The Moral Premise: How to Find, Build, and Execute the Narrative Engine for Any Story

“Have a protagonist who is flawed. Make sure you have a character with a problem. The best characters are the ones with a broken moral compass.” This is the advice from story gurus. This is what all the story experts tell you that you need to have a great story. They’re not wrong, but none of them tells you how to actually pull it off! How do you find a moral problem? How do you know you have the right one? How do you know how to write it on the page once you do find one? The moral basis of any character is not just a nice thing to have, it is essential for any story to work as a story. The moral component of a story is the narrative engine of every story. It is the crankshaft of the engine that gets your protagonist from A to B to C. The good news is you can actually learn how to find one of these moral component things. There is a process and there is a path that can work for any character in any story within any genre. This course shows you how to find a moral problem, how to validate that it will work for your story, and then how you can leverage it on the page in the writing to build tension, stakes, and characters we love (or love to hate). Participants will get to work one-on-one with the instructor to get live feedback on their stories engines and everyone will get access to a useful worksheet and how-to video they can use after the workshop on their own.


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 Dallas-Ft. Worth Writers Conference, Romance Writers of America, StoryExpo, Great American Pitchfest among 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 is currently going through a revised 2nd edition rewrite. 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, and his third book with Focal Press will be published in 2024, The Story-Subplot Connection: How to Develop Subplots for Screenwriters and Novelists.

His feature film, American Thunderbolt, is currently being produced by Content Kings Films (UK), along with several other of Jeff’s TV and feature projects that have been optioned for development.

Other classes at Story Expo by Jeff:

Anatomy of a Premise Line: How to Master Premise & Story Development

How To Firm Up The Mushy Middle of Any Story

Logline Mastery: How To Nail The Pitch