This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Finding Gold in Your Life Story
What Is Y our Central Character’s Dilemma Stemming From Or Leading To Their Goal? 8. What Is a Log Line? How Do Y ou Learn to Identify Log Lines in Y our Own Life? 2. Create Universal Moments in Y our Story Lines PART 1 . H ow Does Y our Central Character’s Backstory Influence His/Her Goals and Dilemmas? .CONTENTS How to Use This Book How This Book is Organized Who This Book is For Exploring Story by Understanding the V alue of the Log Line How to Apply This Book to Y our Creative Process INTRODUCTION 1. What Is a Dilemma? What Are Y our Dilemmas? What Are Y our Goals? 7.SET UP 3. How Does Y our Backstory Influence Y our Goals and Dilemmas? 9. Write a Log Line for Y our Script PART II – DILEMMA 6. Identifying Y our Universal Life Moments 5. Writing Y our Log Lines and How They Apply to Y our Story Lines 4.
Did Y ou Achieve Y our Life Goal? If So. What Is the Theme of Y our Story? How Do Y ou Use Symbolism? 18. How Does It Change Y our Character? 22. What Drives Y our Central Character to Succeed? PART IV . What Are Recurring Symbols/Themes in Y our Own Life? 17. How to Structure Y our Central Character’s Dilemmas and Goals into a Compelling Story. What Drives Y ou to Succeed? 19. What Is the Worst That Could Happen in Y our Own Life If Y ou Don’t Solve Y our Dilemmas or Achieve Y our Goals? 15. What Does It Feel Like? If Not. H ow Did Y our Life Dilemmas Unfold? What Was the Sequence of Events? Did They Influence Y our Goals? 11. D oes Y our Central Character Achieve His/Her Goal? If So. What Does This Feel Like? 21.GOAL 20. What Obstacles Does Y our Central Character Face in Pursuit of His/Her Goal? 14. What Is a Recurring Message in Y our Own Life? CONCLUSION 23.PART III . What Does It Feel Like? If Not. 12. What Obstacles Have Y ou Faced in Y our Own Life in Pursuit of Y our Goals? 13.ACTION 10. What Is Emotionally at Stake If Y our Central Character Does Not Solve His/Her Dilemmas and Achieve His/Her Goal? 16. What Is the Message in Y our Story? ABOUT THE AUTHOR .
heartbreak and despair. there are some of us who have the courage to make a career out of this expression. and create community. and my hope is that it will also inspire and encourage you to write. Through understanding your own story. inspiration and accomplishment. this book is designed to show you how to find. Sure. utilize. love and hope. Story unites us. It builds intimacy. In a time when we are all so overcome with the changes going on in our world. The list goes on. If you’re someone who is just interested in understanding your own story more.INTRODUCTION Story Line: Finding Gold in Your Life Story embodies the idea of learning to delve inside your personal well of experience to find story. features. you will find your gold. We store it all inside. this book will show you how to find your gold. looking at your goals and accomplishments. I believe that we are all writers. It is filled with happiness and joy. anger and disappointment. and fictionalize your truth into your writing. or novels. Learning how to write log lines will help connect you to your universal life moments. If you are writing television. It comes from being able to add a voice to all your personal life experiences. Our truth can be fictionalized in a way that will reach the masses. We are all creating story in our life everyday. In your well. In your universal life moments. This well is where we carry everything that happens in our life. sadness and sorrow. connecting through the power of story is a beautiful way to bring us together while so much else threatens to pull us apart. you will find the gold in your story. stop isolation. We all have a story that is worth exploring and worth recording. Y our gold is your truth. thinking 5 . but the potential is there for every single one of us to reap the rewards and understand the gift of our own story. A log line is a brief description of story that often has an emotional hook and a twist of irony.
In fact. Most of the stories that have touched and inspired us over the years are derived from the truths of the storytellers. and offers us an escape. The best stories are written by the people who are not afraid to dive inside themselves and see what will surface on the page. It is just there to entertain us. It is worth doing the work to get there. Often. It connects us to the truth of the storyteller. It doesn’t judge us. It is eager to come out and join forces with fiction so that it can reach new heights. read it. symbolism. story makes us feel empowered. Exercises and examples from both television and film are provided to help guide you. you will begin to see just how rich your story is and how much of it you have inside you. We can triumph and succeed. touch hearts. making us realize that we are not alone in our life experiences. We want to hear your voice. Each topic discussed begins with a chapter teaching you to draw truth from your life moments and is followed by a chapter discussing how you apply that truth to your story lines. we can rise above and achieve a goal. The intention of Story Line: Finding Gold in Your Life Story is to help you see the true value that lies within. It befriends us. keeps us warm.STORY LINE | Jen Grisanti about your sorrows and your heartbreaks. it does the opposite. Think of the way that story has inspired you over your lifetime. We can all remember growing up and connecting with story whether we heard it. Y ou just need to learn how to access it. or watched it on television or at the movie theaters. and watching for recurring themes. and messages. Story has this incredible way of engaging us and letting our imaginations go wild. 6 . The writers with the most courage have the greatest opportunity to connect the audience to their vision. The book is designed to alternate between free-thinking and crafting those explorations into your writing. It is your story. We realize that no matter how bad things can get. It fulfills and enthralls us. and entertain. It is powerful.
So often in life we look for answers on the outside. What if others see what is really going on inside your mind and heart? Are you afraid of feeling judged? Do you worry that they won’t love you anymore or that you might feel the pain of rejection? Are you afraid of feeling unworthy? What is self-worth? Do we ever really feel it? What if our words hurt our family? What if our anger takes on a life of its own? Delving into our core emotional selves is definitely frightening. so it’s only natural that we seek reason there. One of the greatest goals of writing is to connect with your audience on an emotional level. To make them feel. to make sense of. Writing is a kind of double living. It’s an obstacle most of us don’t know how to approach.WHAT IS A LOG LINE? HOW DO YOU LEARN TO IDENTIFY LOG LINES IN YOUR OWN LIFE? Writing. but if we’re totally honest. Y et. to relate. and. to emote. To connect with others. I think is not apart from living. to understand. ~ Catherine Drinker Bowen 1 Writing is a very frightening endeavor for most people. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind. Going within means shining a light on what is. to help them identify. The key to your success as a writer is understanding how to interpret and express your personal experiences in a universal way and learning to add fiction to your truth. The writer experiences everything twice. How do you do this? Y ou go inside yourself and explore your own personal well of emotion. We write to express ourselves. looking inside ourselves is no easy task. Y our personal story is your gold and your true gift as a writer. to examine. Outside ourselves is where the activity is. just to be. it is inside that we interpret and feel the effects of what we experience externally. very often. to shed. we need to connect with ourselves. others will connect with us and our 7 . However.
and connection. “Have you ever written about that experience?” First. writers who hadn’t been staffed. allowing it to surface in their writing through the use of theme and symbolism and drawing audiences into the stories they tell. The results I saw were phenomenal. Since I knew that completely autobiographical stories rarely transfer well. as well as developing story for top prime time shows. I’d see fear. I have analyzed story for over 18 years. Their writing reflects depth. Then. and we realize that we are not alone. Suddenly. Writers previously stalled in development were suddenly selling pilots. I knew that what I was able to pull out of writers had value for their success. when we put it out there. It is identifying our truth and having the courage to put it on the page that is our greatest challenge. emotion. I helped launch many writing careers. I did this as a way to understand how I could best market them to my executive producer so that they would have a stronger chance of getting the job. Plus. there is a sigh of relief. I would see doubt. After this. 8 . I often asked about their personal stories.STORY LINE | Jen Grisanti story. I started my own business in January of 2008. I’d watch their face light up and recognize that there was something worth exploring. I identified a niche in the market with regards to story. I taught them to draw emotion from these experiences as a way to authenticate and make their writing stand out. often. Then. The key to their success was looking inside themselves. I noticed one common thread tying together all the writers I’ve seen gain tremendous success: They understand how to look inside themselves for answers. staffing and working with writers. Y our truth matters. Chances are that the emotions you are burying inside are what millions of others are feeling and afraid to identify with.. A weight has been lifted. During this time. As a television executive for over a decade at CBS/Paramount and Spelling Television Inc. I would often ask the question. They’ve learned how to fictionalize their own personal experience. My last staff job in the corporate world was VP of Current Programs at CBS/Paramount. got staffed. When I met with writers. was my job. As we dived into their stories. Writers who couldn’t find representation suddenly had many agents vying for them.
Y ou can take a theme in your life or a life moment. 9 . she is forced to turn her plan B into her plan A and discovers that her plan B was her plan A all along.. extracting your truth and learning how to frame it into a log line. A perfect example is the log line from the feature. The results of the one-on-one consults have been amazing. and the goal. action. Y ou want to set up empathy for your central character. I’ve helped writers get agents and managers. you will strengthen your awareness of how to organize story and this will help you to write stronger log lines for your scripts.” Personal log lines involve taking moments in your life and phrasing them in a way that makes a story. “When a work-obsessed corporate executive experiences a fall from grace. Since I launched my company.. 1990): “A man in a legal but hurtful business needs an escort for some social events. finds herself President of Cheated On Anonymous. I also teach seminars. get staffed.” Writing a log line is a way of detaching from your story and looking at it from an objective viewpoint. and an emotional ‘hook’ to stimulate interest. Strong log lines often have irony in them. I’ve worked with over 200 writers. dilemma. “A new bride who lives in a fairy tale fantasy falls through a rabbit hole and when she awakens. and hires a beautiful prostitute he meets. and goal. only to fall in love. A log line that reflects a moment in my life is. present the dilemma and the action that is taken. “A log line is a brief summary of a television program or movie. It was during one of these seminars that I came up with the concept of getting writers to write what I call a Log Line For Your Life. sell pilots and helped the right people to see their work creating a possibility. I figured that the best way to see results was through one-on-one consults. Pretty Woman (Touchstone Pictures.What is a Log Line? So. I give the individual writer their own personal development executive to help them navigate the terrain that often accompanies a career in writing. add some fiction to it and see what you come up with. I started a business that purely focuses on the development of story.” I tell writers to write their log lines by thinking about the setup of who.” A second log line that reflects a pivotal moment in my life is. What is a log line? Wikipedia’s definition is. often providing both a synopsis of the program’s plot. By going into your own life experiences.
you will be surprised by the depth it adds to the way that you write and how this depth will connect you with your audience. The beauty of this exercise is that it will help you relate with people in a new way. a necklace that my husband had given me broke. Y ou will feel a passion that maybe you haven’t felt before. I remember this very vividly because the necklace breaking was a symbol of things to come. you write from an authentic place. When you write what you know. I will teach you how to dive into these moments and fictionalize them. and finding a way to use these moments in your writing will connect your audience to your story. Having the courage and the insight to do this will elevate your writing and connect you with your audience. because when you write what you know. I’ve probably read over 3.000 scripts. they also present an opportunity to add depth to the stories you tell. They suddenly saw people in a new light. chances are that millions of others have as well. By “universal life moment” . For example. At this point in my career. Theme and symbolism can often be drawn from our universal life moments. Throughout this book. you write from your truth. When you write from your truth.I mean moments in your life when your world was turned upside down and your sense of reality. 10 . shifted. I’ve had many signs like this in my life. This is the icing on the cake of story for me. writing log lines that reflect your universal life moments and helping you build and elevate the fictional stories that you are working on. The ones that really stand out to me are those that have mastered the use of theme and symbolism. as you knew it. Y our voice is what will set you apart from other writers. This is the gift of story. you identify your voice.STORY LINE | Jen Grisanti Y ou can start thinking about log lines in your life by thinking of universal life moments that you’ve experienced. While these symbolic moments may be painful. When you go inside and uncover what is there. just before my marriage ended. One group I did it with said that they’ve been sitting next to people for years in their guild and they had no idea that these stories were under the surface. If you have experienced true moments.
he wants to fill his brother’s shoes and earn his place. explores loyalty in depth.What is a Log Line? If you draw from moments of truth in your life. strong examples of this are found in Avatar. Avatar (20th Century Fox Film. He writes. 2009).) Television-wise. however. with the theme of “logic versus emotion. develop the dilemma part of the goal. 2008). Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver. This self-worth is taught to him through his love interest Nitiri (Zoe Saldana) and the character. in doing this. Internally. 2006). he will have to betray his love interest. you will write your themes and symbolism from a stronger place. If you want to go further and strengthen your story even more. with the theme and symbolism behind exploring recovery after a fall from grace. The final and probably most important part of story that I like to reflect on in reading your log line and your writing is the goal and dilemma faced by your lead character. 2009) explores the theme of freedom and symbolizes it through the use and paralyzation of the central character’s legs.” If your goal is crystal clear. Current movies that have utilized theme and symbolism well and are likely drawn from the true life experiences of the storytellers are: Star Trek (Paramount. The strength and clarity of this dilemma heightens the emotional stakes tremendously. Jeffrey Kitchen covers this incredibly well in his book Writing A Great Movie: Keys Tools for Successful Screenwriting. do beautiful jobs of 11 . Breaking Bad (Sony Pictures Television).” Frost/Nixon (Universal Pictures. being held in higher esteem. and Mad Men (AMC). Big Love (Playtone Productions). “Dilemma may be defined as a situation with a choice to be made in which neither alternative is acceptable. your story has a much greater chance of working. Dr. Feature-wise. what does your central character want? This covers the goal. The dilemma he faces is that if he does what the antagonist wants him to do. he will get his legs back. the German film that won the best foreign film in 2007. stemming from a dilemma or leading into a dilemma. and The Lives Of Others (Arte. In simple terms. We know that the lead character Jake (Sam Worthington) wants the use of his legs back as an external goal.
If this goal. if you don’t know with clarity what you want. Doing this involves. “Developing from Within. the stronger you are on the page. his family will be left with nothing. After being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. you will bring yourself personal clarity and enhance and elevate your writing. In Breaking Bad. However. the first step is looking inside yourself and embracing your own story. resulting from the dilemma or leading to the dilemma. your story will suffer. since he’s a chemistry teacher. your story will be stronger. We will explore universal life moments. first. So. there is a great overall series dilemma faced by Walt (played by Bryan Cranston). 12 . is blurred. The series explores both sides of this dilemma. how do you write it? By finding clarity in your own life.STORY LINE | Jen Grisanti exemplifying with clarity what the central character wants and the dilemmas that they face. he comes up with the idea of dealing meth. The two sides of his dilemma are. I believe that the stronger you are inside. second. but he will have money to leave his wife and their handicapped son. he realizes that when he dies. if he doesn’t make meth. if he deals meth. I find that many writers have difficulty defining their character’s goal because most people are not totally clear on what they want in their own lives. he will have very little to leave his family and will die feeling like he didn’t provide enough for them. symbolism and goals and dilemmas in depth in this book because they are elements that go into defining the log lines for your life.” a phrase I’ve adopted as my brand. you will find clarity in your writing. theme. but if your goal is clear. So. he risks getting caught and going to jail. A prevalent dilemma leading to a strong goal or stemming from a strong goal elevates the strength of your story. increasing your chances of a long career as a successful working writer. By defining your life log lines.
CREATE UNIVERSAL MOMENTS IN YOUR STORY LINES Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. yet. A “universal life moment” is a moment when your world turns upside down and your sense of reality. as you know it. The event usually symbolizes a greater secret or pain. I ask them to identify a few universal life moments. The event often forces us to uncover something that we swept under the rug and deal with our demons before we can move forward. In my seminars. Digging into our personal unknown allows us to experience a myriad of emotions and fears. Y our life has changed. this is an “all is lost” moment. but rather the emotions that it stirs up inside of us. Y ou are put in a position of choice. it may help our fear subside. we often feel we are reacting to an external event. When we react. we often find light. or you can choose to stay where you are. but either way. Often times. if we can begin to embrace our darkness by understanding that light will eventually follow. So. Y et. your reality will never be the same again. I ask writers to think about these moments in their lives and share one with the class. on the other side of darkness. shifts. More than likely. and this is the core worth of the experience. This is a scary request. One of my most memorable universal life moments occurred when I attended the wedding of a childhood friend shortly after my own 13 . very often it is not the event at all that we are upset about. what we felt during these moments was dark. ~ William Wordsworth 2 As a way to help writers reach inside themselves. Y ou can take action. and it takes true courage to approach the unknown scariness that is our own darkness.
I became a reluctant member of a new club. This moment linked to other moments during my career as a television executive. I recall reading 50 of these specs that season and constantly finding myself at the point of tears because it felt like there were so many people who understood my pain. my mother enlightened me to some of the truth behind the facade. I found myself on a quest for answers. the small suburb of Los Angeles where I had grown up. 1997). weddings tend to take on a whole new meaning. restrict the crazy scenarios you’re imagining to the confines of your mind. “Don’t do it! If it doesn’t work. and try to enjoy the ceremony. After you’ve been through a divorce. Each of these couples had their own issues. It wasn’t what I had imagined it to be. One of the popular “spec scripts” being submitted during my divorce was Ally McBeal (20th Century Fox. A part of you wants to jump up and shout. I saw many of the supposedly happy couples that had been part of the Friendly Hills community when I was a child. your heart will be shattered!” However. It wasn’t real. you compose yourself. their own struggles. Well. I was raised in a picturesque neighborhood called Friendly Hills. In my writer meetings. and as I looked around at the other wedding guests. After experiencing my own divorce so shortly after my wedding. but all of whom I had assumed to have a strong marriage. California. I’d hear story after story about cheating spouses. A part of me didn’t want to admit that this truth was part of my experience too. In a moment. The perfect picture of marriage that I had held onto so tightly as a child was shattering into a million pieces. Y ou start to doubt the ceremony. this particular wedding was back home in Whittier. after I’d share my story as a way to get writers to define and feel comfortable sharing their own. I was forced to grow up and let go of the fairy tale. and now a new truth was revealed. 14 .STORY LINE | Jen Grisanti divorce. I realized that when I got divorced. I wasn’t isolated. As I inquired about each couple. their own darkness. These were the couples that had helped construct my conception of marriage. many of them no longer together. truly hoping for the best. I had crafted a fantasy in my mind and heart. shifting my reality as I knew it. I was left wondering when I would be able to paint a new picture of a life that was realistic and not based on fantasy.
“The older you get. that really resonates with the audience and underscores the entire story. the faster we die..” Then the film cuts to Will going to war and starting another year of rotation. We have to “man up” and face our new reality. I think it’s one. My guess is that this theme stems from one of the writer’s universal fears birthed from a specific life moment. risking his life to dismantle improvised explosive devices. 2008). The scar will remain forever. Ryan. the fewer things you really love. you’ll realize that your pain exists for a reason. he feels most 15 . in The Hurt Locker (Voltage Pictures. the rawest moments in movies and television. eventually becoming a distant memory. It can weaken us and deliver us into a state of victimhood. “The slower we move. are those inspired by the writer’s universal life moments. the pain will lessen. there is another key line of dialogue. Often times. For Ryan. He’s not comfortable with the emotional side of life. pursuing a new reality. Will James (Jeremy Renner) sits with his son and says. likely based on a universal life moment. or it can help shed light on our reality. Y et. Pain is like a rite of passage. Moving past your pain makes you stronger and prepares you to pass your story on to others. however painful they may be. marriage and being “settled” equates to slowing down and thereby having to face his own mortality.Create Universal Moments in Your Story Lines It is in these moments that we go through a transformation.” This philosophy/theme resonates throughout the entire film. you only love one or two things. the central character played by George Clooney. in a key line in the movie Up In The Air (Paramount. As you explore them.. For example. Y our emotional depth stems from these moments. a rebirth. but with time. We all encounter it. 2009). Instead. This is the foundation that the entire story is built upon and it’s what makes the film so powerful and moving. I encourage writers to dive into these moments. We have to shed the skin that was and be ready for a new layer to cover the wound. Similarly.. says. written by Mark Boal. When you get to my age. giving us an opportunity to embark upon a new beginning. the ones that really connect with the audience. it speaks to the masses.
Very often. Universally. to explore the difference between how we see things and how we want to see them. How many of us can relate to this? Work actually comes easy. This is something we can all connect with and relate to in one way or another. yet disappointing a person who we love is almost always painful. This is symbolized beautifully in a grocery store scene when Will’s wife asks him to grab a box of cereal and we see him looking up and down the aisle. Miss Farrell (Abigail Spencer). Dexter (Michael C.” This line sets up the entire episode. as an audience. It’s relationships and baring all that’s truly difficult. I heard the writer. I asked him about this scene. In an episode of Mad Men (AMC). written by Melissa Rosenberg and Wendy West. even though it involves risking his life. He said that he drew this from his own life. speak at the Writers Guild Foundation. He utilized his own truth and fictionalized it into story. Mark Boal. but disappointing Rita makes me feel like the scum of the earth?” Sometimes we can disassociate from external actions that one would think would be our most terrible regrets. ”Why is it that with killing. It is in this moment that we truly feel his isolation and sense of disconnection with this part of his life. completely bewildered by the multitude of choices. there’s a great moment in the fourth season finale of Dexter (Clyde Phillips Productions). but they don’t really want to. denying the truth behind our actions. I feel no regret. we each live life in a healthy sense of denial. the most powerful moments in a story reveal a writer’s truth. there is a great moment when the teacher. In his voice over.STORY LINE | Jen Grisanti at home doing what he does best. which explores both Don and his wife’s indiscretions. it forces us. written by Matt Weiner and Kater Gordon. that has real universal relevance. looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. He said that he is never comfortable in the grocery story. “People may see things differently. with whom Don (John Hamm) is having an affair. It is through your truth that you submerge your audience into 16 . Hall) asks himself. That is to say. Television-wise. relays a question that an 8-year-old boy asked her: “How do I know that you see blue like I see blue?” Don replies. and is further symbolized with a basket of dirty laundry.
often. showing them they are not alone. Who was I to think that my pain compared with theirs? On the first day. If we dig into the backstories of our lives. I’ll never forget the ride up the California coastline. Some of the stories were so deep. I had. you have the gift of being able to provide a tremendous sense of relief to others. It made me feel like a fool for being there. After losing my job in the corporate world after fifteen years at the same company. married my job. For the first time since college. On the first day. After I went through my divorce. but the pain behind them is the same. much like we do with the backstories of our characters’ lives. we find that so many of the themes highlighted by our universal life moments are similar. that feeling had changed completely. it was like I was going through a second divorce. We all have a right and a need to grieve. So. for the first time in my life I was totally free. The actual scenarios may be totally different. so painful and so raw. There is no greater 17 . Y et. confronting our truth is what finally releases us from the paralyzing hold it has on us. we went around the room and told our stories. It was like I was seeing the coast for the very first time. It was a very numbing experience. It made me feel selfish and egotistical. but by the fifth day. Diving into our personal truth can be terrifying. I began to see that all of our pain is relevant. when my job came to an end.Create Universal Moments in Your Story Lines your vision and make them feel your story. I had only lost my job and some of these people had lost so much more. While I was at Esalen. by allowing them to see their pain explored in a fictional way. like workout and plan for the next stage of my life. author of the book It’s Time: No One Is Coming to Save You. I took a five-day course called “Completions and Transitions” with thirteen other people. Despite the tremendous fear of the unknown that I was facing. in essence. I took a trip to Esalen. I worked in the corporate world since the moment I had graduated from USC. Through the tremendous instruction by Mary Goldenson. I didn’t have a specific reason or purpose to wake up in the morning other than to do things for myself. a magical place by the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur. As a writer. I felt like I didn’t belong. finally truly able to see its beauty.
feel it. you need to understand your own truth. Y our script will stand out from the masses. and express it on the page. EXERCISE Write down five of your most memorable universal life moments. Y ou have to be willing to look deep inside yourself and extract it. you will find new depth in your writing.STORY LINE | Jen Grisanti feeling than when a TV show or movie really speaks to you and makes you feel like someone understands. The key to your success as a writer lies within. expose it. If you can learn to tap into and fictionalize these moments. The way you interpret your universal life moments is what will inform your story and connect you with your audience. look at it. Y ou will connect with your audience and discover the sound of your voice. Think of the times in your life when your reality shifted and your world turned upside down. Drawing from your real pain and experience is what will bring your audience to tears and convince them to root for your characters. But to do this. Universal life themes are your gold. adding the truth of your own emotion. 18 . process it. Go into these moments.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?