How to Use Scene Breaks to Cut Your Story’s Fat

How to Use Scene Breaks to Cut the FatAvoiding excessive word count is a weighty consideration for any writer, but most particularly in order to keep unnecessary fat from weighing down your stories. Here’s a quick trick for using scene breaks to both cut the fat and make it seem like you’ve cut the fat.

Fat takes many shapes, everything from repetitive dialogue to extraneous characters. But one of the most flagrant areas of fat accumulation is in scene transitions. For example, authors sometimes fall into the trap of dramatizing transitions in lengthy paragraphs that recount the characters’ every step between one room and another.

Not only is this rarely necessary, but it’s also a wasted opportunity for tightening up your narrative.

A Super-Easy Way to Use Scene Breaks to Sharpen Your Narrative

In his breakout fantasy Elantris, Brandon Sanderson offers a great example of how to trim pointless filler bits by utilizing one of a writer’s most useful and invisible tools: (you guessed it!) scene breaks.

Although Sanderson’s book is no lightweight—it weighs in at almost 700 pages—he does a good job of cutting out the boring fat that could easily have doubled his page count. He uses scenes break not only in the obvious places to indicate changes of POV or setting, but also to cut even seemingly innocuous segments, such as his antagonist leaving his quarters to walk downtown:

Weakened as he was, Hrathen could only stand in shock. Iadon dead? Telrii seizing control? How could find days bring about such drastic events?

“Come,” Hrathen said firmly. “You can explain it to me on the way to chapel.”


The crowds gathered around as he walked; the captain owned no carriage, and Hrathen didn’t want to bother waiting for one. For the moment, the exhilaration of a plan fulfilled was enough to keep him moving.

The 2 Benefits of Using Snappy Scene Breaks

1. The result Sanderson produces neatly trims the fat from his story.

2. It also contributes to a sense of speed in his pacing. He could easily have written a short sentence that would have brushed over the antagonist’s change of setting, but thanks to the scene break, he indicates the passage of time to the reader in a tight, snappy fashion that keeps his story rolling right along.

This is as quick and easy a writing technique as there is, but the effect on your readers’ perception of your narrative is a powerful one.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How have you kept your scene breaks snappy? Tell me in the comments!

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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.


  1. So glad I saw this today… I’m working on a scene that could definitely use a scene break and I didn’t even think about it until your vlog! Awesome, thanks!

  2. ah, KM, your tips are so helpful and always seem to be so well timed for me… are you spying on me??? LOL–j/k! Thanks–as always, good stuff~

  3. Very useful. I’m working on a WriMo right now, so extra words are my friends, but when I edit, I’ll remember

  4. @Elegant: It’s amazing sometimes how something as simple as a scene break can perk up a scene.

    @LTM: Yep, got my spy bots roaming about. Never know what they’re going to report back next!

  5. @Galadriel: Keep knocking out those word counts!

  6. Very helpful!

  7. Thanks for watching!

  8. I just wanted you to know that although I never comment, I read every single post you write and I find them really helpful. You do a great job! 🙂

  9. Thanks, Wendy! I appreciate that, and I’m so glad you’re enjoying the posts.

  10. A reference to a fantasy story? Hmm, sounds interesting 😀
    What do you say? Wouldn’t the best way to learn be; reading it

  11. Joe Long says

    When I started I didn’t want anything unaccounted for. It was part of my logical construction – but I realized there are places that you can trust the reader to fill in the blanks.

    I just finished a scene and a chapter where there’s a spat between the protagonist and his love interest. After he spends a little too much time ogling the waitress, hi date becomes quiet. He’s oblivious but the readers should catch it. When he finally asks “What’s wrong” she let’s loose. I din’t have to describe the ride home. We can all reckon it would be icy. I left it end on a key sentence from her that sums up the conflict and leaves a hook.

    So how to start the next scene that’s mapped out for several days later? It had already been mentioned that her brother was having a birthday party. I’ll start right in with “I’m sorry” to which she replies “We can’t really talk about it here” as a partial reaction then transition into the meat of next scene after establishing the setting.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think most of us start out this way–both because we don’t trust our readers (or ourselves?) and because we *love* all our story details. But I’ve actually found it really exciting and liberating to figure out how much I can leave out.

  12. M.L. Bull says

    I have scene breaks in some of my chapters too. It really does help chop out some words count, and I enjoy switching from between two or three storylines in a book that deal with the same theme but in different ways.

  13. I call the extraneous detail involved in moving characters around meaninglessly “stage management.” It’s far better to avoid:

    Myron agreed to meet the man. He hung up the phone, closed the office, went downstairs, got into his 1940 Ford V8, and drove to Farmers’ Market in the rain.

    And just say: It was raining when Myron pulled into Farmers’ Market.

  14. Thanks for this information. It’s a good reminder and extremely helpful. Coming from the copy editing side of the writing, I’m familiar with its importance. Yet, writing my own stories now, it’s a different issue.

    I get tunnel vision of course when it comes to my own creation. Nothing new and normal for every writer. Yet, your reminder about the scene breaks helps a lot to clean it up as much as possible before I pass it on to an editor. 🙂 Thanks a lot.


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s true. It’s one thing to be able to know all the right things about storytelling, and something else again to actually be able to do it!

  15. For my novel, I sometimes set up a bit and then provide a resolution to each scene. It mostly fits with the style I’m writing in, which is rather lush, but is certainly not necessary all the time and in many instances probably slows down the action, and that’s one thing I need to be more aware of. (ah, edits…)
    I recently had to write a shorter story (15000 words – novella? novelina?) where I had to be a lot more consistent in “starting late” and “ending early” and what scene breaks can do.
    One important thing, though: while you don’t have to describe every action your characters make, make certain they sit down before they “start up again”, pick up a glass of water that was on the table before throwing it in someone’s face, etc… Recently came across a lot of instances of that sort of thing in a novel, and it jarred.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You raise an important point in that the techniques used for pacing will vary depending on the genre and overall tone of the story.

  16. Jessica Salmonson says

    chap. 2 – Hours later on the road, he found a ride from a traveling merchant.

    chap. 3 – After several hours, his vision blurry, he stumbled up the stairs slid into the bed falling asleep.

    chap 5 – They went over to the ridge nearby and followed it North around a lake. Then headed down…

    Hum… the third one is a bit dry.

    Short and sweet, telling is your friend with these. 😛 at least during drafts that is?


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