Is It Scene Break Time?

ornamented scene break

“I just got my book files. They look great except… where did all these scene breaks come from? They weren’t in the original file.”

In a manuscript file, a blank line shows up for two reasons:

  • to indicate a change of time or setting in the action of a story, or
  • it could be a mistake, overlooked at the bottom of a page or tagging along on a paragraph.

How can Your Friendly Formatter tell the difference?

  • I could read the whole story and make an educated guess.
  • I could ask the author to clarify every single one.
  • I could assume that every blank line is a scene break. This is my default.

But, in truth,  no one can really know for sure. So let’s work together to make this process simpler for yourself and your critiquers, beta readers, editors, agents, formatters, and, most importantly, your readers.

scene break

In ebooks, a scene break is designated by three asterisks (***) centred on the line. There’s no blank space before or after the ***. I wish all publishers would use this convention; the inconsistency is annoying.

In print books, a scene break can be designated by blank lines (the trad pub standard), or three asterisks, or an ornament as shown in the photo above. Your Friendly Formatter loves playing with ornaments; I have quite a collection.

finding blank Paragraphs


What we see as blank lines, computers sees as empty paragraphs.

Whatever you call them, they can be hard to spot, especially in a double-spaced manuscript. To find them using Microsoft Word, turn on the formatting marks by clicking on the pilcrow (the funny-looking P) in the Paragraph group on the Home tab. Setting the line spacing to single helps, too.

Once you’ve revealed the blank paragraphs, scroll through your manuscript, determine the purpose of each one, and deal with it in one of two ways.

  • If a scene break, add centred *** to the line.
  • If not needed, delete the line.

When you’ve done one pass, shrink the view until you get four or more pages on a screen; the text is too small to read comfortably. Do one more pass.

Click the pilcrow again to hide the formatting marks or leave them showing; your choice. They won’t be printed.

when working with woven red…

You only need to place the ***. I’ll find and replace them in the print book file with a cool ornament.

4 thoughts on “Is It Scene Break Time?

  1. Gina X. Grant says:

    Not “Search and Replace,” just “Search.” Then, if they have the “***” in memory (copy, control+C), they can paste it where it belongs or delete the extra line if it doesn’t.
    Does that sound right?


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