Welcome to Creative and Memoir Writing Classes taught by Carol Brennan King in the Abington Library in Clarks Summit, PA.
You are welcome to join us on Wednesdays; the 10am class is Creative Writing and the 1pm class is Memoir/Nonfiction.
The assignment for next week is to keep working on your current opus, but this assignment should include some scene breaks. Try to put into practice something that you have learned from these notes used in yesterday’s class.
Original source for these notes: http://hannahheath-writer.blogspot.com/2018/03/11-tips-for-writing-scene-transitions-and-breaks.html
What is a scene break? Scene breaks can occur any time you change location, time period, or character POV in a story. They often come in the form of a new chapter, but can also be indicated mid-chapter with various symbols like:
2. # Or
3. – – –
Or any other symbol, really. However, the above models are pretty standard and easily recognized.
When do I transition from one scene to another?
While it is up to you, let me give you some scenarios in which scene transitions are helpful:
When a scene would be better shown from a different POV (point of view). This only applies if you’re writing from multiple POVs, but if you know a scene will be more powerful from a specific character’s POV, switch over to that character by using a scene break. You don’t have to pick up at the exact point that the other scene left off, either. You can take it up a little bit before, a little bit after, or even a lot before or a lot after. Whatever works best.
When you need to
change locations. You
don’t have to show characters traveling from one place to another (unless you
feel it is important to the story). Scene breaks are a good way to jump past
all of those tedious details.
When you need to indicate a time lapse. Again, you don’t have to show every moment of your character’s life. Feel free to skip over irrelevant parts of their day, week, month, or year(s) using scene transitions.
How can I use them effectively?
1. Use them to cut out the boring parts. Seriously. That boring scene you’re writing that bores even you as you type? Nobody wants to read it. Not sure if it’s boring? Pretend your reader is Sherlock and then see if the scene holds up (hint: It probably won’t). Another way to improve those boring parts is to check to see if you can show more to avoid the “telly” part.
Unless the scene has some vital piece of information, skip it. Transition into a new scene. Even if it does have a vital piece of information, you can probably transition to a newer, more exciting scene and add that information there.
2. Use them to build tension. You know how authors put cliffhangers at the end of novels? You can use that same principle for scene breaks, but just on a smaller scale. So, retaining-wall-hangers instead of cliffhangers. Yes. That’s a completely legitimate name for it. You can transition away just when things are reaching its peak. Keeps people on their toes. However, be sure to read point 4 to make sure you aren’t overdoing it.
3. Use them to keep secrets. Does one of your characters know an important plot point you don’t want to reveal to your reader until later? Transition into a new scene from a different character’s POV. Or even a new scene with the same character, but just in a scenario where they wouldn’t be thinking of or acting on the secret. That being said…
4. Don’t use them so often that you disorient or frustrate your reader. You don’t want to head-hop so often that your reader loses track of which character is doing what. And you don’t want to have so many scene breaks that your reader loses faith in your ability to tie up loose ends or produce a satisfying climax.
What are the rules?
Don’t have too many scene breaks too close together. Generally, a standard 10-page chapter has about one or two scene breaks in it (supposing the author uses scene breaks…many don’t). But of course there’s no reason you can’t do more than that. Just make sure it doesn’t mess with your story’s flow and pacing.
Be consistent. You want to try to maintain the same number of scene breaks per chapter. You’ll just have to figure out what works best for you. Use your head.
The way you transition does not have to be uniform. You don’t have to have the same type of transition style in each scene. If you need the scene to end abruptly for pacing or mood reasons, then cut the scene off abruptly. If you want to end the scene with a piece of dialogue, do so. If you feel symbolism is the way to go, dive on in.
Just remember these key points and you’ll be fine: Use scene breaks and transitions to be not-boring.
For more reading on the subject, check out https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/5-questions-scenes-vs-chapters/
or look up this book by K.M. Weiland.
Carol Brennan King