The value of creating transformation.
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.
I just returned from a Yoga/Writing Retreat in Nicaragua. It was a transcendent life experience that started with a group of strangers and ended with a family and a new community. I led the Writing portion of it. I did it with Alta Retreats and ScreenCraft. It came about because John Rhodes, the founder of ScreenCraft, knew about a Yoga Retreat being done by Kathryn Nichols that was called, “Change Your Story, Change Your Life.” Since this is the title of my newest book, he figured that it would be great to combine the practices of yoga, meditation and writing.
We did this retreat at Aqua Wellness Resort in Nicaragua. The wellness portion went perfectly with our goal and intention of this retreat. This place is absolutely breathtaking and magical with the tree house accommodations, being in a jungle/forest type of feel and on the ocean. When you add monkeys and the sounds of nature to this and a yoga platform with the ocean as the background, it really brought it all together.
Every day, we’d start with meditation and then, we’d do yoga. Then, we’d do a group breakfast and then, I would teach writing for 3 hours. Then, we’d have lunch. Then, there would be a few hours for activities and then, we’d have two hours of free writing where I was available to help them with their story. Then, we’d end the day with a group dinner. It was this routine that led to tremendous transformation both internally and externally. Since this is what story is all about by creating this experience in life, the intention was to help the writer bring it to their story.
This retreat was in total alignment with how I teach story. The mission statement of my company is “To stop isolation and create community through the telling of story on a global level.” This is something I do in my seminars with my exercise, Log Line For Your Life. This is an exercise that breaks the ice and brings an audience of strangers together. When personal story is revealed, it takes on the effect of, “I see you and you see me in your story.” This creates community. We did this. However, on this retreat we also were able to dig deeper since we had the time, the place and the experience to do so.
On the second day of the retreat, I asked the question, “What has happened in your life that turned your world upside down and really gave you something to say?” We went around the room. There were lots of tears and common themes and threads in the sharing of their personal stories. This brought the group together to a whole new level of intimacy. They saw there were so many similarities in their life journeys and what led them to write and have something to say to the world.
In fiction, you do this through revealing the wound and the flaw of the protagonist. When we get a glimpse inside the mind and the heart of the protagonist, it shows us why we care. When we understand why we care and what we are rooting for, it creates a community of viewers that return to watch the unveiling of the story. A few of the shows that I taught from included HAPPY VALLEY, FLEABAG, and RIVER.
In HAPPY VALLEY, we learn a lot about the protagonist in the opening when Catherine says, “I’m Catherine, by the way. I’m forty-seven, I’m divorced, I live with my sister - who’s a recovering heroin addict - I have two grown-up children. One is dead and one who doesn’t speak to me. And a grandson!“ Catherine does this as a way to create trust with a guy who she is trying to get to come down from a jungle gym who wants to light himself on fire because his girlfriend broke his heart and humiliated him. It is this bit of information about Catherine that gives us a glimpse inside and creates a roadmap for the story to unravel.
In FLEABAG on Amazon, we learn this about Fleabag’s character - She hates herself.
She blames herself. We learn about her wound through her promiscuity. She grew up motherless. She has trouble with real intimacy. Her father emotionally abandoned her. She lost her best friend.
In RIVER on Netflix, we learn this about his character in the pilot - River's wound is the loss of his partner. River’s childhood wound will be revealed in a future episode. It links to the present wound. River’s wound helps him to identify with the guy in the pilot arc that River doesn’t believe killed his girlfriend. When River convinces the guy to live and that it is better to live than to die, he is also talking to himself.
Whether it is in fiction or in life, when you give us a glimpse inside, you create a community and a sense of transformation. This is what draws us in. It could be a community of viewers that will return to your show from week to week, or in the case of this retreat, a community of support that will live on well past the experience. When story is revealed from a place of depth, we all feel the intimacy and the connection. We want to feel what the writer is trying to say to the world.