Denise was suggesting. I've also seen situations in which scene breaks took me out of the story. There are points at which the reader needs to know something happened but doesn't need the details. Arbitrarily cutting that kind of transition for the sake of avoiding any kind of "telling" and using a scene break instead leaves the reader wondering how the characters got from point A to point B. Inevitably, the writer has to find some way to work that in, which can lead to a situation in which what would have been the transitional sentence appears anyway, but later than it ideally should have.

I'm not a big fan of rigid formulas.


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Jeff Tanyard

Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2019, 06:29:45 AM »
Quote
I use them all the time.  Perhaps too often.  On the other hand, when you condition your reader to expect short scenes, and then you hit the reader with a long one, it can work to your advantage in a pacing sense.  Or, at least, that's my theory.

Same here.  I read your Mr Wilson the other day, Jeff. LOVED it!


That's wonderful to hear, Fleurina.  Thanks!  :heart:
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munboy

Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #12 on: February 10, 2019, 03:12:25 PM »
Nothing wrong with them, though I try to limit them to one per chapter (if needed, I usually write a scene as a full chapter). Sometimes a second one slips in there, but as long as it all flows nicely, I'm not bothered by it.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2019, 02:35:38 AM by munboy »
 

bardsandsages

Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #13 on: February 12, 2019, 11:24:27 PM »
Scene breaks are a tool. Nothing more. Nothing less. You use them when they are necessary for clarity. Some authors overuse them. Some don't use them enough.

Example:

Quote
Jane and I approached the house cautiously. There was a single light on in the attic. Otherwise the entire property was shrouded in complete darkness. I knocked on the door, but there was no answer. As we turned to leave, the door opened. Ms. Smedley stood in the doorway, sighed, and motioned for us to follow her.

* * *

Mrs. Smedley lit a candle and led us down the hall to the sitting room.

Quote
Jane and I approached the house cautiously. There was a single light on in the attic. Otherwise the entire property was shrouded in complete darkness. I knocked on the door, but there was no answer. As we turned to leave, the door opened. Ms. Smedley stood in the doorway, sighed, and motioned for us to follow her.

Mrs. Smedley lit a candle and led us down the hall to the sitting room.

The above doesn't NEED a scene break, as it is merely a continuation of the same scene. But a lot of authors add scene breaks for any minor location movement, and it breaks up the narrative flow. I personally reserve scene breaks for major scene switches where a strong break is necessary for clarity.

I tend to think of scene breaks like loading screens in a video game. If I am teleporting from one city to another, a loading screen doesn't interfere with gameplay. But loading screens for just walking through a door? That just breaks immersion (I'm looking at you, Bethesda!)
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The Bass Bagwhan

Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #14 on: February 18, 2019, 11:18:11 PM »
I've always called them section breaks, but anyhow...

Apart from supporting narrative changes of POV in quick succession, section breaks act as a visual cue for the reader that something is different. Kind of, "Hey, pay attention". As an editor I always recommend that authors format something in the "space" of a section break, because it's a bugger when a section break inadvertently falls on a page break.

For example, I recently worked on a book that had a car chase, and the POV kept switching between vehicles. It didn't have section breaks and it was jarring every time. It was like, "Hang on, which car are we in now?"

For mine, section breaks definitely have a place in modern writing.
 

She-la-te-da

Re: Scene breaks: love 'em, hate 'em, indifferent.
« Reply #15 on: March 01, 2019, 07:38:24 PM »
Screenplays and novels are two different animals, in my view. What works for one isn't necessarily how the other is best done.

As to when scene breaks in novels came about, I don't know. I do know that I understood and used the concept from an early age, as I've been writing for a long, long time. Like, over 50 years. I've been studying the craft of writing almost as long.

Why scene breaks? I think it's just a more modern method of telling a story. It can be almost a short hand way of writing, as it's possible to shift the story without starting a new chapter. James Patterson could use less really short chapters and have the prose as scenes in one chapter, and it wouldn't change the meaning of his story. Also, it's a good way to avoid head hopping, which is horrible and shouldn't be done (I'm looking at you, Nora Roberts).
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