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Understanding the Difference between Author Style and Character Voice

I’m sharing a post from a few years ago on a topic that I feel is so important for fiction writers to understand.

I love talking about voice in fiction. I veer off from other “experts” in definition about voice. I believe that some people are referring to the writer’s style when they talk about voice.

Take a listen to what literary Donald Maass says about voice in Writing the Breakout Novel:

“I am looking for authors with a distinctive voice.” I hear that from editors over lunch almost as often as I hear, “I am looking for big, well-written thrillers.”

What the heck is “voice”? By this, do editors mean “style”? I do not think so. By voice, I think they mean not only a unique way of putting words together, but a unique sensibility, a distinctive way of looking at the world, an outlook that enriches an author’s oeuvre. They want to read an author who is like no other. An original. A standout. A voice.

How can you develop your voice? To some extent it happens all by itself. Stories come from the subconscious. What drives you to write, to some extent, are your own unresolved inner conflicts. Have you noticed your favorite authors have character types that recur? Plot turns that feel familiar? Descriptive details that you would swear you have read before (a yellow bowl, a slant of light, an inch of cigarette ash)? That is the subconscious at work.

You can facilitate voice by giving yourself the freedom to say things in your own unique way. You do not talk exactly like anyone else, right? Why should you write like everyone else?

I’ve written about this on numerous occasions, and I go deep into voice in The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction and 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing. Continue Reading…

Keeping Readers at Arm’s Length with Distanced POV

Fiction writers know all about POV, and in current novels, going deep is the ticket. But there are times when it’s strategic and powerful to keep distance in POV.

While it is sometimes used as an effective writing style to present an objective panorama of plot and characters  (as you’ll see further down), it has the benefit of leaving readers wondering and filling in blanks.

If a reader isn’t welcomed into the landscape of a character’s mind and can only make assumptions about motivation by watching the action, gestures, and expressions of the characters, then he is left with impressions and many questions. Which is all great for creating microtension, if done well.

Using the camera shot POV is a great technique novelists can borrow from filmmakers. For some writers, the idea of showing a scene completely devoid of emotion, reaction, internalizing, and opining may seem counterintuitive—or downright counterproductive. Isn’t the whole point to tell a story up close and personal?

Sure. But there may be times when you want to see action happening without coloring it with any subjective tint. When you want a feeling of emotional distance.

Some writers excel in this technique, and their novels become a visual palette of story shown as if through an impersonal camera. The effect is often profound and evocative. Why? Because it is left to the reader entirely to come up with what isn’t shown or told, to assess the emotional content and intention of the characters and the story unfolding. Continue Reading…

The 8 Essentials to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel – Enrollment Open!

The secret to writing a successful novel lies in being able to identify what’s missing in your scenes and using a targeting approach to revising.

Why is this so important? Because if you have a good scene, to make it great, you have to run through the checklist of these 8 essentials to ensure they’re all in place. And some of these 8 essentials may surprise you.

If you missed the opportunity to take my explosively innovative new course on how to write a commercially successful novel, don’t fret. It’s open enrollment time right now for the next session, which starts January 24, 2022.

This course is something  I’ve never seen any writing instructor offer. Over the last twelve months, I’ve beta-tested this with more than a dozen online groups and 100+ writers, and the results have been fantastic.

8 Weeks to Commercial Success

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), and while you’ll be working through the lectures, handouts, sample scenes, and homework on your own, I’ll be meeting with students on Zoom each week to answer questions, share insights from participants, and guide you through the course. (No worries if you can’t make the Zoom; it will be recorded and uploaded onto the weeks’ modules, and you can email me your questions before the session.)

Writers struggle to see places where they need to revise to improve their scenes and make them the best they can be. If you don’t know what you’re missing, you have no way to improve.

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.

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 January 24, 2022 and runs for 8 weeks. Even if you can’t participate in the weekly Zoom sessions, you can still enroll, access everything with lifetime access, and learn all you need to know about writing a commercially succcessful novel!


Want to master microtension? How about mastering THE 8 essential elements that make up a commercially successful novel?

Enrollment is open NOW for this highly popular course!

This course begins Monday January 24, 2022.

This unique method of scene analysis, revision technique, and nailing genre will fast track you to success when you apply them to your book.

Here’s what’s included in your course:

    • Weekly Zoom Q&A meetings with C. S. Lakin
    • Downloadable course PDFs: worksheets, articles, and dozens of sample scenes from best sellers
    • More than 12 hours of intensive video instruction on the 8 essential elements for novel success
    • 4 bonus videos on deep edit and analysis, scene types, and genre markers
    • Optional weekly critique group (no extra cost!) to immediately put into practice what you’re learning

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 course teaches how to write a scene by breaking down into its elements–– High Moment, Character Change, Micro tension, Deep POV, Sensory Detail, to name a few, and then discusses and analyses them using excerpts from published writers. She has sharpened my understanding of scene construction. Before attending her course, I didn’t notice these elements when reading other writers’ work or that all are necessary, though in varying quantity depending on genre. I highly recommend this course for any fiction writer who wants to write as powerfully as possible.” —Christine Dreier

“This is a master’s level class in craft. The lecture – critique group format is magnificent. As a result, every participant in my group saw growth in their skillsets. A major advantage of the critique group, unlike others, everyone was on the same page as to what to advise each other. The lectures are more than theory but laced with scene examples across a variety of genres thus exposing writers how others do it. Fantastic course well worth the price and commitment to improving your writing.” —Larry Keeton

“Susanne’s 8-Weeks to Writing a Commercially Successful Novel is one of the best developed and delivered writing classes I’ve taken. With the depth of an MFA masterclass, but with the real-world guidance that can only come from a seasoned writing and editing professional, Susanne bypasses the well-trod writing advice fluff and provides writers with strategies to craft stories readers will love.” —Sharon Ritchey, Vice President Communications, Women’s Fiction Writers Association

“I loved the 8 Weeks to a successful novel through improved scene writing course. Susanne is a generous and accessible instructor who can analyze a scene the way a skilled mechanic can diagnose and correct a fault in an engine. She has amassed a helpful store of instructional materials and sample readings that vividly show the elements of a powerful scene. The practice I’ve gained in analyzing other writer’s scenes will help me write more visceral scenes in my own novel. Thank you, Susanne!” —Lou Schlesinger

“Susanne Lakin is extremely knowledgeable of industry trends, effective pacing and structure protocols for creating successful commercial novels in today’s environment, and devotes her time, energy and support to her students. I would recommend her course to both beginning and experienced novelists.” —Kendrick Smith

“Out of the many writing courses I’ve taken, this is one of the two best. And I learned as much in these 8 weeks as I learned in 2 years in the other course.” —Richard Thomas Lane

Don’t miss out on this enrollment period! This course is only offered every few months, and graduates of the course can move into a master critique group if they want to fast track to success! Sign up today HERE!

Featured Photo by Ruffa Jane Reyes on Unsplash

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