I am editing my first novel and wherever I find a natural break in the story, I add a few spaces. I want to go back and adjust what types of breaks those are, but how best to represent those spaces in time?

What is the difference between using an extra space, asterisks, or a chapter break?

My guess (and feel free to correct me): an extra space is used when it's some time later in the same scene, or when switching POV with characters in the same scene; asterisks are used when it's essentially a different scene, with either the same characters in a different time or place, or switching POV with different characters; and a chapter break could indicate either, but it comes at the end of a dramatic scene.

9 Answers 9


In addition to your guesses:

A chapter break can also be mostly for dramatic purposes; the scene can continue over the chapter break with the same characters and POV. (Think of a commercial break, which then returns to the same moment.)

I would also use an extra space to indicate a scene change: different characters at the same time in a different location, different characters at a later time with location irrelevant. (Think of a scene change in a TV show: the scene just changes, and you have to figure out from context like time of day and scenery when and where we are.)

I actually don't care for asterisks or hash marks. The only time I would use them is at the top or bottom of a page to indicate "If this were falling in the middle of the page, I would just use an extra space, but since you can't tell that from where the copy lies, I'm throwing in these markers to let you know the next bit of copy is a new scene."

  • 1
    Spaces, devoid of such symbols as you don't care for (at least in my experience), let Pratchett get away with writing almost all of his Discworld novels without chapters.
    – J.G.
    Jan 2, 2019 at 22:06

When writing most publishers tend to prefer three # centred on the page after two clear spaces between text. These are the ones I use frequently in my writing.


I tend to think asterisks and extra spaces can mean the same thing (be used in the same way), to indicate change of scene. I wouldn't always say, though, that you have to use this for every scene. In my experience it's sometimes difficult to pinpoint the ending of a scene, and if it runs into the next one and a space would look odd, I don't break it at all.

I agree about chapters. They can either be finished at the end of a scene or in the middle of a scene, I don't think it matters. Just as long as it's not in an odd place, like the middle of a normal conversation. Perhaps at the end of a particularly dramatic line in the scene, and it could continue on into the next chapter.


If you are writing content, then use the proper sematic markup that indicates a break; e.g. a paragraph style made for that purpose.

Are you designing a style sheet or the layout of a work to be published? This is the wrong S.E.

Point is, focus on the content, not the formatting. That's what Adobe InDesign is for.


I was taught (long ago) to use three centered "---" on a line by itself in order to represent, within a chapter, a scene change or the passage of time. e.g. if somebody falls asleep; then "---", then "She woke to the alarm at 7:00 AM."

Similarly, if your whole scene is changing but you don't want to end the chapter for some reason,

"Jack lugged his bags downstairs, and met the driver at the curb, and was on his way to the Chicago."
Then "---",
Then, "The following morning, the doorman found him a cab and he arrived at the Argyle building at nine."

I was specifically taught to never use extra vertical spacing, either break to a new chapter or put in a line of three dashes centered to indicate an intra-chapter break.


If you are looking for some sort of lowest common denominator, Kindle may be a good platform to target.

Kindle has 2 concepts. Chapters, and *** breaks. You could in theory use blank lines on Kindle but because you have no guarantee that these lines won't be on the bottom of a page for some device and thus invisible, they are best not used.

Once you publish to kindle you will have to replace all the *** with their special section break style to have it correctly understood by devices like text to speech.

So consider that if you want to use anything else, and plan to release on Kindle, you won't get any other separators that are 100% accessible to all users.


It's not clear if the OP is referring to self publication or seeking representation.

My understanding is the industry standard (when subbing to an agent, for example) is defined. It may vary by agent, but I think industry standard is to place a hash mark (centered) between scenes.

Also, I believe chapters start 1/3 way down the page. I believe chapter ends have a page break.

I believe the pages are to be numbered, and the header has contact information and manuscript metrics.

I believe the text itself should be Times New Roman, 12 point, double spaced. Standard margins (1 inch).

These beliefs have been formed by various conversations and googles over the past year but I've not rigorously checked them.

But again, the OP was not clear as to what sort of document they are writing, for self-publication, querying/submitting a manuscript, or other.


Asterisks are used to indicate the end of a scene


*** can indicate a jump in time or a return to the chapter's focus after a digression.

  • I see this as an answer. An incomplete one, because it only addresses one of the methods for indicating a break and does not compare it with others.
    – Cyn
    Jan 2, 2019 at 20:50
  • Yes, Donald, please do Edit to expand on this. Maybe *** is the best option for the OP's situation, but it would be much better if you elaborate on why that is the case, especially as OP asked for the difference between a few different styles, and you have only (briefly) discussed one of them. Short answers that don't provide any rationale or elaboration can be at risk of being downvoted or even deleted.
    – user
    Jan 3, 2019 at 9:45

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