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Section / scene dividers and Chapter Headings

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

Just splitting out a discussion arising in another thread to one of it's own.

In traditional print book there is no line or space between paragraphs and the only way to tell it's a new paragraph is the indented text on the first line of the new paragraph. They also use a single blank line to indicate a change of scene, and a new chapter is an obvious major change in the story as well: usually a new page, part way down the page, and sometimes a drop capital. However, today there are more options available, especially in electronic formats where the display software will often remove any indentation of the first line, thus a blank line is needed between every paragraph and other methods needed to indicate a change of scene. Also, some software will reduce multiple space commands and multiple new line commands to display a single space and a single line, so something extra is needed to ensure the writer's intent is clear. With some software this same problem applies to the display of a new chapter.

When the software provides for displaying a new chapter as a new page to display that part is easy, but it relies on the software recognising the the correct place to break the text or having each chapter as a separate file. A lot of software recognises header commands like the H1 and H2 type commands in HTML, but not all software does, or is set to do so, and you can end up with more than one chapter displayed on the page.

Above are the problems, below are some of the common answers, followed by what I do. Do you have anything else you use?

For scene and section dividers some people use a full or partial row of symbols like * - _ . and some people use the same symbols with a space between each one in the row, because some software won't display multiple items in a row and some software will see a certain number as code and display something else (in some cases the code means don't display what follows. Often people will have a blank line before and / or after the line of symbols. In some cases people use an image between sections. Some people use a section title to mark the change. Some people don't bother with a specific section / scene divider at all, and leave it up to the reader to work it out from the context.

For my stories I use the one format for both print and electronic display, and have a mix of actions to show my intent. I do this because I want my intent to be evident, despite any changes in the presentation by the display technology. In the original word processing file I use the traditional options of position on the page, different font size, different font type, colour, and forced page breaks (i.e. new page) to show chapters, sub-chapters, and sections. For a change of scene within a section I usually use a group of underscore lines ( ____ ) to create a part page horizontal line.

The result is the chapter heading shows a third of the way down the page in large, bold, red text on a new page; a sub-chapter heading is in large, bold, blue text in italics at the top of a new page; section headings are in standard size bold text. In all three cases they're centred in the line with a space between them and the text below. I use the same formatting for the print books, the e-pubs, the html, and the tagged text code for SoL.

The only difference between versions I make with the code is the Partition command for the SoL code - this is the command SoL uses to start a new page for display to the reader on their site. I will place this at the start of a new chapter or sub-chapter because I try to provide a reasonable read of around 8,000 words with each chapter and SoL has a limit where it automatically splits the page after a set amount of characters which comes out to around 12,000 words, but also includes punctuation marks in the count. In order to get suitable breaks to match my headings I sometimes have a SoL page of 4,000 words and sometimes as high as 11,000 words. Despite trying to avoid a forced page cut, I sometimes end up with a multi-page display for some SoL chapters.

Some other display variations that occur are the fact the print books are in black ink on white pages, thus the colour vanishes. However, the position on page, the page breaks, the font sizes, italics, and bold all stay to convey my intent to the reader. With the electronic displays I get a variety of results. If the story is displayed as a single html file it shows as one long page and sometimes the reader's setting will adjust how it displays, but the H1, H2, and H3 commands usually come through and show the chapter, sub-chapter, and section headings as sufficiently different to do the job. The big oddity is the same e-pub file doesn't display the same way in all the e-pub reading software. I've seen the font size code removed, the font colour code removed, and the position on the page is removed in most software. Luckily, the forced page breaks, centre, bold, and italics commands come through in all the e-pub software I've seen. Thus there is a still enough variation between the various headings to carry my intent to the reader. What it means is: some readers get a more colourful text to read, along with more obvious break clues. However, this does highlight the need to be aware that not all display software provides the same answer from the same set of code in the file.

Does anyone do anything different to identify chapters, sections, or scenes? If you do, why?

typo edit

Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

Does anyone do anything different to identify chapters, sections, or scenes? If you do, why?


This applies to ebook only

My theory is always simplicity and clarity. That may answer the question of why I do it the way I do.

My chapters start on a new page like yours, but they start at the top of the page. I don't use colors. My chapter definition is:

p.chapter
{
text-indent: 0em;
text-align: center;
page-break-before: always;
font-weight: bold;
margin-top:5em;
margin-bottom:2em;
font-family:"Times New Roman", Georgia, serif;
font-size:1.3em;

I don't use sections.

In my only published novel, I used a centered * * * * for my scene changes, but in the future I will put a blank line above and below it. It's important for the reader to know when a scene changes, especially when the POV changes.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


My chapter definition is:


Switch,

That's where we differ, I don't create a specific CSS at all. I write the story in the word processor (Libre Office) use the 'one click' option to create the PDF for the print book, then remove excess items like headers, footers, and Table of Contents before importing the file into Calibre to create the e-pub - which does a perfect job of it. For the html code I convert a copy of the original master file to basic html, and have the font code for each H1 H2 H3 heading, because this simplifies the conversion to the SoL tagged text.

I can see how what you do is much better for the usage you have and it will help many others to know how this is done. However, I have a different end product in mind and use a different approach that is less work for me.

typo edit

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Does anyone do anything different to identify chapters, sections, or scenes? If you do, why?

I use a variety of techniques to help readers follow my stories, but I try to keep them limited in their implementation (i.e. I only use a few different styles, as I find consistency is more important than special effects--plus I get confused if there are too many options available).

I've used different sections for stories, but like prologues and epilogues, they're problematic because many uses will bypass them completely--meaning they'll get confused and give up on the story, blaming the author rather than their not reading the entire story. Since I write science-fiction, my fans typically know to read prologues and epilogues, but section breaks are unusual in any genre.

As per the other discussion, I include section breaks whenever the scene changes. On SOL and on my webpage I simply include a string of dashes "______________". For my books, I try to make the stories prettier to make the experience richer. Instead of text headers I include graphic headers (using a custom font for each story) as well as including a custom chapter header and section break graphic (again, using themes consistent with the story).

I don't use colors or underlines, but I use indented text for notes, radio broadcasts or announcements. The only 'in-text' formatting I use are bolding (limited) and italic (to emphasis how the words should be emphasized while reading).

Part of what started this discussion were my questions about indenting paragraphs, specifically not indenting the first line in chapters or after section breaks. Since this isn't a widely used technique I ran into some unusual situations with it and needed some input into how to handle different situations (again, I try to make 'new material' obvious, so I offset indent text and don't indent the first line of new material (to show it's new). Thus if my characters are listening to a radio broadcast, the first paragraph won't be indented, but the following indented text (as a block) will be indented to show it's a continuation of the original broadcast. If my characters change the channel, or something interrupts the broadcast, then I'll start the newest broadcast with a non-indented first line. (Whew! That's complicated when you try to explain it.)

The key with fancy graphics, though, is that it's largely invisible to readers, who are only there for the story. They might appreciate the graphics, but they largely remain below their consciousness (i.e. it never really registers). Instead, the graphics and style variations help present a 'feel' for the story (like pictures of spaceships for a sci-fi story, or a child-like font for a somewhat humorous story).

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

font-family:"Times New Roman", Georgia, serif;

Switch, you might want to avoid specifying fonts, as generally, different ereaders or computers will allow different fonts and users will often substitute their own. Thus all my style definitions remove the font specifications. That makes it difficult specifying serif (for text) and non-serif (for headers), but it makes it easier to read the story across a variety of techniques.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

I can see how what you do is much better for the usage you have


The advantage for doing it that way (for me) is that I had planned to create a website where I would provide a sample of the novel. I could use the same HTML with a few tweaks to the CSS.

But if I decide to self-publish my YA novel in print, I may have to reconsider how I do things.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

you might want to avoid specifying fonts,


Good catch. That's the only place I specify a font in the CSS.

Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde


The advantage for doing it that way (for me) is that I had planned to create a website where I would provide a sample of the novel


Which is a damn good reason to do it that way. Horse for courses is my favourite saying.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

if I decide to self-publish my YA novel in print, I may have to reconsider how I do things.

Switch, I've been self-publishing to a variety of formats for quite a while now. It's not that hard publishing multiple copies of a book, and the bells and whistles don't really count for much with readers, though they make the reading experience a little nicer.

I too have developed my own set of CSS Styles which I use for each of my stories. It greatly simplifies the process. I generally build my CSS definitions from my WORD Style definitions, so it's pretty straight forward, and gives each of my books a consistent look and feel.

Good catch. That's the only place I specify a font in the CSS.

That's what I figured when I saw it. It's hard to catch all the places where font names pop up, I keep finding them in my CSS too. I just removed a minor one this past week.

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