Are Your Scene Breaks Rude?

Are Your Scene Breaks Rude?

After finishing the first draft of Jane Eyre: The Classic Annotated for Readers and Writers, I’m rewarding my tattered brain cells with a week off. Instead of new posts this week, I hope you’ll enjoy revisiting an old video on an important topic.

This week’s video points out how a simple failure on the author’s part can easily cause confusion among readers.

Video Transcript:

Aside from making certain our chapter and scene breaks are scintillating enough to keep readers reading, most of us don’t give them too much thought. But we should. Chapter and scene breaks can often show a lack of courtesy from the author toward the reader. And if shunning those good manners your mother drilled into you isn’t horror enough, here’s an even more disturbing thought. This same rudeness can lead us to the even more egregious faux pas of leaving our readers wallowing in confusion.

What I’m talking about here is simply a failure on the author’s part to reorient readers at the beginning of every scene. On its most basic—and most prevalent—level this failure takes the form of beginning the scene by introducing the POV character with a pronoun. For example, scenes often open with a simple, “He hurried into the phone booth,” or “She sat down
and cried.” As the author, of course, we know exactly to whom these pronouns refer. Particularly if this new scene takes place in the middle of an ongoing chapter and features the same POV character as the previous scene, we naturally assume the reader understands whom we’re talking about.

The problem with this thinking is twofold. One, the very fact that you’ve begun a new scene is a cue to the reader that, as far as he knows, everything has changed, including the POV character and even the setting. Two, despite your best efforts, readers will inevitably set down your book at a scene break. Sooner or later, you can bank on it—it’s going to happen. Who knows how many hours or days, or even weeks, may pass before they pick the book up again. If we begin our new scene with nothing more than an ambiguous pronoun, our readers are likely to be lost. They’ll have to skim all around the page just to be sure whom they’re reading about. Identifying your POV character by name at the beginning of every scene is a simple and important courtesy to your readers.

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever been confused by a pronoun at the beginning of another author’s scene?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

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