Jen Grisanti, a well-known story consultant and former TV development exec, sponsors a monthly mixer for L.A. writers and reps at the agency-adjacent X Bar in Century City. She chats with Amy Dawes about her new book Story Line: Finding Gold in Your Life Story (Michael Wiese Prods), which guides writers toward discovering their own voices and the value of their unique life experiences.
AD: Is Story Line about writing a memoir?
JG: It’s about writing from a place of emotional truth, rather than an autobiographical place. I show writers how to take the truth of their experiences and emotions and blend it with the fiction in their storylines.
AD: We often hear that studios are looking for writers with ‘original voices’. What does ‘voice’ really mean? Wouldn’t having an original point of view be limiting, in light of what mostly gets made?
JG: Voice is found in those moments that separate your story from the way anyone else would tell it, based on your interpretation of your personal experience, and how you bring that to your fictional characters. Paradoxically, these are often the moments that resonate powerfully with an audience on a universal level. People think you can’t bring an original voice to a TV spec script, because you’re mimicking someone else’s vision, but that’s not true. There’s still plenty of room for choices that are unique to what you have to say.
AD: It sounds like voice is related to message. You devote a chapter to “discovering the recurring message in your own life.” How can writers do that?
JG: By processing and doing the emotional work. Think about your own life – what has wounded you, and what drives you? What falls or perceived failures have you gone through, and how did you learn to get back up? In a sense, the wound is what drives us, and the flaw is what gets in our way. Add a twist of irony, and you have a story. You can probably formulate several loglines from your own life experience. By adding fiction to them, you’ll find the loglines for your scripts, along with your voice and your message.
AD: Where do the ‘universal life moments’ that you talk about play into it?
JG: I’m referring to those experiences when you feel that reality as you knew it has shifted; you’re moved from one world into another. It could be when your parents divorced, or your best friend betrayed you, or you fell in love and then got hurt. It’s looking at our perception of what we think life will be, versus what it actually is. A lot of this came to me in yoga, and writing is like yoga. The more you practice, the better you get. You have to recognize that writing is a practice; it’s a commitment. And it sounds scarier than it is. When I shared my own truth in Story Line, it led to so many people writing me emails and saying “I connect with you.” So it isn’t about me – it’s about them. That’s really what it’s all about.
AD: Do you still do the monthly mixers at X Bar in Century City?
JG: I’ve been doing them for four years. Writing is so isolating, and I wanted to create an event where TV and feature writers could meet each other, because there was starting to be a lot of crossover. Then agents and managers began to show up, too. It’s after-work drinks, on the first Friday of the month. My Evite list grew from 25 to 750, through word of mouth. Details are on my website, under ‘events.’ Everyone is welcome.