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The Internal Drive of the Story

By Jen Grisanti and Kim Hudson

Understanding the internal side of your story conveys to your audience the depth that is felt emotionally and spiritually. Two authors, Jennifer Grisanti and Kim Hudson, offer insight into how to write the internal story into your screenplays and give them this compelling quality.

In Story Line: Finding Gold in your Life Story, Jennifer describes the internal components of story and why tapping into what you have felt deeply about in your life is the best place to write from. There are so many things including your theme, stakes and the internal part of your goal that comes alive when you add the authentic emotion of first-hand experience.

Jennifer describes theme in the following way, “Theme is the icing on the cake. It is the thread that pulls everything in your mosaic tapestry together. It is the idea that resonates in all of your storylines. Theme expresses how your central character goes about achieving his/her goal. It gives us insight into who your character is and helps us to understand what drives him. It is the spirit beneath your story that reveals itself very softly throughout but, by the end, it is totally clear.” What are themes that appear in your own life? Learn how to draw from them, add fiction to them and apply them to your story.

When we think of stakes, we imagine the worst that can happen to your central character if the goal is not achieved. Figuratively, we think death. On an internal, emotional level it can also look like loss of dignity, the despair of a life without true love, a life unrealized, an empty existence, the loss of a dream, etc.

Finally, let’s put it in the context of the goal. The internal drive is why your central character wants to achieve the goal. He or she wants to feel worthy, validated, loved, complete, healed, forgiven, etc. These are universal internal drives that every person has experienced on some level. It is the internal emotion that drives what the protagonist wants to achieve externally. Think about a goal you’ve strived for in your own life. What was the emotion that motivated the accomplishment of that goal? Take the truth of that emotion that drove you to succeed and apply it to your story.

When you guide your audience to the destination through these three components of theme, stakes and internal goal, you take them on an inspiring and deeply emotional journey.

Kim has developed a story structure that is an alternative to the Hero’s journey in her book, The Virgin’s Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual and Sexual Awakening. In the interior world of a character there are two drives: one away from fear (the Hero) and the other towards pleasure (the Virgin). These internal drives are universal to all humans and unfold as two very different structures. 

The internal drive of the Virgin is to know her intrinsic worth and follow her passion separate from what other people think she should do with her life. She is drawn to go on this journey by some talent or dream that lies dormant within her and longs to come to life. Her desire to dance, sing, paint, love, box, or express her opinion in her unique way calls her to go on her journey. 

The Hero’s internal need is to push back the boundaries of his mortality, the boundaries created by fear. When he is righting a wrong, finding the treasure that will ensure the future well-being of his clan, or finding evil and destroying it before it reaches the village, the protagonist is conquering fear by facing it head on. His is a quest to know how rugged, strong, and brave he can be in the face of his fear. 

There are several important differences between the internal drive of the Virgin and the Hero. Virgins are about self-fulfillment while heroes are about self-sacrifice; Virgins are about personal freedom while heroes work for the good of the group; Virgins go on their journeys because they want to (most people don’t want them to change) while heroes go on their journey because they have to (or people will be devastated); Virgins are compelled by the joy of following their dreams while heroes face greater and greater conflict which teaches them what they are made of; Virgins often love their antagonist and he or she transforms in order to make a place for the Virgin. Heroes pretty much wipe out their opposition – it’s pure evil. 

Most of what you know about story structure applies best to the Hero’s journey. If you have a story to tell that never seems to fit the usual structure, you may be writing a Virgin story. Movies such as The Help, The King’s Speech, An Education, Fight Club, Brokeback Mountain, and Pretty Woman all center on a protagonist who longs to be authentic and finds a way to bring his or her unique way of being in the world to life.

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...

Meet the Author: Kim Hudson

Kim Hudson grew up in the Yukon, a father's daughter with a Cinderella complex. She spent many years exploring her masculine side as a field geologist and a First Nations' Land Claims negotiator before studying at Vancouver Film School, University of British Columbia, and the International School of Analytical Psychology Zurich. Kim's personal journey and scholarly inquiry combined to develop this theory of the Virgin's archetypal structure. Over the past four years Kim has given workshops and classes in the Vancouver area on the Virgin’s Promise.