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Thread: Where are the scene breaks if i am following one character around for a long time?

  1. #1
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    Where are the scene breaks if i am following one character around for a long time?

    I have pages of one character running through his day. He starts by himself, goes outside to help a guy, is sent back inside where he talks to someone else, and then back outside where there are now more people. He's involved in three different discrete activities during this time. About 1300 words.

    Is this one scene? Only the MC person is consistently present throughout, and there is no break in the time. It is his POV. The setting changes from inside to outside to inside to outside.
    Last edited by Patty; 12-29-2017 at 12:22 AM.
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  2. #2
    cutsie-pie Curlz's Avatar
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    It depends how it's written. With the actions you've described, there could be four scenes, or one, or anything in between. I've just read a book where there are hardly any visible "scene breaks" at all, not even a paragraph break. Of course, that's unusual and rare but shows that anything is a matter of personal style.

    How do you actually intend to "create" scene breaks? I mean, do you intend to include things like hash signs or asterisks between scenes or something? I'm just trying to figure out why you worry about "scene breaks". Don't you just write the action as it happens, one paragraph after the other?

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    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Is the story continuous, as in there are no breaks in time or "down" periods where nothing terribly interesting or important happens that can be skimmed over or summarized? If so, maybe it can take place in just one scene.

    Most stories and novel chapters, however, have lulls, even when they have just one focal character (or in first or limited third, a viewpoint character) and don't change setting. Scene breaks tend to happen when there's a "down" time when things get a bit dull or repetitive, but the story will pick up again after the dull, repetitive stuff is concluded.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curlz View Post
    It depends how it's written. With the actions you've described, there could be four scenes, or one, or anything in between. I've just read a book where there are hardly any visible "scene breaks" at all, not even a paragraph break. Of course, that's unusual and rare but shows that anything is a matter of personal style.

    How do you actually intend to "create" scene breaks? I mean, do you intend to include things like hash signs or asterisks between scenes or something? I'm just trying to figure out why you worry about "scene breaks". Don't you just write the action as it happens, one paragraph after the other?
    I'm adding in the hashtags for the Angry Robot submission (SFF), and wondering if a long meandering scene is best to break up. Right now I'm leaving it long, but though all y'all might have some thoughts...
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  5. #5
    independent claws blackcat777's Avatar
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    Does anyone have any thoughts on scene length? 1300 words strikes me as average. That's about five printed pages.

    If you had a need to split the scene, you could break it up by action/mini-conflict for each encounter.

  6. #6
    Not as sweet as you think Aggy B.'s Avatar
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    1300 words is not very long. I've had entire short stories (5k words or longer) that had no scene breaks just one long continuous string of actions.

    Personally, I don't like breaking chapters up into scenes (although I will break longer scenes across chapters) so some of my chapters are quite short. But the key thing when prepping something for submission is "Does this make this more readable or less?" Scene breaks are, in fact, breaks in the action. Do you want the reader separating from the story, even if only for a moment? Or do they need to flow with that action without pause?
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  7. #7
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    I don't have an idea about length. One of my (very technical) future revisions will be to look at each scene and see if it is scene or sequel, and whether it has the elements of 'a killer scene.' (goal/conflict/disaster; reaction/dilemma/decision.)

    But I won't get to that til next year., and those are guidelines not bible. At the moment my scene lengths are all over the place and only some fit the description of what a scene "should be."
    Last edited by Patty; 12-29-2017 at 01:09 AM.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aggy B. View Post
    1300 words is not very long. I've had entire short stories (5k words or longer) that had no scene breaks just one long continuous string of actions.

    Personally, I don't like breaking chapters up into scenes (although I will break longer scenes across chapters) so some of my chapters are quite short. But the key thing when prepping something for submission is "Does this make this more readable or less?" Scene breaks are, in fact, breaks in the action. Do you want the reader separating from the story, even if only for a moment? Or do they need to flow with that action without pause?
    That's good to hear.
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  9. #9
    cutsie-pie Curlz's Avatar
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    Hmm. "He starts by himself" can be a scene if, for example the character looks out of the window, sees a child do something and this triggers a memory where he did the same when he was a child himself, nostalgia and happy/sad feelings ensue. Then his phone rings and he's called to go save the world because he's a superhero. You could do a scene break there, because there is nothing connecting the memory and the conversation on the phone. Both the memory and the call to go outside are pretty much self-contained mini-plots.


    But if "he starts by himself" is just the character getting dressed and then then getting the phonecall, there is no scene break because your "starts by himself" is simply a bit of an introduction and not a self-contained mini-plot.


    If he "goes outside to help a guy" who is bitten by a dog, then "is sent back inside" to get his neighbour who is a doctor, that looks more like one scene. Or, it could be two scenes if he "goes outisde to help a guy" who seems to be bitten by a dog, but then is "sent back inside" by his sense of duty when the bite turns out to be just a scratch and in the meantime a gruesome scream echoes from inside the building. In such plot you could have a separate scene of the character checking out on the dogbite, hearing a scream and a scene break for his dashing back inside.

  10. #10
    The Wanderer DanielSTJ's Avatar
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    Very interested in where this thread will lead. I have often pondered the question of scene breaks. I hope the discussion continues!

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  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    Is it wrong to say I don't even think about scenes when I'm writing? I write the story the way it feels right (based on what I've learned from reading). When I edit, I cut out those boring transitions between scenes that you don't really need.

    I suppose I do think about scenes in some ways. Obviously, I use scene breaks (usually with something like # or *****, when I switch between characters. Usually, if I'm staying in the same point of view, I denote the scene break with extra spacing between paragraphs.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patty View Post
    I don't have an idea about length.
    Look at what other writers do. Scene lengths are highly variable.

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    1300 words is not a long scene. I have scenes that follow my character from one location to another, and I just gloss over the transitions in narrative summary if I don't want to use a scene break. You can deal with them in a single sentence if necessary, just something that shows him moving between scenes, and maybe a brief description of how that scene has moved on since he left it, e.g. 'Bob went back outside, where Mary was now in handcuffs and being stuffed into the back of a squad car' - or whatever.
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  14. #14
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    Some of my characters have continuous chapters. So in excess of 3-4k.

    It doesn't mean that the scene isn't changing; it means that you are showing the transition.

    A scene break, for me tends to occur when I'm hitting the fast forward button. A time skip, sometimes of hours or days, or to another pov.
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    practical experience, FTW Calder's Avatar
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    In a great many instances a "scene" is related to location, so, if you switch from exterior to interior, or vice versa, I believe you can legitimately include a "scene-break" of some sort, even though, essentially the "action" is continuous.
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    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    To me, all a scene break says is - something is about to change.

    Either the reader can be alerted to the change by a scene break, or the change can be covered in continuing narrative or by a fresh Chapter as appropriate.

    It's entirely a matter of choice as to whether a scene break is used to denote the passage of time or a switch to a different scene or even a change of POV.
    Last edited by Bufty; 12-29-2017 at 03:42 PM.
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bufty View Post
    To me, all a scene break says is - something is about to change.

    Either the reader can be alerted to the change by a scene break, or the change can be covered in continuing narrative or by a fresh Chapter as appropriate.

    It's entirely a matter of choice as to whether a scene break is used to denote the passage of time or a switch to a different scene or even a change of POV.
    I also only use scene breaks to indicate time advancement or POV change. If you break a scene in the middle of a continuous flow it's counter-intuitive to the reader, because such a vast majority of books are written with scene breaks only at time advancement and POV change. At least that's how I feel.

  18. #18
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blackcat777 View Post
    Does anyone have any thoughts on scene length? 1300 words strikes me as average.
    Scenes can be whatever length they need to be. In GRR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, his scenes run the full length of a chapter. There are no breaks, even though the time and locale may change. That's a style choice. Scenes can also be much shorter. Or even longer!

    The important thing is not the length; it's what's in the scene, how it's constructed, and what it accomplishes.

  19. #19
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    I would argue that GRRM does have more than one scene in his chapters but he tends to narrate the transitions.

    Scene breaks as a common thing seem sort of new, to me, but I could be dead wrong about that!
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  20. #20
    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TSJohnson View Post
    I also only use scene breaks to indicate time advancement or POV change. If you break a scene in the middle of a continuous flow it's counter-intuitive to the reader
    I also use scene breaks this way - I have 5 POV characters, so a scene break often indicates a new POV. I also use it to indicate a jump in time, as a way of skipping over extended lulls in the action. If I saw a scene break in the middle of continuous action where there was no time skip or POV change, it would seem like an unnecessary interruption or worse, a way to create false tension.

    The only exception to the 'no interrupting continuous narrative' rule is for chapter breaks - you can use these where there's a moment of genuine tension to create a mini cliffhanger, and continue the next chapter right where you left off. Some readers find cliffies annoying, but I don't know a single writer who doesn't use them
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  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW indianroads's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    Is the story continuous, as in there are no breaks in time or "down" periods where nothing terribly interesting or important happens that can be skimmed over or summarized? If so, maybe it can take place in just one scene.

    Most stories and novel chapters, however, have lulls, even when they have just one focal character (or in first or limited third, a viewpoint character) and don't change setting. Scene breaks tend to happen when there's a "down" time when things get a bit dull or repetitive, but the story will pick up again after the dull, repetitive stuff is concluded.
    ^^^^
    That right there.


    How do you actually intend to "create" scene breaks? I mean, do you intend to include things like hash signs or asterisks between scenes or something? I'm just trying to figure out why you worry about "scene breaks". Don't you just write the action as it happens, one paragraph after the other?
    I use 5 asterisks centered.

  22. #22
    Not as sweet as you think Aggy B.'s Avatar
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    I prefer a hashmark for those instances where I am using scene breaks and not chapter breaks. In copy editing and type setting they indicate a space is necessary. If you indicate scene breaks with a hashmark you can help ensure someone doesn't take out the extra space.
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  23. #23
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    same, one hashtag.

    if submitting to publishers and agents you'll be using standard MS formatting anyway. I dunno, it just saves me a smidgen of time.

    my scene breaks are for POV change.
    Happiness, is just a word to me
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  24. #24
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    I usually use them for pov breaks or time breaks myself, though I can still see using them for a continuous scene where something dull or repetitive is happening (or if someone is traveling from point A to point B where nothing story advancing happens). Summarizing the dull, repetitive stuff is another way some writers handle it. I don't think it's a matter of right and wrong here, just style. Some writers have a knack for making even a walk down the street interesting, but if I try to do it (justifying it in my mind as a bit of world building to show my setting isn't medieval Europe lite or something), I always get dinged by critiquers for including unnecessary stuff (or they ask me how such and such can be present in medieval Europe).

    I don't have that knack :P

    I use a single # for scene breaks. As I understand it, that's usually what SMF calls for, though I know people who use asterisks too, and it hasn't stopped them from being published.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 12-29-2017 at 10:01 PM.
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  25. #25
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    I would argue that GRRM does have more than one scene in his chapters but he tends to narrate the transitions.
    Well, I was assuming a scene is at least partially defined as a story unit that ends with a scene break or a chapter break. In Martin's case, I do believe there are no scene breaks. It's as you said--he narrates through any transitions.

    I honestly don't know how recent scene breaks are. It would be interesting to find out.

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