Asking What and Why: Story Begins with Defining Desire

Understanding the external and the internal part of the desire, you create an action plan in steps that will lead you to your desired outcome. Jen Grisanti explains how it all comes down to defining want.

International speaker Jen Grisanti is an acclaimed Story/Career Consultant at Jen Grisanti Consultancy, Inc., a Writing Instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC, a former twelve-year studio executive, and author of Story Line, TV Writing Tool Kit, and Change Your Story, Change Your Life. Keep track of Jen’s upcoming events on Facebook and Twitter, @jengrisanti, and listen to her Storywise Podcast. Read Jen’s full bio and sign up for her Telling and Selling Your TV Pilot video series.

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Desire defines want and need. I’ve found that one of the most challenging parts for writers with telling a strong story is defining the want of the central character. This is because so many people don’t know what they want in their own lives. As the author, Michael Nitti, writes in his book, The Trophy Effect, we react to what happens in our lives instead of going in with intention. I loved thinking of this concept in story and in life. Through defining the desire in story and in life, we can create a life of intention versus reaction. When the want is clear in fiction, every other part of the story connects to it. When the character defines what they want and why they want it, the outcome becomes something we root for.

Script EXTRA: ‘All is Lost’ Equals Opportunity for Character Growth

When we know what your character wants and why they want it, we feel the emotion of your story and you give us a glimpse inside what you are trying to say to the world with your story. When we have clarity with what you want with writing your story and why you want to tell it, we feel your desire and think about how we can apply it to our own lives with regards to getting a desired outcome.

How do we get to the desired outcome in life and in story? Start with the question, “What do I want?” Think about this in your life and the life of your character. Now, the internal might be the first thing that appears. The answer could be love, health, abundance, success, truth, etc. Now, think about what is an external situation that could bring about the internal desire. If when you ask the question what do I want or what does my character want, you might find that the external appears. You or your character might want a job, a promotion, a marriage, a relationship, validation of your work, an answer to a problem, etc. If this is what comes through, then think about why you want this.

In the show, MR. ROBOT on USA, for the first season, we know that the lead, Elliot, wants to bring down the evil conglomerate. We learn that why he wants this is because he believes that Evil Corp stole his childhood by killing his father. When the desire is clear, the story works.

In the show, HAPPY VALLEY on Netflix, we know that in season 1, the lead, Catherine, wants justice to be fully served to a prisoner, Tommy Lee Royce, who gets out of prison early. Catherine’s why for wanting this is because she believes that Tommy Lee Royce killed her daughter.

Script EXTRA: Finding Your Character’s Wound

When the internal and the external part of the desire are clear, the outcome becomes possible. Recently, I did a writers’ retreat in Spain with Rocaberti. It was a phenomenal experience on every level. The value of a writers’ retreat is that you get exposed to so much information that could take your life and your writing to the next level. Part of this retreat had to do with mentoring writers three hours a day. At the beginning of the week, I asked the writers to define what they wanted to accomplish by the end of the week and to write it down. Then, I asked them to think about why they wanted to accomplish this. When you understand the why, you have the emotional fuel to get you to the what. This is key when it comes to understanding how you get to the desired outcome. So, ask yourself the question, “What do I want?” Then, by understanding the external and the internal part of the desire, you create an action plan in steps that will lead you to your desired outcome. It all comes down to defining want.

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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