March 13, 2019
$215 | 5 Weeks
For novelists, screenwriters, playwrights and creative nonfiction authors.
If a story is going to fail, it will first do so at the premise level. Knowing how to create, design, and validate a premise idea are essential skills every writer needs in their toolbox. The premise line is the only reliable tool that can tell you, BEFORE you start writing, whether or not your story will “work.” It is your canary in the coal mine, and when fully mastered can save you time, money and months of potentially wasted writing. In this class participants will learn how to master the process of premise line development—the essential first step in any book or screenplay’s development process. All that students need to prepare for this class is to have an idea that sparks their passion and imagination. It doesn’t matter how much, or little, actual writing has been done on the idea.
Firstly, students will write out their premise idea, which will be the baseline for a compare and contrast to the final premise. Then, each week, they will work two or three steps of the “Anatomy of a Premise Line” seven-step process: identifying story structure elements, defining the high concept, designing the log line, unit testing the final premise line, and then finishing off with a two- to three-page synopsis (based on the final structure of the premise line). Starting in the first week, anyone who wishes to participate can work one-on-one with me during a live “hot seat” video-conference session, where we will work through the process with everyone’s story ideas. Students can just “lurk” in the background if they wish, but active participation is encouraged during each session, as this is a chance to have “face time” with me. This one-on-one activity is a powerful teaching tool that can show how quickly and effectively the process can work to develop any story into a workable premise line.
Starting the third week of the class, students can participate in the workshop component of the class. Over the last three weeks participants are encouraged to comment on one another’s developing premise lines and synopses. More information on how to respond to one another’s works-in-progress will be given in the third week’s introduction lecture.
One-on-one sessions will continue throughout all five weeks of the course, so everyone will have plenty of opportunities to be heard and ask questions. We only have five weeks to cover an immense amount of material, so expect an intense and invigorating experience.
By the end of the fifth week, students will:
- understand the real purpose of the premise line,
- know how to identify a story from a situation,
- understand how premise relates to story structure,
- know how to design and execute a two-, three-, or twenty-page synopsis,
- and they will have a working premise line and log line for one of their own stories.
But, most importantly, going forward, each student will have a repeatable and reliable premise/story development methodology they can use on any new story idea.
Anatomy of a Premise Line: How to Master Premise and Story Development for Writing Success, by Jeff Lyons (Focal Press—order from Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Es0iAm).
Weekly Reading and Discussion Questions:
Each week, you will read the week’s supplied lecture material (titled for each week so you can easily find it), and any supplemental material I identify in the week’s lecture (always free e-books or other free information I supply). I will also supply selected readings from the optional textbook, which will suffice for all reading—in other words, if you buy the textbook and do that assigned reading, then you will not have to read the weekly lecture or other supplemental materials. All reading will be assigned at the beginning of each week as part of the lecture for that week. Students are strongly encouraged to participate in the discussion questions associated with each week’s reading, by sharing ideas or asking additional questions. These will not be live, one-on-one, but rather in the discussion areas online.
Weekly Written Assignments:
Written assignments are the craft of the class. Templates and forms for written assignments will be provided at the beginning of the course and each week.
Weekly One-on-One Sessions:
On Fridays, we will hold “hot seat sessions.” These will be Chat/Zoom sessions where I will work one-on-one with students and work through questions, blockages, and work the 7-step process directly with individuals. Sessions will be scheduled when most people are able to attend. Sessions will be 30–45 minutes. In this context, group sessions, rather than individual sessions, are preferable, as a lot of learning happens when you “watch” other people go through the process real-time. All sessions will be recorded for later review and to accommodate students in different time zones which might make live participation difficult.
Written Assignment Lengths:
Premise development written assignments will be directed by template forms the will be provided. The nature of the process and the assignments is such that brevity is the point; less is more. Keep each premise/log line assignment to no more than 500 words per worksheet. The synopsis written assignments should be no more than 1250 words (5 pages). Three final written deliverables are required by each student at the end of the course: a finalized “Premise Line Worksheet,” a finalized “Log Line Worksheet,” and a Subplot Design Grid.
What is a story premise and why is it important? This week we look at the nuts and bolts of what premise development means and why it is an essential first step in creating any story. Topics: Step 1of the 7-step process, premise defined, what is a story-character-plot, and how to tell a story from a situation.
This week we look at steps 2 and 3 of the 7-step process: “Anatomy of a Premise Line” template and the Invisible Structure. You will learn the basics of story structure, how it relates to premise development, and how to “map” your story’s structure to the “Anatomy of a Premise Line” template to create your first-pass premise line.
This week we look at what “high concept” really means and what publishers are talking about when they ask you to give them high-concept writing. We will also define what a log line is and why you need one. Topics: Steps 4 and 5 of the 7-step process, log line defined, the 7 component of any high-concept idea, and take another pass at your premise line to refine and tighten.
This week we’ll look at creating a condensed and flowing premise line based upon your work from previous weeks—a real mini-story, as well as a focused version of your log lines, based on feedback from the one-on-one sessions. We will also learn how to unit test any story idea utilizing steps 6 and 7 of the 7-step process, filling out the “Premise Testing Checklist” and getting direct feedback from third-party readers.
This week’s lecture will introduce the subplot writing process and describe the parameters used for designing, planning, and integrating subplots into your story idea, utilizing the “Subplot Design Grid” tool. You will also learn the second structure needed to tell any story: “The Visible Structure.” This last week of class will close with a look at “next steps” in the development process for future work, to help you prepare for actual pages and writing of the manuscript.
I have to admit the course caught me off guard. From the title, I was expecting a somewhat superficial "how to" class on writing a premise. I had no idea how profound (not too strong a word) the work would be. It was one of the most valuable experiences I've had as a writer (and I've been through a 3-year MFA program, with many workshops). Jeff gave it his full attention. He is a challenging teacher and made me work, and I will always appreciate that. It all has to do with how Jeff views what a premise is. I had to think long and hard about my protagonist and realized I didn't really know him. Also, he sets the bar pretty high, not only for the premise, but for what qualifies as a story. I could go on, but my main recommendation is working on the course description to explain a bit better what students are in for - I guarantee that by writing a premise, before writing a single word of the narrative, or even after a complete draft, your novel or short story will be deepened, and greatly improved... You've got the best bang for the buck. I've taken courses from both Gotham and Writer's Digest, and your courses are the best. Charles David Taylor
I was very happy with the class. Jeff is a great teacher. He makes himself available for guidance. I had read Jeff’s Anatomy of a Premise Line and knew the class would be great. It was. It really helped me to understand how to develop story ideas. I just purchased Jeff’s book for my son who is considering signing up for Jeff’s next class. I will take more of your classes. Thanks for offering this class. Ron Ware