Jen Grisanti examines how the character wound in this year's Oscar-nominated films help the audience connect on a deeper level to the films' protagonists.
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.
The key to a true connection is when we understand why a person wants what they want. When we are given a glimpse inside their desires, we connect with the story on a universal level, because we can feel the voice of the writer within the character. The character's wound reveals the why. When you give us an early glimpse of the wound, we are on board with the ride. We are rooting for a successful outcome on an emotional level.
In most strong stories, the wound is utilized. There were no exceptions to this rule in this year's Oscar-nominated films. However, the ones that excelled in demonstrating a compelling arc of their character’s wound, and used it to connect with the audience were THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI, THE SHAPE OF WATER, and MOLLY’S GAME. I have worked with the idea of emotional truth and utilizing it to connect with your audience in fiction and in life. In this two-part article, I will explore the wound in fiction and in life.
In THREE BILLBOARDS, the wound happened before we even enter the story. The wound is revealed from the action that is taken by the lead, Mildred, at the very start results from a tragic loss. We see the ramifications of the action taken. Then, we learn through an interview that her daughter was abducted, raped and murdered seven months before and the local police are not putting in enough effort to solve the crime. As soon as we hear what happened to create this wound, we understand the actions taken and the audience becomes invested in the outcome. This film really brings us in.
For me, I had someone close to my family go through a loss of a child in a similar way. So I understand this emotional journey, and how this type of loss creates a tremendous void, that can cause dark behavior on the way to seeking justice both externally and internally. Since the wound was apparent through action from very the start of this film, it really takes the audience on the journey that makes them feel the void and how the intention of the pursuit is created to fill this void.
At the beginning of THE SHAPE OF WATER, we hear about the story. Love will be found and it will be lost. We learn that the lead, Elisa, is mute. We see the scars on her body that tell a story. We see this story reflected in symbolism with the water and in every action that she takes. We feel her dream through her connection with her neighbor, Giles. We see her kindness in helping others. We learn that Elisa does janitorial work for a group of scientists. We see Elisa is startled when she sees a cylinder is brought in with something large and alive in it that shakes. Elisa’s pursuit is triggered when she notices a small drop of red blood left behind by the cattle prod. Since we have a glimpse inside her wound, we understand why this triggers her in her pursuit to save the asset in the cylinder from further abuse. We are on board. We root for her. We feel her story. We feel her desire to be seen, heard and understood.
With MOLLY’S GAME, we are in the moment that the wound occurs at the start of the story. Through the V.O., we learn what led up to the wound that happens before we enter the story. We learn about the personal dilemma of the lead, Molly, in regards to her relationship dynamic with her father. We learn about the childhood wound when she was told her dream to compete at the Olympic level wouldn’t happen, due to her spine being curved at 63 degrees. She was able to overcome this. We see her at the point where she’s trying out for the Olympics and has a true shot. Then, in the middle of the run, she hits a pine bough that releases her bindings. Her dream vanishes. We feel this. We are in this.
This leads to the pursuit. It is what happened in this moment and the relationship dynamic that she has with her father that makes us feel this story from the start. This is a strong example of what I refer to as the “triangle of the wound.” We get a glimpse of the childhood wound, we are in the moment of the major wound at the start of the story, and we feel the loss. Then, we understand how this will be linked to the wound that happens in the pursuit. We feel it all.
I have seen stories that wait too long to reveal the wound. This is what leads a story to fail. When we understand why a character wants what they want from the start, we see and feel our own worldview as it connects to the lead and to the pursuit. We feel the story. When we feel the story at a strong level of depth, the audience connects and nominations happen.
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