When I’ve been talking with authors about options for section breaks, there have been a few times where I’ve had an author comment that they read somewhere that you can’t use blank lines for section breaks in an ebook.
The first time I heard that comment, I must admit I was very confused. A blank line is just like any other line of text in a book. A blank line displays perfectly fine – why would some people think you couldn’t you use it? But the idea that you couldn’t use blank lines kept coming up now and then with different people. Finally, I realized why some authors had that impression.
The huge advantage of ebooks is that they will automatically display the text to fit the size of the screen that the reader is using. The disadvantage with this is that you have no idea where the text is going to fall on the screen for the reader.
If you’re using a blank line as a section break, this can mean that if the blank line falls at the top or bottom of the screen, it may not be obvious that there is a section break. So the reader may turn the page, then get briefly confused why things seem to have jumped.
So what can you do? The first step is what we always do – we make sure that the first paragraph after a section break doesn’t have an indent (this is standard publishing practice, and also part of the Chicago Manual of Style, although a lot of people don’t seem to be aware of the practice – to be fair, I wasn’t aware of it either until I started formatting).
The second thing you can do to make the section breaks clear is to use two, or even three, blank lines instead of just one for a section break. This makes the break more obvious, and you have a better chance of it being noticeable if it falls at the top or bottom of the screen. (I’m not a fan of three blank lines in ebooks – I find the gap it makes in the text very offputting – but in this situation, it has its merits).
Finally, of course, you can always use some sort of marker for your section breaks 🙂 There are all sort of options, from just the regular ***, to fancy ASCII art, or even images. And if you’re using us to format your book, we have a large selection of options available for section break images 😉
So to answer the question in the article title, you can definitely use blank lines as a section break. You just need to be aware of the limitations.