The Danger of Visual Cues in Drafting

Author’s note: (Finally I am back online after some network trouble caused by a small and seemingly inconsequential ADSL filter). You may notice my progress bar hasn’t moved on Vengeance Will Come, but that’s because I am in the midst of writing the final 3 chapters!!! Yes, that is entirely deserving of no less than 3 exclamation marks.

In the blog post for today I am going to discuss a possible trap when drafting a story using a visual cue for scene changes.. Hopefully my mistake – shared – will help you avoid it.

Firstly, a home-baked definition:

Scene change: Where the perspective of a story shifts to an alternate character’s viewpoint, location and/or signifies the passing of time.

In the past I have used two different ways of visually showing a scene change.

Option 1

The first is this nice little image (taken from Windings or Webdings and then mirrored). To my artistically challenged self, it was an aesthetically pleasing caligraphy-like symbol.

The downside of this particular approach was I had to centre it each time I added it, and embedding the image repeatedly increased the size of the document. (Not drastically, but still…)

Option 2

The second method which I have now adopted is to alter a header style in a Word document. This provides 4 benefits:

  1. It provides the visual break (but is on the subtle-side using a lighter grey),
  2. I can also navigate around the chapter by using the navigation pane,
  3. It automatically numbers my scenes which is helpful and saves a lot of time re-numbering all the time when scenes move, and
  4. It allows me to name the scene which I comes in handy for navigation, and I suspect when it’s ready for reviewers to give me feedback.

I think a visual cue to the reader that there has been a scene change is very important, whether it is something this fancy or just a few dashes or additional carriage returns on the page.

Not having ever published before, this is something I am guessing at but who is to say that either of these options is a valid option for publication? I assume that they would be stripped out and at least replaced by something else.

However, visual scene changes are not all innocent and good; there is also a hidden danger in them.

With the visual cue not only does the reader know it’s a scene change, but so to does the author.

Because of that visible scene change, my eyes tend to gloss over the scene change. I know it’s a scene change so I haven’t put as much effort into making it clear with the words than I might otherwise have done. The reader should be able to tell there has been a scene change without the visual cue being so clearly defined.

There are a couple of approaches that I have done to try and make scene changes clearer:

  1. The character actually leave the room at the end of the scene. (I think there is also a danger in over-doing this).
  2. The character has a final thought which points toward a scene-conclusion.
  3. In the first sentence (or two) of a new scene I try to make it clear their has been a change in location, time and whose head the reader ‘in in’.

Do you have any thoughts on scene changes?