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Evolving Story

By Jen Grisanti

Strong story comes from so many different perspectives. There is value in every unique perspective, including your own. As storytellers, our story evolves as life moves forward. We continue to learn more about story from experiencing and interpreting our own life story and the stories of those around us. We learn new tools and techniques in how to tell story in the best way possible in order to have the optimal emotional effect on our audience. We breathe in story and breathe out the potential to emote and help others feel that their own life experience is connected to a larger universal experience or truth. Craft is something that is born from our consciousness when we do the emotional work and make the page our sanctuary for expression.

As a story consultant, I specialize in bringing an executive perspective on story mixed with spirituality. I believe that when we draw from our own life experience and we add fiction to it, we reveal our truth; at the same time, fictionalizing our truth gives us the liberty to go places that we can’t go if we come from an autobiographical place. Having been schooled by some of the best mentors in the business including Aaron Spelling and reading every book published on story, my own view of story and technique is constantly expanding. I love experiencing story, being a part of other people’s story, watching and becoming transformed by story and enhancing the possibility of story through teaching writers classic concepts as well as new techniques on story.

At the core, when I watch television or film, I like to feel the story. I want to be inside the storyteller’s vision. I want to see the truth behind the message. I want to be able to connect that truth with my own life experience. I want to root for the central character and the achievement of the goal because it makes me believe that in life, anything is possible.

I believe that some of the key ingredients of evolving story are these: Powerful Dilemma, Empathy, Emotional Stakes, Clear Goal, Drive, Conflict, Your Voice, Growth, and Achievement. I’d like to expand a little on each of these elements now.

Powerful dilemma - When you start your story with a powerful dilemma, you force your central character to make a choice - neither choice being an easy one. All good drama and comedy comes out of this dilemma or choice.

Empathy - When you create empathy for your lead character, you connect us to them and make us relate to them from the beginning. I like to tell writers that the wound is what drives your character and the flaw is what gets in the character’s own way of achieving the goal. Understanding your character’s weaknesses connects us to them.

Emotional stakes - What is the worst thing that can happen if your central character does not achieve the goal? Be sure to have high stakes. The higher the stakes, the longer the fall and the more powerful your story will be.

Clear goal - When we know what the goal of your central character is, we understand what we are rooting for him/her to achieve and we will more clearly see the obstacles that get in the way. What your character wants is the external goal. Why he/she wants it is the internal goal. We want to feel both.

Drive - As you embark on your story, ask yourself two key questions: What drives your central character? What is the wound that happened in the back-story that resurfaces in the present moment? These answers are fundamental because everything your character does in the story is driven from this place.

Conflict - Are your obstacles strong enough in your story? If we clearly understand your goal, you can use obstacles and escalating obstacles as your pivotal story points connecting back to your goal.

Your voice - This is the key to separating your script from the masses. What drives you? What is your wound? What is your flaw? How do these factors surface in your daily life? Why is it important for you to succeed in your own story? These are some important questions to think about. Your voice comes from your emotional well. It is worth going there to mine your gold.

Growth - Do we see the lessons learned from where your character starts and where the story ends? Think about ways to show this through symbolism, theme and message. Think about growth in your own life and how it appears and how you know it’s there. One formula that came to mind while I was doing my yoga practice is that for the first three quarters of your story, have your central character operate from their ego and for the last quarter, have them come from their spirit.

Achievement - There is no greater reward than the achievement of a goal after learning to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles; through the journey and the lessons discovered, those obstacles become surmountable. Take us there.

Meet the Author: Jen Grisanti

International speaker Jen Grisanti is an acclaimed Story/Career Consultant at Jen Grisanti Consultancy Inc., Writing Instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC, a former 12-year studio executive, including VP of Current Programming at CBS/Paramount, blogger for The Huffington Post and author of the books, Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story and TV Writing Tool Kit: How To Write a Script That Sells and her new book, Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Your Success.

Grisanti started her career in 1992 as an assistant to Aaron Spelling, who served as her mentor for 12 years, and she quickly climbed the ranks and eventually ra...