Asterisms

Asterisms may refer to a small group of stars that aren’t a constellation yet still have a name. That’s not what I’m writing about today.

I’m writing about asterisms in a piece of writing. Those are the three asterisks in a row that denote the passing of time in a story, or sometimes minor breaks in the text. For example:

Finally Jeremy fell asleep

*                        *                        *

In the morning, he woke up.

Now, I don’t really care for asterisms, but it’s really a personal choice for me, and I know I should use them. In my writing I like to jump around a fair bit, and occasionally it confuses a reader, so one of my edits is always to look at a piece and find where I should add in an asterism. Ok, I’m just making that commitment now, because during my last critique it was brought up.

I don’t care for them, but I need them. There must be another way! Of course there is. For one, you could just write it in a way that makes it an easier transition when you need to jump time. With a little finesse you can get around it. That said, sometimes you just seriously need a decent jump in time, and you need to signal to the reader that it’s happening so that they aren’t confused. Go for the asterism.

Still don’t like them? The good news is that an asterism is much more flexible than just three stars. It originated as three stars in a triangular formation, two at the bottom and one above it. It’s changed so that it’s three stars in a row, much like Orion’s Belt. Three in a row is technically called a Dinkus. You may giggle immaturely at this point. I’ve seen all sorts of squiggles and curls used as asterisms, pictures, happy faces, skulls, anything that can be put in as a break. For my story Maggie’s Heart it was said that there were a few jarring time jumps. I’m still considering what to do, but two options seem viable. One is to rewrite it so that the time jump isn’t as jarring. The second is that I’m considering creating a small icon of a jar of beets to use as an alternative for a typical asterism. I’m leaning towards the latter.

Is it just me, or do asterisms seem to be used more in short stories than in novels? Maybe the form of the novel allows a longer period for transitions, more space to fill, while a short story needs to be much more compact to be read in a single sitting. I didn’t actually have any critique of time jumps in The Real World Monitor, and possibly that is because every time jump seemed to naturally coincide with a new chapter. You can’t do that as easily with a short story.

The asterism has a second function. You can use it in place of a title. It basically means that either the work is untitled, or that the title is withheld. Why would someone withhold a title? I don’t have an answer for that. Anyway, I find the easiest way to say that your work is untitled is to title it ‘untitled.’ Note the lower case ‘u’ in ‘untitled.’

Whether or not you use asterisms in your writing, they’re a powerful tool, and may make your work more readable. I personally dislike any punctuation that is jarring to the reader, like brackets or parentheses, but the convention seems to have been set, and it’s possibly less jarring than an awkward time jump.

My advice, try it. If you find it looks or feels awkward in your piece, it’s time for a rewrite.

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