Story Lab: The Story-Subplot Connection
with Jeff Lyons
Better Subplots. Better Stories.
If you have ever found your novel or work of creative nonfiction running out of narrative gas, with no clear path how to breathe life back into a limp or anemic story, you may have a subplot problem.
Subplots are the key to maintaining narrative pace in any novel, memoir, or biography and yet many writers barely give subplots a second thought. The knee jerk is to let them emerge in the writing with fingers crossed they will do the trick and fix any pacing problems. This rarely works. Rather than leaving it to the Muse, subplots can be designed consciously by the writer to support the mainline story so that it never lags or drags in the mushy middle.
This class will discuss what subplots are (and are not), why you need them, how to build them, and how to masterfully integrate them into your own writing to tell better stories. Through weekly lectures, assigned reading, and written assignments, students will implement a set of provided tools for subplot development and construct essential story elements of their novels or creative nonfiction. From subplot mastery to the basics of synopsis writing to understanding pacing fundamentals and narrative drive, students will create a roadmap for overall story development that can serve them across their entire writing journey, regardless of story or genre.
Learning and Writing Goals
In this course, students will learn:
- What a subplot is and isn’t
- How to structure any subplot
- The 10 core subplot patterns
- How to avoid episodic writing using subplots
- The seven mistakes writers make writing subplots
In this course, students will:
- Build a subplot structure grid
- Write a long synopsis using subplots
- Design three subplots from scratch
- Write a premise line for each subplot
- Weekly Live Sessions
- Lecture, discussions, and Q&A
- Requires interaction and active participation
- An informal drop-in time for student Q&A
- Assignments & Coursework
- Assignments and course materials posted in Canvas
- Required discussions in Canvas
- Instructor will provide feedback on assignments
- Instructor will hold office hours
- Individual conferences available by request
Class Sessions and Recordings:
Meeting days and times: Mondays and Thursdays, 3 PM Eastern (12 AM Pacific).
Meeting location: Zoom (Details will be shared with registered students prior to first class meeting. Please note that the Zoom schedule is subject to change. )
The class sessions will be recorded. It’s still important to attend if you can, as a live experience gives you the full benefit of the experience.
Tentative Zoom Schedule:
Each class Zoom session will be an hour in length and have one or two spots reserved for the “hot seat” where students can sign up to have live story consulting on the current week’s work. The sign-up sheet for the “hot seat” will be made available on Canvas the first week of class. Instructions for how to sign up will be given then.
Office Hours Schedule:
Office hours will be held each Thursday, 2 PM Eastern, starting the second week of class. All students will get to participate with the instructor to go over any worksheets or ask any questions they wish. These sessions differ from class Zoom in that they are wide open and not focused discussions on weekly topics. Students do not have to sign up for office hours, unlike for the “hot seat” during weekly class Zooms. Office Hours Zooms are also recorded.
There are two texts recommended for this course.
Required: Rapid Story Development #1: Commercial Pace in Fiction and Creative Nonfiction, by Jeff Lyons (Storygeeks Press).
Optional: Rapid Story Development: How to Use the Enneagram-Story Connection to Become a Master Storyteller, by Jeff Lyons (Focal Press).
Week One: Pitch Your Story
Lecture: What Are Subplots and Why Do You Need Them?
Lecture: Commercial Pace & Narrative Drive
Written Assignment: Pitch Your Story
Week Two: Classic Structure vs. Subplot Structure
Lecture: What Is Classic Story Structure?
Lecture: What is Subplot Structure?
Written Assignment: Classic Structure Worksheet
Week Three: Premise Lines
Lecture: The Premise Line Machine and Subplots
Written Assignment: Premise Line Worksheet
Week Four: Synopsis Writing and Subplots Part I
Lecture: What Is a Short Synopsis and How to Write One
Written Assignment: Short Synopsis Worksheet
Week Five: Synopsis Writing and Subplots Part II
Lecture: What Is a Long Synopsis and How to Write One
Written Assignment: Long Synopsis Worksheet
Week Six: Brainstorm Grid C-D-E Subplots / Next Steps in Development
Lecture: How to Plan Additional Subplots
Lecture: Next Steps in Development
Written Assignment: Subplot Grid Worksheet
Written Assignment: Subplot Premise Lines Worksheet
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 stories. Nancy 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