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Editing Tips: Scene Breaks in Books and Manuscripts

When a book is divided into sections, each chapter will typically start on a new page. But what about scene changes within a chapter? How do writers and publishers indicate a shift of perspective, time, or location? And what do you need to know about this as a proofreader? In this post, we look at a few common methods for indicating scene breaks.

Scene Breaks in Books and Manuscripts

There are several common ways of indicating a scene break within a chapter in a book. Perhaps the most common is to simply add an extra blank line between paragraphs:

A passage of text with a blank line to indicate a section break.

Here, the blank line between paragraphs shows the reader that a shift has occurred (in this case, we skip forward to the next day). Authors and publishers use this kind of break when something changes, but it isn’t a big enough change to move to a new chapter.

Often, a line break like this will indicate a soft scene change (i.e., a minor shift in time, location, or perspective). For a harder break, authors and publishers often include a symbol as well.

Symbols Used to Indicate Scene Breaks

Asterisks are among the most common symbols used to indicate section breaks in a book. Traditionally, this was often in the form of a triangle of three asterisks known as an asterism:

A break between sections indicated with an asterism.

This symbol is often flattened into a line now, though, which is known as a dinkus:

A dinkus between sections.

More rarely, you’ll see a fleuron used in the same way, or sometimes a horizontal line. This tends to depend on the preferences of the publisher or typesetter producing the book proofs.

In a manuscript meanwhile, it is common for authors to use the pound sign for scene breaks:

Using a hash (or pound) sign to indicate a section break in a manuscript.

This tells the typesetter who receives the manuscript where to include scene breaks.

Proofreading and Scene Breaks

There is no single standard method for marking section breaks in a book or manuscript. Some people prefer a blank line. Others use a symbol. And some use a mix of both for different breaks. This is ultimately a decision for the author, publisher, or typesetter responsible.

When proofreading, your main role will be to check for consistency, including in terms of:

  • Where scene breaks have been added within chapters in the text.
  • The symbols or spacing used to indicate scene breaks.

If you spot an issue with either of the above, either make an edit or leave a note for your client (depending on the scope of your brief and the type of document you’re working on). And if you’re not clear how scene breaks are being indicated, make sure to check with your client.

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