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I wish to write an intercut scene for a novel, where two very contrasting things are happening at the same time. The technique works really well on the screen, but I think we can use the same technique in a novel - especially for a built-up moment.

Any examples of this in novels or suggestions to best write it?

Thank you!

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  • This isn't enough for an answer, but in The 5th Wave series, the author uses lots of intercuts and does it very well. Maybe check that out! – weakdna Oct 24 '19 at 14:27
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The standard way of doing this in a novel is to use a single line with "---" centered or "***" centered, in between the intercuts. Don't let your editor auto-correct that into a horizontal line, it should be "---" or "***" (without the quotes). The typesetter for the book will convert this into whatever rule they decide on, it can be a curly separator or bold line or whatever, not up to you.

A centered separator is also a signal to the reader that one scene ended and another is beginning, so they expect a POV change. Alternatively, we use the same thing to indicate a passage of uneventful time; i.e. end one section with

"She parked in the driveway, finally home, ready to collapse into bed."
Then center ---, then
"The alarm woke her up at eight. She could have slept hours longer, ..."

It is the same mechanism used for both, kind of a vertical ellipsis in away. If you want to sell your work, this is standard typesetting practice. I do not recommend inventing your own, unless you are self-publishing from a Word document and are your own typesetter. If you are submitting to agents and/or publishers, follow the standard. See Correctly Formatting Your Novel Manuscript.

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I do this all the time, and I tend to use short chapters that will contain one scene and break to the next chapter when done OR I will use a line break (either a center justified triple asterisk (***) or a long line (in word typing "---" and hitting enter will draw a line between text, though it doesn't translate well to other systems).

Another technique I use is a combined Third Person perspective with a first person perspective that allows for some cross-over of dialog as my third person is limited only to actions and events in scene, while my first person is limited to only internal monologs of my lead character. I write both separately, with the events of the scene (third person) being written first and the first person being written second to compliment the leads actions (I italicize the First Person narration so it's distinct in text and thus read differently.). The first person only is depicted for scenes with the character present, while the third follows any character I require (so if the villains meet, there is no First person as the hero cannot provide internal monolog as he/she isn't privy to this part of the story). The one exception is that a first person may overlay to monolog the character's thoughts on what he/she thinks is happening in the scene vs. what is actually happening (if the first person is thinking about how honorable a secondary character is, they may take that monolog into the next scene, where the reader witnesses the same character rob a woman while out of the Main's view.

In addition, I have a soft spot for dialogs that "answer" to another scene's dialog. I see it used in Archer a lot, where in two scenes, characters will be having seperate conversations and the scenes transition at points where the last line of dialog in the first scene and first line of dialog in the next scene would be natural dialog responses. So if characters Alice and Bob are in a seperate conversation in a separate (but near simultaneous occurring) scene to Charlie and Dave, who are also conversing, Alice will end the scene with a dialog line, and Charlie will begin the next scene with a line of dialog that would be natural for Bob to say to Alice if the scene continues.

When doing this, however, it is important to not repeate actions. If a bomb goes off in the cliffhanger of the A scene, the B scene will start with the immediate reaction to the blast, not a replay of the boom.

As a general rule, I do not like ending chapters when the next chapter will feature the same perspective character. If I end an Alice scene, I will not start with a second alice scene, unless there is no other way to transition. Scenes should change when you either flip a perspective or significantly alter the setting (change from day to night, change from by the docks to at the mall in the burbs) or for dramatic effect (the bomb has gone off, cliff hanger as the masked man show's his face, or the villain and hero are done banter and moving to the final showdown).

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It's not difficult but the structure needs setting up in advance. The writer must establish characters and their locations. These characters do not know one another and have never met. In this example I have used media and an event.

Chapter One introduces Corrine Radman, a stock-trader, she sits in an open plan office in front a Bloomberg terminal with six screens. On the walls hang large LCD screens tuned to various news and financial channels.

Chapter Two shows us Calvin Jackson. Calvin owns a small auto-repair show. He is currently in his office with Mrs Rodriguez who is paying her bill. From behind his counter her can see the TV in the customer waiting area.

Chapter Three Takes us to the foyer of the FBI headquarters. Special Agent Vanessa Caldwell has just been transferred from the Wisconsin field office. She is watching Fox News on the screens behind the receptionist as she waits to be escorted upstairs.

  • Characters and locations set.

KABOOM! - We blow up Wilmington Nuclear power station.

We are in a position to rapidly cycle through scenes and locations using only the character name as the trigger. There's no need for new chapters or scene breaks, just new paragraphs.

WTF! Corrine's eyes remained fixed to the news report on the big screen. Whilst others left their workstations and watched in awe, Corrine remained seated, her fingers moving rapidly as she dumped stocks and changed positions. Please don't suspend the DOW, please.

Agent Caldwell leapt out of her seat and ran across the foyer. "Hey, you!" she shouted at the receptionist. "Can you turn that up?"

Calvin waived goodbye to Mrs Rodriguez. The TV screen caught his eye as he crossed the workshop. The Chyron read, US Under Terrorist Attack". He wandered into the waiting room and watched for a few moments. He rolled his eyes: More fake news he concluded before picking up the remote and switching the channel to MTV Base.

Caldwell continued to watch the screen as activity inside the Hoover building increased to a panicked frenzy. All the lights on the switchboard lit up as calls flooded in.

"Yes!" Corrine threw her hands in the air.

Her colleagues turned to her, offering a unified look of disapproval.

"What?" she shrugged. "I just traded out all my domestic based premiums, saving my clients over 22 million dollars. What have you lot been doing?"

Is that what you meant?

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