A numerical scheme for crack modelling by means of continuous displacement fields is presented. In two-dimensional problems a crack is modelled as a limiting case of two singular lines (with continuous displacements, but discontinuous displacement gradients across them) which tend to coincide with each other. An analysis of the energy dissipated inside the band bounded by both lines allows one to obtain an expression for the characteristic length as the ratio between the energy dissipated per unit surface area (fracture energy) and the energy dissipated per unit volume (specific energy) at a point. The application of these mathematical expressions to the finite element discretized medium allow one to obtain a general spatial and directional expression for the characteristic length which guarantees the objectivity of the results with respect to the size of the finite element mesh. The numerical results presented show the reliability of the proposed expressions.