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Friday, April 5, 2019

Nitty-Gritty Formatting for Print Books: Hard & Soft Section Breaks

Today's nitty-gritty is all about section breaks. Not Microsoft Word's section break that enables you to change the layout, margins, headers & footers separately, but the visual section breaks on a printed page, that little row of asterisks or hashes or wingdings used to separate time jumps, POV shifts, or a new location.

You don't control the pagination in an ebook, beyond adding forced page breaks to start each chapter (which may or may not appear in the final ebook, depending on the platform). The text flows from start to finish on your readers' Kindles and Nooks and mobile devices without page numbering. To delineate "jumps" in the narrative in an ebook, you've probably used a centered set of symbols, with a line-space above and below, to indicate these shifts:

* * *

Bonus points if the symbols are in sync with the book theme. I should've gone with:


But I wasn't organized enough.

Did you know there are two kinds of section break?
We'll call them hard and soft, which has nothing to do with hard and soft paragraph breaks or with Word's "start a new page" section break option.

A hard section break could just as easily have been a chapter break, except that maybe the chapter wasn't long enough so the author kept going. In printed books, they use a row of symbols (usually asterisks) as shown above, and indicate a Very Definite Shift to a new scene or time.

The soft section break is far more common. Open up a modern novel and check it out. It's used when the scene location or POV shifts within a chapter, but in a less dramatic way. It's formatted simply as a double-line space (sometimes single), followed by a non-indented paragraph:



But! Here's the bit where we get nitty gritty and professional about things. When this soft section break falls at the end or start of a page, it becomes essentially invisible, which can be confusing for readers. That's when you use the triple asterisk, even though you wouldn't have if the break happened in the middle of the page:



If the last paragraph above on the left-hand page and the first paragraph on the right-hand page happened to fall on the same page, I would've used the double-line space instead. But here, the asterisks are necessary to indicate the paragraph starting "We've talked about this" is a new scene and new POV.

There's little point in assessing which soft section breaks need asterisks and which don't until the very end of the formatting process, because the movement of a single line between pages during your other final edits may shift everything around. So, leave your asterisks in place until you're done, and then search for and reformat them as needed.

As for your ebook: it's probably best to always use the symbols for both kinds of section breaks, because ebook devices may remove extra paragraph breaks or ignore your non-indent, which effectively visually removes the section break altogether.

Posts in this series:
Nitty-Gritty Formatting for Your Indie Print Book - intro
Hard and Soft Section Breaks
Font Sizes Part 1
Font Sizes Part 2
Body Text Font Choices
Making Word Do What You Want Part 1
Making Word Do What You Want Part 2

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