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What's the difference between the two? I've seen both in the same book. For example in the Bone Clocks by David Mitchell:

Space breaks:

He’s clever, I realize. First he makes you grateful. Right. Of course. I do believe it’s time I was off.


DANDELIONS AND THISTLES grow along the cracked track and the hedges are taller than me.


And look what a fool she made of me, when my turn came to be Amanda Kidd–ed. Doesn’t Stella need friends? Or for Stella, are friends just a way to get what you want?


ON MY LEFT’S a steep embankment, with a dual carriageway running along the top, and on my right a field’s been cleared for a massive housing estate by the look of it.

Three-dot breaks:

“What’s that s’posed to bloody mean?” Brubeck lets it drop. So I let it drop too.

• • •

THE CHURCH IS quiet as the grave. Brubeck’s asleep in a nest of dusty cushions.


“Not calling me ‘sweetheart’ would be a good start.” I don’t hide my laugh. The guy stares daggers at me.

• • •

LESS THAN A hundred yards later this knackered Ford Escort van pulls over. It might’ve been orange once, or perhaps that’s just rust.

Is the • • • a bigger scene break than then spaced one? When to use the former and when to use the later?

  • 2
    Author's choice! But for the most part, I only see markers used between scene changes when the change happens over a page, so it's hard to tell that it was a scene change otherwise. – CLockeWork May 11 '15 at 15:27
  • I'm guessing your example uses horizontal lines since extra carriage returns don't show up on the web easily? – Goodbye Stack Exchange May 11 '15 at 15:30
  • @Neil Fein♦ I didn't know how to format it, ha. Is it clearer now? – Alexandro Chen May 11 '15 at 15:35
  • As has been mentioned, this is largely author choice. In my personal reading experience, however, space breaks generally indicate a passage of time, or a shifting of scenes. Dots seem to indicate a larger separation, but not large enough for a new chapter. A switching of PoV comes to mind. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron May 12 '15 at 19:50
3

Dinkus ( * * * )

Signifies a temporary break.

Time has passed between the preceding and following paragraphs, and the narrative picks up at the same place and with the same protagonist. During the break the protaginist may have been asleep, gone to work, or done any other thing that the reader needs to know is being done but whose details are irrelevant or uninteresting.

Space between paragraphs

Signifies a change of location and/or to another protagonist's viewpoint.

In comic books such a change of location is signified with a stereotypical formula, and you can think of the paragraph following the blank line as beginning with it:

Meanwhile...

Notice how in both of Alexandro's examples for a space between paragraphs the paragraph following the blank line opens with the "establishing shot" (mentioned in the tv tropes link) that tells the reader where we are: "Meanwhile, back at the Ranch,..."

The corresponding comic book formula for the dinkus is "Later...". Note how one of Alexandro's examples for a dinkus explicitly states that it is now "later".

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  • I've never heard of this. Where have you seen it? – Goodbye Stack Exchange May 11 '15 at 19:56
  • Could you give some examples please, @what? In the books I read, a line break signifies any logical break in a scene and asterisks are only used if a scene change occurs at the end of a page. – CLockeWork May 12 '15 at 8:09
  • Alexandro's examples are from one book. With that sample size they only prove that the author has a particular way of doing things. What I meant was can you try and validate your claim on a more relevant scale; as I said, I've never seen them used like you say, perhaps it's genre specific. – CLockeWork May 12 '15 at 8:26
  • @what, you seem to believe that I'm attacking your answer. I do not agree with your answer, but instead of simply saying I think you are wrong (which would not be constructive) I am trying to confirm the validity of it one way or the other. Sure, in "recent books I've read" I've seen it the way I say, but that is around 5 books so far this year, 40 last year. This would also be why I said perhaps it's genre specific, as I know we read very different genres. Still, give me an hour or so and I'll look through the books on my Kindle. – CLockeWork May 12 '15 at 10:53
  • Ah, OK, that makes life easier; turns out I have the Bone Clocks on my Kindle, just haven't read it yet! It's all from one perspective, I haven't found any asterik breaks yet, only standard scene breaks, and they're used at the logical end of a scene, whether skipping ahead in time, or just closing a door. – CLockeWork May 12 '15 at 11:02
4

There's no universal standard for this, or at least not in fiction. Books generally pick one style and stick with it. Larger narrative breaks than a section break can be indicated by starting a new chapter.

The exception is in printed books that use extra space between paragraphs to designate the end of a section, and when this happens at the end of a page: In this circumstance, the book will often use a row of asterisks or other symbols instead of empty space, for clarity's sake.

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3

Author's preference is, of course, the deciding factor, but one has to take into account readability as well. Using extra space to determine a scene change is not very common and it is possible that the reader could misinterpret it as a formatting error, or perhaps just be confused by it, whereas the three dots send a clear message that this is an intentional and distinct change of scene.

It should be noted, by the way, that three dots are not the only accepted scene-change marker: some books, especially fantasy ones, will make up their own seal or symbol to act in this role.

The most important factor in readability is consistency---no matter what you do, if you do the same thing every time, the reader will probably pick up on it---which makes me question David Mitchell's choice to use two different kinds of markers. Perhaps there is a compelling story reason for him to do so, but in general maximum readability is the best choice.

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1

To the best of my knowledge, there is no widely-accepted rule of when asterisks are appropriate versus when extra white space is appropriate versus other possible conventions.

To my mind, and for what it's worth, a row of asterisks indicates a bigger break than a blank line.

One catch to white space: It can get lost when a document is reformatted. Like, I just finished converting a book I wrote from print format to Kindle. It's non-fiction, but I used white space to indicate a break in the chain of thought at a number of points. Except ... on some Kindle devices, the blank space is displayed as I wrote it. On other Kindle devices, they put blank space between ALL paragraphs, and no extra space where I had these breaks, so the distinction is lost. It wasn't a real big deal so I just didn't worry about it, but in other contexts I can see it becoming confusing. A reader might think this is a continuation of the previous scene when it's really a new scene, and be several paragraphs in before realizing, "Wait, they're not still at Bob's house, and how did Sally get here? And, oh, wait, somewhere in there the scene moved to Sally's office. Where was that?" etc.

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  • So you're advice is to stick with * * * ? – Alexandro Chen May 13 '15 at 3:45
  • I'd say: When you can control the layout, I'd use white space for "small breaks" and "" for "large breaks". If you can't control the layout, I'd use "". – Jay May 13 '15 at 4:01
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If you see both white space and three asterisks, it should always be the case that the asterisks are just being used at a page break, where the reader might not notice the vertical white space.

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