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Lost in Space

As mentioned in an earlier post, there are a few ways to go about indicating an upcoming change in a chapter. Typical conventions include a section break (one blank line between paragraphs), and a scene break (a tilde or other mark between two paragraph breaks). But placing a break in the text only takes the writer halfway to where she or he needs to go. Take a look at the following example:

Charlton and I sat in our sedan the entire evening and kept a lookout for the pickup truck.

 

I got out of the shower and pulled on a tank top. Outside, sirens wailed as the police went by, chasing whatever bad guy they were after.

The paragraph space indicates a change is about to take place. The problem in the above example is that the reader is not given enough information in either paragraph to make this an easy transition. Yes, the reader can guess from the space that something is about to change. But pulling the reader out of a sedan and into a shower is too abrupt a transition.

The paragraph space is not a substitute for a transition, it merely lets the reader know that a transition is about to take place. The writer still has to ease the reader from one scene to the next. There are two natural points at which to place the transition: before the break, or after. In academic writing, a break happens at the end of the paragraph before the break, but in novels and short stories, a recap following the break is just as acceptable.

Charlton and I sat in our sedan the entire evening and kept a lookout for the pickup truck. We decided to call it quits at dawn, and I headed home to clean myself up.

 

I got out of the shower and pulled on a tank top. Outside, sirens wailed as the police went by, chasing whatever bad guy they were after.

In the above example, the writer adds a line at the end of the top paragraph to provide the reader a direction. The bottom paragraph then fills in the details. Don’t throw readers from one scene to another. Give some indication of what’s going to happen, or some way of allowing the reader to transition from one scene to another.

Learn more about section breaks and scene breaks in Part One: Gimme A Break!

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