the 30-day outline workshop

fall session: Oct. 16 - Nov. 13, 2024


The 30-Day Outline is a Live-on-Zoom workshop with Alan Watt that will take you from initial idea to the completion of a solid outline in 5 weeks.

"Watt has an assured talent for complex narrative."
- The Globe and Mail

Do you find yourself getting excited by a story idea, only to get stuck midway through? Have you always wanted to master story structure, but found that it was typically taught by story analysts who approached it as a formula rather than an organic process?

There is magic to the process of story creation, and this process cannot be reduced to one size fits all. And while story structure is not a formula, it is an immutable paradigm that guides your audience through the journey to an inner transformation. This workshop is about trusting your inner voice. Everything you imagine belongs in your story when you distill it to its nature.

In this workshop, you will discover that story is about meaning, that your protagonist's journey happens on the inside, that plot is simply the vehicle that tracks this inner quest, and that story is not a concept, but an experience.

This workshop is for novelists, memoirists, screenwriters, TV showrunners, producers, editors, agents, publishers, and anyone else in the business of story.

Countless gifted prose stylists have passed through the doors and zoom classrooms of LA Writers' Lab in the past twenty-one years. Many of them have gone on to prolific careers as novelists, memoirists, screenwriters and television producers.

Plenty of writers are in possession of a unique voice, a prolific facility with language, and even a mesmerizing ability to create scenes, but what separates a talented prose writer from a successful one is simply this: the ability to tell a story.

In the 30-Day Outline workshop you will…

• Discover how character suggests plot.
• Explore the underpinnings of story structure.
• Develop the craft required in order to move beyond your limited idea of your story to the engine that is truly driving it.

The challenge in outlining a novel, memoir, or screenplay lies in marrying the wildness of your imagination to the rigor of story structure. There is no formula to creating an outline, but there is craft involved.

In this five-week workshop, you will discover a process of connecting to the primal forces in your characters to reveal plot. Through this process, you'll discover the foundational elements that will help you to unlock the story within. The workshop includes lecture, stream-of-consciousness writing exercises, and structure questions designed to help you build a compelling narrative. We will watch clips from popular films and review scenes from works of memoir and fiction, and I will work one-on-one with you to illustrate the principles.

about the workshop

live on zoom - Alan Watt teaching an online writing class at his computer office books behind him

We meet weekly LIVE on Zoom from 1-3 pm (PST) on Wednesdays, for 5 consecutive weeks. Each class is followed by a live Q&A to answer any questions that emerge.

The workshop involves lecture, writing exercises, film clips, and working one-on-one with writers to illustrate the principles.

Note: You are not required to take the workshop live. Many writers have day jobs or commitments during class hours, therefore all of our sessions are recorded and are available for three weeks, respectively.

one-on-one story consults - Alan Watt standing by an open door smiling

Over the course of the 5-week workshop, I offer one-on-one story consultations where you can send me your three-page outline and I review it, make notes, and go over it with you in a one-hour consult to explore the most dynamic and compelling way to tell your story before you begin your first draft. There is an additional cost and a limited number of spots for this service.


My first novel was auctioned in a bidding war. My agent called me late on a Sunday night to say that I had just been offered a million dollars from the president of Time Warner Books (they owned Little, Brown) to purchase the world rights to my little story that I had hand-written and then transcribed in a little over six months while I was on the road doing standup comedy. The book became a bestseller and won some nice awards. While I knew I had a certain facility with language, I also knew that I was not the author but the channel. Any talent I possessed was not really talent, but a certain amount of craft and self-trust.

Through a decade of writing and rigorous study, I had learned how to structure a story. I had discovered that story structure had little to do with plot, and that the engine driving the plot was connected to the protagonist's primal desire. I learned that story structure is not a concept or a formula, but a series of experiences that humans always seem to go through in their journey toward transformation. By distilling these experiences and codifying them, the mysterious veil of story creation gradually lifted and I began to see that everything you imagine can belong in your story when you distill it to its nature.

Many writers resist story structure because they fear it will limit their creativity and lead to formulaic writing. But here’s the thing: story structure is not an equation designed to reduce your story to quantifiable parts. This misconception may be the result of structure being taught by story analysts whose gifts lean more toward an ability to deconstruct the anatomy of an existing work than in exploring the nature of the author’s intention. This can leave the student with a keen understanding of how a particular story was assembled while struggling with how to translate that lesson into completing their own work. Although one might eventually begin to grasp the inner workings of structure by studying the various parts of a particular story, this approach is akin to dissecting a cadaver in order to understand what it means to be human – it suggests that story is primarily an intellectual endeavor. It isn’t. What makes your story universally relatable is its connection to the human spirit.

Story structure is a paradigm for transformation. It’s a way to trace the experiential beats of a character’s growth that lead to their shift in perception – that “aha” experience we’ve all had when we see something in a new way.

Without these three core elements, a story cannot satisfy its premise:

  • Desire (Your protagonist wants something.)
  • Surrender (Your protagonist lets go of the meaning they make out of their goal.)
  • Transformation (Your protagonist reframes their goal, thus seeing it in a new way.)

Despite what you may have been taught, story structure has little to do with plot. In fact, the structure being referred to is the underpinnings of your theme, a primal drive that is going to get reframed through your protagonist’s quest.

But what is a theme exactly, and how does working with it help you to build your story? Whether you’re conscious of this or not, every character in your story has a relationship to your protagonist’s central dilemma – this is necessarily so, because your characters are all functions of the same dramatic question, therefore they are all in service to your theme. And it is through these various struggles that your theme is explored. By tracking your protagonist’s primal desire through the story, this dilemma gets explored.

Making a story is a process of moving from the general to the specific. You begin with a basic sense of a story, and through inquiry, your imagination fills in the details. If you hold too tightly to any story element, you limit your story from moving in the direction of its most fully realized form.

In Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ seminal book On Death and Dying, she illustrates five key experiences that one moves through in the grief process. In the same way, there are a series of experiences that are essential in tracing your protagonist’s arc leading to their transformation. Although the five stages of grief may overlap, they tend to move in a particular direction: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. When you examine these experiences, you likely sense a certain internal logic to the process. In fact, if you ponder them, eventually your imagination is likely to begin conjuring a story.

We all have access to an empathetic imagination that allows us to connect to our common humanity. Just as the five stages of grief are universal, so are the key experiential stages that lead to your protagonist’s transformation.


Week OneUnlock the Story Within
Through a series of exercises, you will connect to your protagonist’s dilemma at the heart of the story. The dilemma is the source of the story from which all tension and conflict arise. We will explore your protagonist’s wants and needs, uncover their transformation at the climax, and discover why you are uniquely qualified to tell this story.

Week TwoAct One/Thesis
We will take a close look at the first act of your story. Through lecture, discussion, and one-on-one work, we will cover the five key stages in your protagonist’s Act One journey.

Week ThreeAct Two/Antithesis
In this workshop, we will explore the four key stages that your protagonist goes through in order to create a dynamic and compelling second act that builds in meaning as it progresses.

Week FourAct Three/Synthesis
In this workshop we will explore your protagonist's dark night of the soul, and how this event allows them to rise from the ashes of despair and reframe their relationship to their desire, thus propelling them towards their transformation.

Week Five Integration
In this workshop we will integrate the material covered in the previous four weeks and deepen our relationship to the process of marrying the wildness of your imagination to the rigor of story structure.

“Watt is a superb storyteller with an amazing ability to create suspense… fascinating and elaborate characters… multi-layered, complex and tragically realistic.”
Winnipeg Free Press

meet your teacher Alan Watt

alan watt standing in front of an L.A. Hillside smiling, hand in pocket

Hi, I'm Al. They call me the Writer Whisperer.

I'm the L.A. Times bestselling author of the novels, Diamond Dogs and Days Are Gone, and the recipient of the American Library Association's Alex Award, a Book Sense Pick, a New York Time's New and Noteworthy book pick, and winner of France's Prix Printemps for best foreign novel of the year. Along with the national bestseller, The 90-Day Novel®, (Amazon's #1 book on writing for five months) the lab has published five other books on writing. I teach a process of marrying the wildness of your imagination to the rigor of structure, and my students span the range from first-time writers to best-selling authors and filmmakers who've won numerous accolades for their work including the Pulitzer Prize.

I’m also the writer/director of the independent feature, Eddie, Kill the President (formerly Interior Night), which won four best feature awards at U.S. film festivals as well as The Boston Film Festival's Filmmaker Visionary Award. Oh, I also had a small part on Seinfeld back in the 90s when I had a thick lustrous head of chestnut hair. It's the Chinese gum episode. I'm the movie theater vendor who sells Kramer the vile hotdog.

American Horror Story

“I cannot recommend Al highly enough. He's my guy. If you take your career seriously, make him yours.”
Jessica Sharzer, Screenwriter, A Simple Favor, Co-Executive Producer, American Horror Story

Gathering Lights

“I already had an MFA and I teach and direct a college creative writing program, but I really didn’t have an organic understanding of story. Al’s ability to merge intuition and structure is unique and invaluable. I was able to work through my outline-phobia because of the way he approached structure as a holistic approach, rather than a rigid box. Al encourages the writer to live within the questions of the story, not the answers.”
Laraine Herring, Author of Gathering Lights, Winner of the Barbara Deming Award for Women


“As I had already completed the first draft of my novel, I wasn't sure if I'd learn much on this course, but I could not have been more wrong! I now feel much better equipped to get to the core of what my story is 'really' about and to make that the focus of the second draft. Al is a gifted, humane, experienced, humble and utterly relatable teacher and, whether you are a new writer or an experienced one, offers so much insight to the writing process. Highly recommended.”
Jody Day, Author of Living The Life Unexpected

Mirror in the sky book cover

“I seriously didn’t think getting published could be a reality until I took your workshop!”
Aditi Khorana, Author of Mirror in the Sky, Razorbill, Penguin Books


“Al Watt is a master teacher, with a brilliant, intuitive understanding of story.”
Allen Zadoff, Author of The Unknown Assassin series, Little Brown

Winnipeg Free Press

“Watt is a superb storyteller with an amazing ability to create suspense… fascinating and elaborate characters… multi-layered, complex and tragically realistic.”
Winnipeg Free Press

Andrew Lampl

“Al Watt delivers the most concise, most graspable breakdown of story structure that I've ever heard.”
Andrew J. Lampl, Playwright, The Van Gogh Cafe

The globe and the mail

“Watt has an assured talent for complex narrative.”
The Globe and The Mail

Anita Santiago Advertising

“Alan is the best writing instructor on the planet. He shines a light and steps out of the way. He honors the creative process and he respects the writer's soul. He is insightful and caring and generous. I feel lucky to have crossed paths with such an inspiring person.”
Anita Santiago

join the 30-day outline

Registration: $450

Early Registration: $400