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Once upon a time someone asked me about scene breaks and chapter breaks and it took me forever to write this post because…well, I wasn’t really sure where to start.
Scene breaks and chapter breaks are two sides of the same coin—they’re both used to end or pause a scene, whether temporarily for dramatic effect or to switch POVs, or to move on to a new scene. The execution itself is similar: a line to end/pause the scene and some kind of symbol and spacing to represent the actual break from the scene.
But despite those similarities, scene breaks and chapter breaks are used to accomplish fairly different effects.
I like to think of scene breaks as soft breaks—they’re a pause within a chapter to end one scene and flow into the next without ending the chapter. These are mostly used when you’re not ready to end the chapter, whether for POV reasons (say, in a dual-POV novel) or because the end of the scene isn’t quite dramatic enough, or whatever other reason.
Chapter breaks, on the other hand, are hard breaks, because they tend to be spots that readers are more likely to take a break from reading (though your goal is to make them not want to). Sometimes they end a scene, sometimes they stop part-way through a scene at a point that’s shocking, some sort of mini-cliffhanger, or resonates or is dramatic for some other reason. I’ve already posted about making the most of your chapter endings, so I won’t go into that here, but the idea is to end on a note that makes your reader want to read more.
For me, how I decide between scene breaks and chapter breaks varies slightly depending on the WIP. For a dual-POV MS, I tend to use more scene breaks because I like to switch POVs with chapter breaks rather than scene breaks, so if the next scene is in the same character’s POV, I need a really good reason to end the chapter. Then again, if that particular MS has shorter chapters, I’ll be more inclined to use a chapter break rather than a scene break. For a single POV MS, I try to reserve chapter breaks for particularly dramatic/intense/haunting moments, and I use scene breaks when I want one scene to flow easily into another.
In the end, whether you use a scene or chapter break will be entirely up to what feels right to you for that particular scene in that particular manuscript. But it helps to keep in mind what you’re trying to accomplish when deciding between the two.
So that’s how I decide between scene and chapter breaks—now I want to hear from you. How do you decide between the two?
Writer @Ava_Jae calls scene breaks “soft breaks” & chapter breaks “hard breaks.” What do you think? (Click to tweet)
Should you use a scene break or chapter break for that scene? Writer @Ava_Jae breaks it down. (Click to tweet)