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In the current WIP chapter of my most popular web serial, there is a scene at the beginning that is presented as happening "now" (that is, having regular story focus) only to be suddenly interrupted by an objection from a character outside the scene, revealing immediately that the actual focus is on the scene of a retelling of the previous scene from one character to another. The transition as it stands is like this:

“No that’s… it’s different when it’s a servant, Eleanor, you know that. That’s hardly the level we’re talking about now. And might I remind you that by your own admission you got extremely lucky even in that case that the, uh… boy has taken to it so well.”

“If you’d just trust in my abilities—”

“It’s not a matter of trust, Eleanor!” Lord Ashwater cried exasperatedly, grabbing his wife by the upper ar—

“Hang on.” Sam said through a mouthful of carrot. “You said you was outside the door listening. How do you know he grabbed her?”

“Door was ajar, wasn’t it?” Catherine gesticulated with her fork. “I could see their shadows on the wall when they got near the window. Now do you wanner hear this or not?”

This gets the idea across inelegantly but with minimal formatting and the only real signal as to the change being an otherwise nonsensical em-dash in non-dialogue text I worry that it will read as confusing and might prompt the casual reader to lose interest and the concerted one to break their flow to go back and examine the transition to understand it. I don't want either of those, but I also still want the transition to be a surprise- so I can't really do something like putting the entire first scene in italics or some other indicator of distance because by convention for flashbacks etc that will signal too early that the scene isn't happening in real time. I also can't do this to the second scene, because then there is no real indication as to when this convention should stop, and I risk ending up with the entire "present" of one chapter of the story formatted completely differently from the "present" of every other chapter.

When seen in film and television, the specific framing I'm trying to evoke is that where "Scene 1" freeze frames in motion, a character's voiceover plays over the frozen frame voicing an objection, and then the camera hard cuts to the other character in "Scene 2" replying, often with set dressing and shot framing that quickly get the audience up to speed with "Scene 2".

I am limited to formatting within the intersection of powers of bbcode, markdown and rich text and as this story is a serial release I cannot go back and change the formatting of any previous chapters to enable new more radical formatting conventions.

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  • Would you share a link? You seem to write well, and I'd like to read something you wrote.
    – Ben
    Apr 19 at 17:01
  • @Ben I love sharing my writing but I'm afraid given its subject matter sharing a link or any further elaboration would run afoul of writ.SE's code of conduct. I've carefully curated the excerpt I provided for precisely this reason. Apr 19 at 17:49
  • @AyulaOneOne If it's merely sexually-explicit, I think it should be okay to place links (though probably not extracts) in your profile bio: the CoC does not prohibit links, and the AUP's prohibition contains the exception "unless it falls within a reasonable interpretation of a Network site’s scope and purpose". Sharing your writing is a reasonable use of your bio on Writing Stack Exchange (though, obviously, not the purpose of questions or answers). (If you do this and get in trouble for it, please blame me enthusiastically.)
    – wizzwizz4
    Apr 19 at 23:01

2 Answers 2

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That's brilliant and I think it works perfectly once you format it as continuous text (without the blank line between paragraphs) and add a scene break:

     “No that’s… it’s different when it’s a servant, Eleanor, you know that. That’s hardly the level we’re talking about now. And might I remind you that by your own admission you got extremely lucky even in that case that the, uh… boy has taken to it so well.”
     “If you’d just trust in my abilities—”
     “It’s not a matter of trust, Eleanor!” Lord Ashwater cried exasperatedly, grabbing his wife by the upper ar—

     “Hang on.” Sam said through a mouthful of carrot. “You said you was outside the door listening. How do you know he grabbed her?”
     “Door was ajar, wasn’t it?” Catherine gesticulated with her fork. “I could see their shadows on the wall when they got near the window. Now do you wanner hear this or not?”

The scene break signals a change in setting or characters or both, so you don't have to spell it out for the readers, which would destroy the intriguing surprise effect.

If the text is published on the interent, and for some reason you must have the blank lines between paragraphs, add three asterisks as scene break:

“No that’s… it’s different when it’s a servant, Eleanor, you know that. That’s hardly the level we’re talking about now. And might I remind you that by your own admission you got extremely lucky even in that case that the, uh… boy has taken to it so well.”

“If you’d just trust in my abilities—”

“It’s not a matter of trust, Eleanor!” Lord Ashwater cried exasperatedly, grabbing his wife by the upper ar—

                                                                       *   *   *

“Hang on.” Sam said through a mouthful of carrot. “You said you was outside the door listening. How do you know he grabbed her?”

“Door was ajar, wasn’t it?” Catherine gesticulated with her fork. “I could see their shadows on the wall when they got near the window. Now do you wanner hear this or not?”

This doesn't work so well, though, because the three asterisks pose a visual barrier, while a blank line allows the reader to visually connect the two parts of the text more easily. Also, I despise the blank-line web formatting, but that's just my personal preference, obviously.

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  • I already use scene breaks in the story in pretty much the way described, but unfortunately I don't think they'd work here because the reader would be able to intuitively tell it isn't a "real" scene break because it wouldn't flow the way I usually use them. So I think you're right that I should just leave it as it is. Apr 19 at 17:45
  • @AyulaOneOne "the reader would be able to intuitively tell it isn't a "real" scene break" That's why it would work here. And I've actually seen it done like the way I describe quite often.
    – Ben
    Apr 19 at 17:48
  • Sorry I wasn't clear. I mean that it would look exactly like a real scene break but wouldn't flow like one, and even knowing why it was like that and what it was for I think readers would find that awkward and distracting. It's definitely a double-edged sword in that sense with potential function but I don't think I want to use it that way. Apr 19 at 17:53
  • @AyulaOneOne As I said, I have seen it used in exactly the way you want to use it: as a transition between something that is being narrated and the situation in which the narrator narrates it. I would even say it is the standard way to do this. But of course you are free to find another way.
    – Ben
    Apr 19 at 19:42
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It looks pretty good already.

If you want to be more explicit:

“It’s not a matter of trust, Eleanor!” Lord Ashwater cried exasperatedly, grabbing his wife by the upper ar—

Sam interrupted Catherine's narration.

“Hang on.” Sam said through a mouthful of carrot. ...

Given your restrictions, that's probably your best option.

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