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I am preparing writing samples for a trade book proposal. My chapters have section breaks (usually to indicate passage of time). Is there a standard or best practice for how to graphically/typographically represent them? i.e. is an extra space best? Three asterisks? A line? Everything looks pretty lame to me!

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  • Note than in an ebook, a section break via a space break may not work if it ends at the top or bottom of the page. A ruled line or 3 asterisks, however, are obvious breaks and perfectly usable. They don't draw attention to themselves.
    – Steve
    Jun 16, 2023 at 18:32

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The important thing about section breaks is that they stay in place, whatever anyone is doing with the file (converting it, copying its content, running scripts on it, and so on).

An empty line isn't the best bet for this (may mysteriously disappear), and neither is any kind of picture.

What my published writer friends swear on is some relatively ordinary character (nothing foreign because foreign characters may mysteriously disappear too) or character string that won't appear anywhere else in the document. Same character repeated three times in a row is especially popular: three asterisks, three tildes, or three sharps, something like that.

The typographer at the publisher's will replace it with something nicer looking. In the manuscript, looks isn't the feature that matters.

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There's not a standardized or best way to make a section break. Section breaks are done differently depending on the book and the author. Here are some that I've seen:

  • Double line space: It's common and simple, not very flashy, but it gets the point across. Multiple books I've seen with this gave the space a design/line if the section break was at the end or beginning of a page so that it doesn't look like just another paragraph.
  • Simple line or asterisks: Clear, but not super stylish.
  • Design: Some books have a design instead of a line to show section separation. Designs I've seen range from having simply a fancier line to illustrations (though the illustrations are the same for every section break and are small)
  • Just a different chapter: Some authors just have very short chapters instead of section breaks. Whether or not this works can depend on your style of story.
  • Different paragraph style after section break: No matter your section break style, the paragraph after the break generally isn't indented and/or it has something different with the font for a few words (bold, different font, different size, etc.).

Those are some section breaks I've seen through reading. At the end of the day, it's your choice what you want. There's not a standardized way to make a section break, and there certainly isn't a best way. Often, your section break can represent your book, especially if you use a design. Still, it's up to you for what you think is best.

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