Jen Grisanti: Why You Need to Write for Yourself and Not for the Market
When it comes to sitting down to write a script, so many writers are concerned with what the market wants rather than on the story they want to tell. Obviously, writers want their scripts to sell; however, writing for the market means creating a screenplay that comes from a more calculated approach rather than a creative and emotional one.
Script consultant Jen Grisanti wants you to steer away from the former and focus on the latter. Grisanti believes when you steer away from calculation and, instead, embrace your truth in your creation, it’s only then your script has a better shot at standing out and connecting to your reader.
Grisanti knows a thing or two about what makes a good script. The script consultant, writing instructor, and author has a stellar resume that includes landing the job of Vice President of Current Programs at CBS/Paramount back in 2004 as well as launching her own successful consulting firm helping writers to break into the industry.
One of Grisanti’s tenets for writing success is connecting your emotional truth to your story. She even wrote a book expanding on the topic called, STORY LINE: FINDING THE GOLD IN YOUR LIFE STORY.
Her philosophy obviously works. Since launching her consulting firm, Grisanti has worked with over 1000 writers, ninety-five of whom have been staffed on TV shows, not including the 46 who have sold their TV pilots (five of which went to series).
Creative Screenwriting spoke with Grisanti on why it’s important for writers to connect with their emotional truth, how to fictionalize your truth in your story, and why writers need to write themselves, especially when they’re first starting out.
Creative Screenwriting: A writer’s journey with their script can be a long one. Why is it key for a writer to write for themselves, especially when they’re first starting out?
Jen: It is key for a writer to write what they are passionate about because this is what connects them with their audience. If you are writing toward what you think the market wants versus what you love, you won’t write from the same place of depth. When you write what you feel, you have a strong message coming through you, and this is what sets you apart whether you are first starting out or are a seasoned writer. It is always keeping in mind that we (the audience) want to feel what you are saying. It is all about starting with a concept you resonate with deeply and having clarity on what it is about through understanding the theme of your story.
Writing for oneself usually means writing “their” story. Something they would like to read and/or watch themselves. When writing “their” story, why is it important for a writer to write from their own emotional truth?
When a writer writes “their” story, it should be from a place of emotional truth versus it being autobiographical and having to stick to the way things happened. Life doesn’t happen in a strong dramatic or comedic structure. However, moments in life are what we draw from to tell a strong story. It is in certain and specific life events where we feel a depth and hit “Aha!” moments that are worthy to draw from because it will connect our truth and our message. Emotional truth is what informs your worldview, and your worldview is what separates you from the masses. You see the world in a unique vision due to the highs and lows that have happened in your life. You are an observer of your own story. You absorb and interpret it in a way that is linked to what you’ve experienced before. The stories that lead us to feel certain emotions are different but the emotions we feel are the same. If you go through something that rocks your world or turns your world upside down, chances are that millions of others have experienced the same type of emotion, only through a different story and a different lens. So, when you are able to accurately express the emotional truth that the story brought you to, that emotion could resonate in the lives of millions.
Your book STORY LINE: FINDING THE GOLD IN YOUR LIFE STORY is a guide on how to fictionalize your own truth in your writing. Why do you believe this is such a powerful form of storytelling?
I believe that the ability to fictionalize your truth is what contributes to the success of your writing. Your emotional truth is your signature or your thumbprint. Only you can express in the way that you do. It is your voice. Understanding and knowing your voice is all a part of life and the creative process. Why do you feel what you feel? What are the triggers that led you to feel this way? When you are able to thread this through a story by adding fiction, the message of your truth is delivered to your audience.
What are some tips for writers on how they can implement their own emotional truth into their scripts?
When you are starting a new script or story, you want to start with the theme. What is your story about? What do you want to say with it? Then, you go to a plot that will help you to channel this message. The plot is where you add fiction to deliver a truth that you know. The gift of doing this is that you can express real truth without worrying about if it will make the people in your life feel exposed because you will cover it with fiction. I find that some writers are so worried about how their truth will affect those around them. Fiction is the way that the writer can go into the depth of their experience while letting go of this worry.
Mining your emotional truth starts with recording your emotional reaction to certain events in your life. Then, think about why you feel the way that you feel. It is often linked to a prior wound. Think about what that wound is. Your current reaction might be bigger due to something that happened earlier in your life. The current trigger split it open in some way. Be aware of how all of your moments are linked.
What are some of the drawbacks when a writer decides to write solely for the market?
Some of the drawbacks that happen when a writer decides to write solely for the market are that we don’t feel the story. When they don’t connect their own emotional truth to what they want to say, we don’t hear the message at the same level of depth that we would if it were drawn from an experience that they know.
I find that stories that don’t work or are devoid of emotion are stories that don’t give us the “why.” We don’t understand why this writer is telling this particular story. We don’t feel their message. Then, we don’t understand why the central character wants what they want. The failure to go into why is what disconnects the audience.
Another mistake that writers make when they writer toward the market, is that they don’t enter the story from the right angle, at the right moment, or from the worldview that would have the strongest emotional impact on the story.
A writer wants their story to sell, ultimately. How does one write their own unique story while also making it as saleable as possible?
A writer can write their own unique story while making it saleable by understanding how to utilize their emotional truth with a concept that feels current and viable in the market. For example, let’s say something happens that leads you to an “all is lost” type of moment and shifts your worldview. Take note of your emotional reaction. Then, think about what is going on in the world. What is resonating with you on a deep level? Think about why it is resonating with you. Think about current events. What is resonating with you? Think about what is selling in the market. What concepts are resonating with you and why? Think about how your emotional reaction could apply to a story, and then consider how, with the addition of your emotional truth, it could be heightened to a whole new level.
With so many opinions out there on what’s “hot” and what’s not, and what a writer “should” write, what would you say to a writer to help them remain in their integrity and truth when it comes to their writing?
When it comes to choosing what to write, a writer can maintain their integrity by being authentic with regards to the story that they want to tell. When a writer adheres to what they think is “hot”, the message can get lost. Start the process with a clear understanding of what the story is about and what you want to say as your own emotional truth links to the concept. When you take this approach, it allows us to see you in the story, and we feel the message. This is the ultimate goal. Story fails when there is just a sequence of events that isn’t threaded together with an emotional truth that is linked to a message.
Would you agree that a writer’s own story is their most marketable trait?
I would agree that a writer’s own emotional truth is their most marketable trait. Emotional truth is something that happens in a variety of life moments. This doesn’t limit the writer the way that telling an autobiographical story does. So, the best thing for a writer to do is to be present when their own story is happening so that they can capture, absorb and pass on the truth of the moment as they emotionally react to it. This is the glue. This is what a writer knows due to their ability to absorb life. When writers can do this, they elevate their message and their story.
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