STORY: Creating Character Transformation Through Understanding the Void

International speaker Jen Grisanti is an acclaimed Story/Career Consultant at Jen Grisanti Consultancy, Inc. Grisanti is also a Writing Instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC, a former twelve-year studio executive, a blogger for The Huffington Post and author of Story Line, TV Writing Tool Kit, and Change Your Story, Change Your Life. Keep track of Jen’s upcoming events on her website, Facebook and Twitter, @jengrisanti, and listen to her Storywise Podcast for more tips.

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Jen Grisanti explains how when we learn to fill the void in story and in life, we can guide the transformation of our characters to help them achieve their goals.

When we understand how to heal the wound and fill the void, true transformation can begin. In story as in life, our wounds create a void. The void stops us from moving forward with our journey in a productive way. The void often creates a negative narrative that gets in our way of success. The negative narrative produces a flaw. The flaw is our way of coping with the void. Our flaw could be what we do to distract ourselves from processing the wound so that we can move forward. The gift of story is that we can watch the transformation that happens to the hero with the wound from the beginning through the achievement of the goal. If the storyteller understands how to fill the void caused by the wound, the hero will find resolution on an internal and an external level.

Our present wounds are often caused by the splitting open of a prior wound. We have a memory of something in our past that created a void. So, when something happens in the present to split this open, we need to take the action to fill the void. In story, I tell the writers that I work with to think about the prior wound. In TV pilots, how does the series trigger and dilemma split open this wound? In features, how does the inciting incident split open the earlier wound? Creatively, when you link the prior wound to the present wound, you have a greater depth to deal with in the understanding of the wound and how to fill the void through conscious action and connection. When you have the prior wound linked to the present wound, you have the fertile ground in between to utilize when it comes to the telling of your story.

Script EXTRA: Finding Your Character’s Wound

In the movie, LION, we see the prior wound happen at the beginning of the story. We are in the wound. We know what it is. We are in the heat of it. We FEEL the void. Then, when there is a time jump, we still have a clear understanding of the goal. He is lost. He wants to find home. Finding home goes to a whole new level of meaning because of how his story evolves. He has a new home. Love is there. However, the void is never truly filled until the answer is found. He has to move through the negative narrative and the obstacle of the wound happening when he was a young boy. The journey to find home never stops after the time jump. It is always there. Then, a new beginning for intimacy and connection appears. A problem arises when he discovers that true intimate connection cannot be truly realized until he finds home. This leads him back to his journey.

This type of story is very reflective of the writers’ journey in my worldview. For the writer to truly be able to express her/himself, she must do the emotional work to “find home” so that she can access the wound, fill the void and move forward in a way that will allow her to truly connect with her audience on a deeper level of meaning. When the void is present and the negative narrative wins, the truth cannot be fully found. So, this is where the emotional work begins.

Script EXTRA: Oscar Nominee Luke Davies Discusses Adapting ‘Lion’

On Netflix, there is a phenomenal show called RIVER that really takes us through the healing and processing of the wound. In RIVER, there is a twist at the start that you don’t see coming that involves the wound. It is very clever and very creative. When you understand the wound and how it stops River from moving forward, it connects with the audience in a very universal way. One of River’s flaws is his sense of denial and refusal to face the truth. In TV, the way that this is often dealt with is that there is a thematic link between the pilot arc and the season arc. The pilot arc is often one step toward healing the wound. In River, through the solving of the first case, we see how he gets answers to his own emotional void through his connection with the mom who lost her daughter and the boyfriend who confesses to killing her. River knows from the evidence that the boyfriend didn’t murder her. In working to understand the boy and what really happened, he is able to move deeper into his own process of healing. It is his digging into his own pain that leads to the answer of what happened with the boy and the girl.

When story is mastered at a level like these two stories, we all benefit. We see in process what the journey is in finding the answer to fill the void. When we learn to fill the void in story and in life, we pave a path to move forward and connect on a level that brings us true resolution.

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Jen Grisanti

About 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 ran Current Programs at Spelling Television Inc., covering all of Spelling’s shows including Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place and Charmed. In 2004, Grisanti was promoted to Vice President of Current Programs at CBS/Paramount where she covered numerous shows, including Medium, Numbers, NCIS, 4400 and Girlfriends. In January 2008, Grisanti launched Jen Grisanti Consultancy Inc., a highly successful consulting firm dedicated to helping talented writers break into the industry. Drawing on her experience as a studio executive where she gave daily notes to executive producers/showrunners, Grisanti personally guides writers to shape their material, hone their pitches and focus their careers. Since launching the consulting firm, Grisanti has worked with over 900 writers specializing in television, features and novels. Due to her expertise and mentorship, seventy-five of her writers have staffed on television shows and forty-four have sold pilots, five that that went to series. Grisanti has taught classes for the Toronto Screenwriting Conference, TV Writers Summit (in LA, London and Israel), The TV Writers Studio (in Australia), Story Expo, The Big Island Film Festival, Chicago Screenwriters Network, Scriptwriters Network , Screenwriting Expo, the Great American Pitchfest, the Writers Store, the Northwestern Screenwriter’s Guild in Seattle, and the Alameda’s Writer’s Group. In addition, she has served on panels for the WGA, iTVFest, UFVA, PGA and The Writer’s Bootcamp, telling her story to inspire others. Grisanti attended USC where she received a B.A. in Communications

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