The Punch at the End of Your Novel Scenes

I’m sure you’ve heard people tell jokes. Whether you’ve listened to stand-up comics on a stage who are masters at joke-telling or a friend at a party or coffeeshop, you know what they’re all about.

The punchline.

The genre of joke-telling is all about the last line. Everything builds to it. Listeners are eagerly awaiting that last line because they know that’s the payoff. They expect a twist, a surprise, a pun … something entertaining that makes the whole joke worth listening to.

If you’ve ever listened to a  joke that doesn’t deliver–that leaves you puzzled or disappointed because the last line is dumb or flat or obtuse–you would say the joke failed. And the person telling it is assessed as a not-so-great joke-teller. You may not pay a lot of money to go see that comedian again. Or watch a movie she’s featured in.

Thankfully, most of us don’t have to make a living telling jokes–because it’s hard to do well. We greatfly admire comedians that can tell a great joke or anecdote that builds to a terrific punch at the end.

But … if you write novels or short stories, you don’t get off so easily.

You still need to master the punch.

I edit and critique more than 200 manuscripts a year. Some by beginning writers, others by seasoned “professionals.” But I gotta say: nearly all of them–including those written by published authors–have some flaws. Often serious ones.

Let’s just push aside story structure for now, because that’s a whole other issue.

When it comes to scene structure, few writers really know what elements are needed to hit a homerun with their scenes.

It’s not just about the writing, though that really matters. The writing has to be amazing, simply put.

It’s not just about characters either. Yes, your characters have to jump off the page and grab readers’ interest by their complexity and depth and passion.

You have to know exactly where your scene is headed so at the end of it–in the very last line–you punch it home and make your reader feel exactly what you planned.

Hmmm … if you haven’t even thought about that, your scene is probably going to fail. Just on that one point.

The Ultimate Purpose of Your Scene

Every line, every word of a scene is written for one purpose: to get to the high moment at the end. The punch (like a punchline of a joke). The anticipation builds, the reader is tense, eager, even anxious, awaiting the big delivery at the end … where the character changes in a significant way.

Character change–at the end of every single scene.

And if that reader gets to the end and they find … nothing … no punch, no character change, they wonder: What’s the point? Why did I just read that scene? And, worse: Why am I bothering to read this novel?

That’s a bad thing for an author.

High moment with character change.

That’s just one of the elements you need to master.

And the best way to master novel elements is to immediately put into practice technique that works.

8 Weeks to Commercial Success

In 8 weeks you can learn the 8 essentials for writing commercially successful novels. The door to enrolling in this course is now open, and space is limited. Instead of recording a bunch of videos and putting them up on my online school and calling it good, this course is a combination of live Zoom lecture and critique group.

You heard right. For 8 weeks, you’ll be learning all about these 8 essentials for commercial success, but, what’s more—you’ll be applying them, one per week, to your scenes (your current work), as well as using them as a lens to critique other writers’ scenes.

The reason this is so helpful and important is that while you may do a good job in integrating these essentials into your writing, you will miss things. You won’t be able to see places where you need to revise to improve the scene and make it the best it can be. That’s where the cross-critiquing comes in, in real time.

For example: during the week that you are focusing on the 21 senses and working those into your scene, you will be critiquing your critique “pod” members’ scenes for that specific element. Because you will have studied up on the senses, watched the lecture that shows you how best-selling authors do this masterfully (by dissecting sample scenes), and done your homework, you will then be able to spot where and how to add in these details, in not just your scene but in others’.

This is a very targeted method that makes revising clear and simple. And powerfully effective!

The most important thing you will learn is you must identify your genre, study it, and know exactly how best-selling authors in your genre utilize and integrate these 8 elements in their scenes.

You want to write horror novels like Stephen King? Then you need to know how many lines per page he shows emotion in his characters and in what way. It’s not unlike a math problem (and okay if you’re not great at math!). Analysis is the key to success. And you’ll be doing a lot of it in this intensive course.

The 8 Essentials

These are the 8 essentials to commercial success that you will master over these 8 weeks:

1) High Moment and Character Change: You have to know the specific purpose of your scene, build to a key moment at the end (last lines) of your scene, which creates change in your character.

2) Microtension on every page. All points to the secrets and twists to come. What are you not saying simmers under the surface of your scenes. This will make or break your story. Discussion of critical action-reaction cycle.

3) Nuances of deep POV, including unique voices for every character. It’s important to establish character mood, mind-set, and motivation right from the start.

4) Sensory detail. Going beyond five senses, using specific wording to set mood and tone for the scene. What the character processes through her senses should reveal important things about her and not merely convey information.

5) Emotional manipulation—you must know how you want your readers to feel and how to get them there. And you need to masterfully learn how to show emotion in three key ways.

6) High Stakes! High, believable personal and public stakes that ramp up to the climax.

7) Purposeful backstory in the right amounts and the right places.

8) Tight, distilled dialogue. It makes or break a scene. We’ll look at “on the nose” dialogue and discuss dialogue mechanics. Characters rarely say what they mean, but what they need seeps through.

This course begins Monday May 24, 2021. It doesn’t matter if you can’t make the Zoom session; it will be recorded and uploaded to the site. Each week you’ll have homework, two scenes to critique, one scene to write and submit, and a forum for discussion.

Enrollment is open NOW: click HERE.

After enrolling, you’ll need to take this super short survey to let me know what genre you’re writing in so I can group you accordingly.

Remember: space is limited, and while the course is only 8 weeks long, you’ll have lifetime access to all the worksheets, handouts, videos, and sample scenes.

Testimonials from students who’ve taken this course:

“Susanne’s Master Critique Groups show you how to develop and polish every aspect of your scenes. Her wealth of experience and compassionate teaching will help you keep your readers hooked on every page.”  —Will Wraxall

“I had hit a brick wall and not written anything in six months. This workshop was a much needed kick in the pants. I found the commitment to submit a scene a week for critiquing, and critiquing two other writers’ scene every week, fleshed out the helpful basics Susanne teaches. What I learned about writing gave me a fresh evaluation of my work and more importantly the motivation and the tools to enjoy writing again.” —Gene Quinones

“I have learned SO much in such a short space of time. It was a big commitment to make, but it was so, so worth it. I won’t ever regret it—at the very least, my writing will be so much better than before. The very best outcome is beyond exciting and I feel far more confident about making that dream a reality.” —Liz Thompson

“As someone who has only really started writing about a year ago, I can say without doubt that this course has made my writing 1,000 times better. Not just simple things like not putting in so many speech tags or formatting. The structure of my novel, the POV, sensory detail. While I had some of these things already, learning what works and what doesn’t has improved my writing. I honestly did not know what to expect when I joined this course, but it has changed my writing and my joy of writing for the better. I cannot thank Susanne enough, and I look forward to continuing to learn from her in the future.” —Joshua Bruce

“The master critique group has been amazing. Since starting this group, my writing skills and grasp of story mechanics have improved exponentially due to Susanne’s guidance and direction as well as input from members of the group. I was stuck writing on my own, and this has given me the push and tools I needed to accomplish my goals.” —Jenny Perry, PhD

“Susanne’s Master Critique Group was very useful for receiving external feedback on my work. I learned a lot by doing this course and improved my ability to critique and see what needs revising in my own work as well. Susanne is a great teacher, full of energy and enthusiasm and can edit a writer’s scene without offending but illuminating where it can be improved. It wasn’t easy but I thoroughly enjoyed the process.” —Samantha Ridgway

While this method is really the “secret” to success, it’s no secret. Highly productive, successful authors infuse their scenes with these 8 essentials, whether they use this method of studying other best sellers or not.

However, whether you are a beginning novelist or have a number of novels published, here’s the thing: you don’t know what you don’t know. And unless someone points out what your weak areas are or where you are missing elements in your scenes, you can’t tell why your scene isn’t working.

I hope you dive into this course. Again, be aware that it starts on May 24 and runs synchronously for 8 weeks. You’ll need to commit to working every week during those two months to write and submit scenes, do the homework, and critique two scenes a week. It’s a lot of work, but you are going to be amazed at the improvement in your writing!

BUT … if you really want to learn the material and have access to all the sample scenes, worksheets, videos, and handouts and don’t have the time or ability to do the critique component, there are a few spaces left to take the course along with opting out of critiquing. I don’t want you to miss learning this important content.

If you want to take the course and opt out of critiquing, enroll, then email me at to tell me you’re only “auditing” the course. That’s fine.

I’ll be offering this course again in the fall, but why wait? You’ll have lifetime access into the course and all materials once you enroll.

Enroll HERE to be on your way to writing a commercial best seller!

Featured Photo by Nguy?n Phúc on Unsplash

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  1. Very good article. I want to buy your “first pages of best sellers.” Can you send me a link or sell it direct. Whatever the protocall.

    1. Hi, I do not critique anyone’s work in this course. You can, of course, hire me to critique your material. However, I critique/analzye many scenes from novels to teach specific points. The next open enrollment will be the end of August, so watch for that!

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