Tuesday, March 15, 2011

by Janet Lawler

Have you ever wanted to write about your own life?  Come on, you know you have! Maybe turn it into a movie or book?  We all have a story to tell, right?  It takes courage to tell the truth... the raw truth... but we can do it honestly and yet fictionalize it to reach an audience.

I just finished reading Jen Grisanti's new book Story Line: Finding Gold in Your Life Story.  If you're considering putting your life down on paper, read Grisanti's book first.  It guides a writer through creating a "log line for your life" just like a movie log line, drawing from your truth without shame or fear, writing about universal themes and moments that will hook your audience emotionally.

Isn't that what makes us want to read a new book or go see a movie?  We want to feel something... learn something... feel connected to others... to know we're not alone.

Being able to write about a real incident is terrifying.  How factual must we be?  Will we hurt someone's feelings?  Do we have to write it exactly as it happened?  Will we wind up on Oprah's show defending our truth, sentence by sentence?

Relax.  Grisanti's book frees up the writer to pull from that gritty reality but disguise it in fiction within a solid story foundation (structure).

Jen Grisanti has a track record in the TV industry.  She worked for Spelling Television as a creative executive during its "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Melrose Place" days.  Spelling was her mentor and boss.  She went on to become VP of Current Programs at CBS/Paramount.  In 2008, she left that post (when her contract wasn't renewed, which she writes about with candor) and decided to start her own consultancy business Jen Grisanti Consultancy (during the start of the Great Recession).  Now that takes courage!

Grisanti's brand is "Developing from Within".  She explains how scripts, plays, novels can be more meaningful to an audience, and to us as the creator, by digging deep into our past and having the strength to reveal what we've survived.  Universal moments -- divorce, a parent dying, losing a job, battling illness -- are dilemmas most of us can relate to on some level.  Through that loss and pain, we can help others.

Many people find a great Act 3 after a devastating Act 2.

I recently ran into a woman I hadn't seen in about four years.  She looked freakin' FANTASTIC!  New hairstyle and color, stylish outfit and she had dropped 50 pounds... I kept telling her how amazing she looked... what was her secret?  She laughed and said she got divorced. "I like my independence," she beamed.  Well, does she ever... she found a new love and an entire new outlook about herself and life.  The back story was: her husband cheated on her, she took him back (they had two young sons); he cheated again and she finally threw the bum out! This woman needs to write her life story, pronto!  Talk about The Good Wife.

Gristanti's book Story Line touches on stories like above -- in movies and real life.   We've all had our "all is lost" moments.  So how do we go on?  How do we pick up the pieces?  Set new goals?  Often renewal and transformation comes after we hit that brick wall... when we're forced to change direction to survive.

And, we can also write about it.  Purge it on paper.  Truth can elevate fiction, Grisanti notes.  I'm currently writing a play about my sister.  She died at 37 after battling drug abuse since her teenage years.  It's excruciating... it's painful... it's an all up hill battle for me... but I know my sister's story deserves to be told... maybe it will save one young girl from turning to drugs. 

Grisanti's book is a worthy read for my project.  I'm floored by her raw honestly in every chapter.  She never holds back about her own "all is lost" moments... her husband's infidelity, her divorce, her climb up the corporate ladder in Hollywood, what that career cost her, losing her job in her 40s, being single again and having to reinvent herself by starting her own business from scratch.  Wow.  The good news -- she's in a better place for having traveled that path.  It's all there on the page.  She writes without trying to sugar coat events or protect her "corporate image".  Most people would need a glass of wine or two to open up this way.  Grisanti's story and experiences touched me deeply as a reader and writer... the whole point of the book.

I've long followed Grisanti through her podcast Story Wise which is available for free on iTunes http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/jen-grisanti-consultancy/id315874121.  On her podcast she interviews top Hollywood writers and producers.  I really like Grisanti's style -- warm, insightful, fun and yet structured.  She pulls gems out of these writer/producers weekly for her audience to learn from.  An hour with Story Wise is time well invested.

So the next time life kicks your butt, start taking notes.  When the stakes are high, when you're facing insurmountable odds, breathe, and remember that setbacks force us into new directions, for a reason.

Attention to my NYC Bloggers... mark those calendars... Jen Grisanti will be at the Drama Book Shop (one of my favorite places!) on April 15th from 5-6:30 PM for a book signing.  Also she'll be giving a Screenwriting Conference for Movie Maker Magazine June 11 &12th.  Check her out!

Happy St. Patrick's Week!

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