Blank Lines in a Manuscript

In the past few days, I’ve formatted some manuscripts for both print and eBook that had lots of blank lines in the manuscript.

Sometimes these manuscripts have one blank line every now and then, sometimes two, and sometimes both – leading me to believe they are intended to imply different meaning to the reader.

As an author, I don’t use blank lines to signify anything in my manuscripts. And when I format manuscripts that contain blank lines, it makes me wonder about their significance, if any. At that point, I have to contact the author or editor and ask about the blank lines. “What does one blank line mean? What about two blank lines?”

Most often, I hear that the single line breaks just indicate a pause, a reflection, or a mini scene transition. For instance, a pause might be indicated after a long segment of the character’s thoughts or┬áremembrances, which are often in italics. The blank line gives the reader a slight pause as he/she shifts back into the scene. Okay, understood. I get it.

Double blank lines most often indicate an actual scene transition within a chapter. Lots of authors use a tangible character or multiple characters to indicate this. Often, I see three asterisks, * * *, and sometimes three periods. Others use ding-bats or other symbols in their manuscript to indicate the scene change. All well and good. I get that too.

From the perspective of someone formatting print and eBooks, I have some thoughts and some advice.

With eBooks, the formatter does not have full control of the layout as does the print book formatter. The user can change the font, the line spacing, the margins, and other aspects that will have an impact on the readers experience with the eBook. With that said, the formatter has no control over where those blank lines show up in an eBook. If they happen to fall at the very top or bottom line on the reader’s device, they might be overlooked and the reader will miss their intended meaning. Then you have a reader trying to figure out how they got into a new scene…

Even in print, the payout person has to be careful with those blank lines and make sure they don’t fall at the very top or very bottom and get lost.

It seems to me the safest way to indicate a scene break would be with a tangible character that cannot be overlooked or misunderstood, by both the reader or the person formatting the eBook or print layout.

How do you indicate scene transitions in your work? How many types of scene transitions have you run across? How do you prefer to indicate these breaks in your eBooks?




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