1. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Scene breaks as emphasis

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by popsicledeath, Nov 14, 2010.

    Usually a scene break signifies a meaningful passage of time and/or space, or a switch to a different point of view. But I recently started noticing manuscripts that will have a scene break, but the scene continues after the break as if the break didn't occur. A few times to the point the break was in the middle of a conversation. (and I'm not implying it only started being done recently, but only that I recently started noticing it)

    I asked a colleague about it, and we tried to think of examples of this outside of the unpublished amateur/student manuscripts we'd been reading, to confirm it' wasn't just a 'rookie mistake,' but done in published work as well. He came up with Kurt Vonnegut and I noticed the occurrence in a YA novel I'm reading for a class. We both would advise not to do it, in general, and concluded the motivation for doing this could only be some attempt at 'emphasis.'

    Is there any reason aside from 'emphasis' that anyone can think of for doing this?

    In my opinion any 'emphasis' created is mostly a construct of the author, as I've never felt it personally as a reader when I've seen it done this way. In fact, because a scene break signifies to me a change of space, time or pov, it usually bothers me if one of these don't change after a scene break. Maybe this is the reason? Some artificial/awkward attempt at creating confusing or imbalance via the format, instead of the prose (a cheap trick, if you ask me, but people do it all the time in poetry, so shrug).

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    Does or would it bother you if a scene break resulted in the scene not actually breaking? Would you or have you done this in your own writing? Any ideas of the motivation behind using the sort of scene break where the new scene opens literally a beat after the other closed?
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    It doesn't seem like a good idea to do every single time you want to create emphasis. If you did, then it would lose its effect and all the "impactful" stuff would just get annoying and gimmicky as a result of being overdone.

    With regards to breaking a scene in the middle of a conversation --- maybe if the MC has a motivation-changing point, personality alteration, personal growth, de-evolvement (like for someone losing their conscience one step at a time), etc, then a break there would help to illustrate that.
    That's the only usage I can think of, though.
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, it's not a reason so much as a possible explanation: It's what television does. TV shows often break at the height of a scene, to ensure that the viewer will return after the commercial. Maybe your writers have internalized this as somehow the "right" breaking strategy, even when the reason for it no longer exists.

    ChickenFreak
  4. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty New Member Contributor

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    I've been noticing that a lot in Lord of the Rings, which I'm re-reading at the moment... It seems to be used pretty much like an extra strong paragraph break - like, they get done discussing one issue, there's a conclusion which could be as good as the end of a chapter if he'd felt like changing, but instead he carries on after. It seems to just be a way of separating out thoughts a bit more clearly, rather than emphasis. Pretty old novel now, so perhaps that is more of the reason for doing it than any dramatic emphasis that more modern novels are turning up?
  5. erader2
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    erader2 New Member

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    Are you implying Kurt Vonnegut used awkward, cheap tricks? Blasphemy! May the Internet gods give your computer a flood of viruses! :p

    I agree if it's overdone it can be annoying and pretentious, but I happen to like my literature a bit unorthodox
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sounds to me as if what you're seeing is simply new writer goofs, not emulation of anything that's 'done' by the pros for a good reason...
  7. erik martin
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    erik martin New Member

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    Maia, are you accusing Vonnegut of making new writer goofs? (Admittedly, at some point he was a new writer and certainly must have goofed.) However, I feel confident that his unconventional break was as professionally necessary as his hand drawn doodles of his sphincter, which adorned more than a few of his books. :)

    An aside on KV. He always claimed that he never wrote more than one draft. That would search for exactly the words he wanted, even if it took hours to write just a few sentences, and then leave it. It was done. He's about the only well known author I can think of to make this claim.

    There was no point in that, and I realize that it is not germane to the OP, so just ignore that please and get back to discussing scene breaks.
  8. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I haven't searched much, but just happened to notice this being done in the novel I'm currently reading.

    I'm not saying it's right, but I don't think it can be completely explained simply as mistakes by new writers.
  9. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Yeah, that's kind of what we discussed with Vonnegut, but it's been enough years I don't recall him doing this specifically, but the idea was the 'emphasis' would be like how a stanza break in poetry can sometimes not introduce a new idea or direction, but act to emphasis a point. To give a conclusion to a 'movement' as a new one is introduced, even if it's the same scene or even the same conversation, as you mention, sort of like a strong paragraph break.

    I don't personally see the point, but I hope the people doing this (in published works especially) made a deliberate decision to do it. I just wonder why.

    I'll try to find examples as I read, but don't have the time to do specific research on this issue. I do wonder if I'll see it more in novels or short stories. My gut says novels, but no real reason why.
  10. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty New Member Contributor

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    Well, in short stories there's less time for scene breaks, so they would be more significant. :p In a novel people sometimes stop 'cause they need the loo and a cup of coffee, and when they come back, hitting return twice feels like progress. :p
  11. Islander
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    Islander Senior Member Contributor

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    I think I can see how this could be used successfully... you know when someone says something that makes the whole conversation pause? I think putting a scene break in the middle of a conversation suggests a pause like that.
  12. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty New Member Contributor

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    I dunno, unless it was a natural pause rather than an emotionally weighted one - basically, a run out of things to say pause, instead of any dramatic revelation or any idea that was too heavy to immediately respond to, you'd need to describe the pause rather than just physically show it.
  13. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    While writing in scene, I try to keep things as 'real' as possible. If there's a small pause, I create a small pause. If there's a long contemplative moment, I find things to fill the space.

    With this thinking, I don't know how to explain a scene break in the middle of a scene that isn't changing something, whether pov, space or time, so I've never done it.

    I appreciate some of the ideas coming out as possible reasons why a writer would do it, though. Learning to think from different perspectives is important in learning and teaching writing, so it's helpful.

    I like the 'saw it in tv shows' idea. The phenomenon where a wife says 'because I'm pregnant!' and they cut to commercial with a stunned husband, then return from commercial and play the 'because I'm pregnant' again and this time let the husband react.

    That seems like plausible motivation, especially since a lot of aspiring writers seem to fall prey to film 'tricks' (like characters muttering under their breath RIGHT NEXT TO the person they're muttering about, instead of just giving the reader internal insights into what the character is thinking/feeling).

    Or I could see some reasoning as wanting to provide a single, compact 'movement' of a scene, and using a scene break to emphasize a transition of topics or mood, I suppose. That is sort of a 'change,' but to me not big enough to warrant a scene break.

    It's interesting the things writers do, and trying to decipher why. I'm hoping someone who does this will come in and give their reasoning. I'm not yet convinced it's 'wrong' to do, just different from what I do (and probably different from the 'standard'), and I don't find much wrong with that if there's good reasoning behind it.
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...of course not!...

    erik... that's what i was referring to... not to the vonnegut exception, since i have to assume kurt had a 'good reason'...
  15. erik martin
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    erik martin New Member

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    Gotcha, I was just funnin' anyway.:)
  16. rainy
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    rainy New Member

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    The only place I could possibly imagine using this technique would be in a long-winded dialogue tangent that has several key concepts. I'm pretty sure there's better ways around that though :)

    I personally use scene breaks in the way the previous posters have stated they expect them to be used. But that's just me. Carry on.
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