How to Firm Up the “Mushy Middle” of Any Story

with Jeff Lyons

How to Firm Up the “Mushy Middle” of Any Story

Get in the middle of your best storytelling!

Everyone writes great beginnings and endings to their novels, but when it comes to the middle they get bogged down and lose their way. It’s called “the mushy middle” and there seems no way out of this quagmire.

But there is hope. There is a process that can ensure a strong middle throughline for any story. Jeff Lyons will teach you the two-key story-structure engines needed for any story’s middle, and the two essential character patterns needed to build a character’s arc through the middle.

These engines and patterns work together to not only assure a narrative throughline that avoids episodic or meandering writing, but that also gives you a repeatable process that will produce solid middles for any story you might write in the future. Say goodbye to the mushy middle, and hello to stories that work.

Jeff challenged me like no other, and I love him for it.
—Allison Smith

Zoom Schedule

This class will meet on Mondays 11AM Pacific Time. Office Hours will be held at 11AM Pacific every Thursday.

Course Outline

Week One: The Structure of Every Story and What Does “Middle” Mean?

Learning objectives:

  • Students will learn the basic story structures in every story
  • Students will learn what a story’s middle is all about
  • Students will learn what “mushy” means and what are the alternatives


  • Basic story structure
  • Narrative patterns in middles that don’t work
  • Narrative patterns in middles that do work
  • The Moral Component of every story


  • Analyze their own story’s middle to see what is missing or needs improvement

Week Two: The Narrative Engine

Learning objectives:

  • Students will learn the basics of how to build a Moral Component


  • The Moral Component and its three main pieces.


  • The Moral Premise Worksheet


  • Fill out the Moral Premise Worksheet

Week Three: The Classic Story Engine

Learning objectives:

  • Students will learn the first critical narrative engine for the middle
  • Students will learn the seven components of this engine


  • The seven pieces of the Classic Story Engine


  • The Classic Story Engine Worksheet


  • Fill out the Classic Story Engine Worksheet

Week Four: The Narrative Story Engine

Learning objectives:

  • Students will learn the second critical narrative engine for the middle
  • Students will learn the various components that make up this engine


  • The six components of the Narrative Engine
  • Review of the Moral Component (as it ties in)


  • The Narrative Engine Worksheet


  • Fill out the Narrative Engine Worksheet

Week Five: Summary and Next Steps

Learning objectives:

  • Students will apply all the previous weeks’ learning to their own story
  • Students will learn the next steps in story development


  • How to apply all the previous work to your story
  • Review of the basic story development workflow
  • Specific steps to take to move forward with their own development

Why Take a Story Structure Writing Course with

  • We welcome writers of all backgrounds and experience levels, and we are here for one reason: to support you on your writing journey.
  • Small groups keep our online writing classes lively and intimate.
  • Work through your weekly written lectures, course materials, and writing assignments at your own pace.
  • Share and discuss your work with classmates in a supportive class environment.
  • Award-winning instructor Jeff Lyons will offer you direct, personal feedback and suggestions on every assignment you submit.

Write a strong middle to your story in this one-of-a-kind story workshop. Enroll today!

Course type:

Student Feedback for Jeff Lyons:

Jeff was very supportive. He challenged us to develop our stories in ways that made them more compelling. We learned something new each week! Michelle Baltazar

Excellent. Advanced my writing, gave me more confidence, the conversations were productive and covered everyone’s work. Sandra Carlin

The course content went beyond my expectations. I learned quite a bit about character development and storytelling which will serve me well as I continue to grow as a fiction writer. I enjoyed and appreciated the more analytic approach the instructor took in teaching the material. Excellent experience. Steven Watson

The Anatomy of a Premise Line was the perfect class for me. I am working on a writing project that seemed unwieldy and over my head. Jeff Lyons’ class helped me to articulate and focus on an approach that is working much better. Sharon Ransom

I was amazed how much I learned in just five weeks. Jeff is very involved in meeting directly with students and shepherding them through the story development process. He provides ample feedback that’s directed towards moving you forward instead of just lavishing bland praise. Madeline Miraglia

Amazing experience for me! I learned so much. Jeff was able to work with different levels of writers with care, a generous amount of time, and compassion. He is intuitive and kind, not to mention talented. Patricia Clyne

Jeff has a real strength as a one-on-one teacher, listening to you stumble through your hazy story ideas and helping you find the gem within. Story structure has always been something I've been weak on, if not outright wary of. Jeff is great at connecting character growth with story structure with emotional-dramatic effect so you know you're not only writing the story you want to tell, but the story that's going to have the reader turning pages. Nancy Shaffer 

Excellent. Very novel and helpful approach to plotting that makes the essentials of powerful storytelling clear. Challenging but very eye opening and helpful. Catherine Proppe

An excellent and concentrated course that brought the gaps in my knowledge about my protagonist into sharp focus, and provided a clear method to fill those gaps and get the plot outline into great shape for moving forward. Jeff Lyons is a generous and clear-thinking teacher. Rowena House

Jeff was available, gave good feedback, and seemed genuinely interested in both how and how much his students learn. By the end of this course, I was streets ahead of where I started, finally getting the hang of what he's talking about and finding it immensely useful. Nancy Napier

Jeff’s method, course and feedback is amazing. It tests the strength of any story structure and points to its weaknesses. It is excellent at any stage of manuscript writing whether at the planning stage (best time) or after the first draft (also a great time) but also in the middle when one is stuck or to test its viability. Feedback is individually tailored and detailed. Jeff invests a lot of time interacting with participants. Sophie Cayeux

Jeff was a great communicator. His feedback was clear and sorely needed. I also appreciated his one on one availability. It felt like a university course where I could stop in and discuss my work with my professor. Thank you, Jeff! Janice Jackson

I loved this class. Jeff and I have worked a bit together before in his Anatomy of a Premise Line class where he helped me figure out exactly what my story was. After taking this class - How to firm up the "mushy" middle - I learned the steps and story beats that the reader needed to follow along with me to get from Point A to Z. Jeff pushed me like crazy, taught me about the Enneagram-Story Connection, and helped me develop all those beats from Point A to Z. He challenges me like no other, and I love him for it.

I've never been so clear about my story, and I truly believe Jeff is the reason behind it. Allison Smith

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

Having the enneagram as a framework for building out my characters is invaluable. When you are playing God and creating people from scratch it's incredibly useful to have these kinds of tools. I made enormous progress; the recordings were good and Jeff was always available for one-on-one catchups. Janine Stein

I had a great experience. The content was excellent, the pace was good, the teacher was professional and knowledgeable. Martha McLaughlin

This class, and the instructor in particular, reached into my story and my writing practice and took both to a new and more productive level. Jeff Lyons takes obvious delight in turning ideas and even dog-eared manuscripts into real storiesNancy Shaffer

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


Jeff Lyons is a traditionally published fiction/nonfiction author, screenwriter, and story development consultant in the film, television, and publishing industries. He has worked with major studios like NBCU and Columbia Pictures, and leading independent producers and film and television production companies. He is an instructor through Stanford University's Online Certificate Program in Novel Writing, and guest lectures through the UCLA Extension Writers Program.

Jeff is a regular contributor and advisor to leading entertainment industry screenwriting and producing fellowship programs, such as the Producers Guild of America's "Power of Diversity Master Producers Workshop," and the Film Independent Screenwriting Lab, and is a regular workshop presenter at leading writing industry conferences such as the Romance Writers of America, StoryExpo, Great American Pitchfest, Romance Writers of America, and many others.

His clients have won major literary prizes like the “William Faulkner Gold Medal,” and include New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors. Jeff has written on the craft of storytelling for Writer’s Digest Magazine, Script Magazine, The Writer Magazine, and Writing Magazine (UK).

His book, Anatomy of a Premise Line: How to Master Premise and Story Development for Writing Success was published by Focal Press in 2015, and his book, Rapid Story Development: How to Use the Enneagram-Story Connection to Become a Master Storyteller, was published by Focal Press in October 2020. His third book with Focal Press will be published late 2021, The Story-Subplot Connection: How to Develop Subplots for Screenwriters and Novelists.

His feature film, American Thunderbolt, is being produced by Content Kings Films, UK, and two of his novellas, 13 Minutes and Terminus Station, have been optioned for feature film development.

Visit Jeff's site here.