Friday, June 21, 2013

Be the Heroine/Hero of Your Life Story

An Interview with Jen Grisanti
by Ann Baldwin

Jen Grisanti is a highly respected script consultant, public speaker, author, and writing instructor. She started her career as an assistant to Aaron Spelling. Jen climbed the ranks and eventually ran Current Programs at Spelling Television Inc., covering all of Spelling’s shows including Beverly Hills, 90210; Melrose Place; and Charmed. In 2004, Jen was promoted to Vice President of Current Programs at CBS/Paramount where she covered shows including Medium, Numbers, NCIS, 4400, and Girlfriends. She served as a mentor in the CBS Diversity Program, which seeks out and nurtures young writers and directors. In 2008, she launched her own consultancy firm, Jen Grisanti Consultancy, dedicated to helping talented writers break into the industry. She is also a Writing Instructor for NBC’s Writers on the Verge, taught classes for the Scriptwriters’ Network, The Screenwriting Expo, and The Great American Pitchfest and served on panels for the WGA and Final Draft/The Writer’s Bootcamp. Her books include, Story Line: Finding Gold in Your Life Story (Michael Wiese Productions 2011), TV Writing Tool Kit: How to Write a Script That Sells, and her upcoming book, Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path to Success (Divine Arts 2013).

We’re all familiar with reading about heroines and heroes in books and watching them in films and TV, but most of us never consider ourselves as heroines or heroes. In my interview with Jen, she explains how to take the elements of story and apply them to your own life, so you can create the story of your dreams, turn them into reality, and be the heroine or hero of your own life.

Ann: What do you hope to teach your readers through your new book, Change Your Story, Change Your Life?

Jen: I was inspired to write by the simple thematic question that came up in my own life, can I take a personal or professional fall and turn it into a win? When I went through the actions and discovered that the answer was yes, I wanted to share it with others.

My intention with writing the book is so that readers can recognize that after their life takes a turn, they can create the story that they want on both a personal and professional level. It all comes down to choice. You can choose to be a victim or you can choose to be an active heroine in your own life. It all starts with defining what you want. By identifying a goal, you can learn how to take your personal or professional fall and through taking action, turn the fall into a triumph. By learning to be an active heroine in your own story through utilizing the story tools that I share, the reader will gage new insight on how they can change their story and their life in the process.

Ann: You state in your new book that "being active after a fall is one of life's greatest challenges"; how do we gain the motivation needed to take action after a fall and how can we be an active verses reactive heroine/hero in our own life?

Jen: In fiction and in life, there is every kind of heroine or Hero. You have the passive heroine, the reactive heroine, the reluctant heroine, and the non-heroine in addition to the active heroine. The active heroine is the one who creates their destiny through identifying a specific goal and taking action to get there. When you understand your emotional reasons for wanting to get to the goal, you can use this to motivate your pursuit. When we fall, we have the time to contemplate what we lost. We may recognize that the initial pursuit wasn’t what we thought it was because we didn’t strategically plan the internal side of our story. So, once we take the time to heal and understand what led to our fall, we can use the dilemma that we faced from the fall to fuel us forward into our new story. We have the choice of being the victim to the fall and becoming a reactive or passive heroine to our life or we can be the active heroine, learn the lessons from our fall, and plan our next victory with a stronger sense of spirit. By being the active heroine, we create the destiny that we want.

In my life, when I faced the dilemma of what to do after the loss of a job after 15 years with the same company, I knew that the choice that I made would define my character and determine what kind of heroine that I would be in my own life. I knew from having hit my goal of being Vice President that it was my actions that led to achieving this goal. So, I saw that being active brings the results. Now, I just needed to better develop the internal side of my story so that the external and the internal were in alignment. I choose to be active in my pursuit of creating my own business and shepherding my vision by helping others to achieve their goals and reach their destination through writing their story.

Ann: Most people are familiar with setting goals, such as buying a new car, graduating from school, getting a job promotion, purchasing a home, or winning an award, but many people are not aware of a key component needed to achieving their goals; what is your knowledge and/or experience with this aspect of success?

Jen: In my experience, the key tool to achieving the goal is connecting the personal dilemma or wound to the professional outcome. When we go through our “all is lost” moment, we lose something in the process. By redefining what it is we want through understanding what the internal desire is for the external reward, we will garner stronger results. If we use our pain to fuel us forward instead of hold us back, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.

For example, one of the trigger incidents in my own life revolved around losing a job after 15 years with two sister companies. This trigger incident/turning point forced me into a dilemma. Did I want to continue to climb the corporate ladder and give into the idea of shepherding someone else’s vision or did I want to go out on my own and shepherd my own vision and take the risk of making a small business succeed? I chose the later. Then, my external goal that stemmed from this was to build the business into a big success. I used my personal wound; my fear that I wasn’t going to be able to do what I loved anymore for a living and I used it to drive my professional goal; to build a business that encompassed everything that I loved about my job. This is what I did. The book goes into my journey and uses it as a way to show how I used story tools in my own life to create the story that I wanted my life to reflect.

Ann: So, you'd say the key component to people achieving their goals is to not only know *what* they want externally (the car, house, or promotion), but *why* they want it internally (such as to feel happy, successful, free, or confident)?

Yes. I believe that you will find a greater sense of fulfillment at the finish line of a goal if you strategically think about how you want to feel internally from the external experience of achieving a goal. I’ve discovered that when we cross the threshold of our achievement without a sense of what we hope to feel internally, we often discover that it is not what we thought it was going to be. We feel let down by the experience. We do not attain true pleasure. If we think about what we hope to feel internally from the external journey, we cannot only use this as fuel to get us there, we will feel more when we do get there. In fiction, a strong writer understands the value of the why. The why represents why your central characters want what they want. This adds depth and meaning to the pursuit. We understand the internal motivation. We feel what is driving the character toward the goal line. If we can learn to do this in our own life, we will discover that when we do achieve our goals, there is a greater sense of satisfaction with it because our internal motivation will be in alignment with our external reward.

In my own life, I knew that I wanted to be Vice President and eventually run a studio or a network. I put everything into this pursuit. It took me thirteen years to go from assistant to being Vice President of Current Programming at the studio. I worked incredibly hard to get there. I didn’t anticipate that there would be anything except pure joy when I hit the destination. I attached the idea of “I’ll be happy when…” to this life experience and to the experience of marriage. When I accomplished both pursuits, the end experience wasn’t everything that I thought it would be; everything wasn’t perfect. There were costs that I had not factored into it. The problem with this is that I had never really thought about the internal side of why I wanted what I wanted; I just knew that I wanted it. By doing the emotional work after these falls, I was able to connect my internal desire to my external accomplishment. By understanding why I want what I want, every success that I have achieved since my turning points has had a deeper level of meaning.

Ann: How can you best describe what *turning points* & *dilemmas* are in someone's life and how is a person's character revealed through them?

Jen: A turning point simply put could be looked at as when one story ends or a trigger incident that starts us in a new direction. It could be the end of a marriage or a relationship. It could be the loss of a job. It could be the death of a loved one. It could be learning how to cope with a sudden disability. It’s the idea of moving from the old world to the new world. Life as we knew it takes a turn. Our reality shifts and we have to learn what actions we need to take in order to bring our life back into balance.

A dilemma is often when the turning point or trigger incident forces us into a choice. Do we want to stay single so that we can heal? Or, do we want to start dating so that the pain goes away? Do we want to start our own business and take the risk? Or, do we want to keep climbing the corporate ladder knowing that someone else could have the control of taking away everything that we built, again. We usually have two options with neither one being an easy choice. By doing the emotional work to make the right choice, we reveal character. Our reactions to our pain reveal character. It is when we are knocked down that we often come face to face with our ego. If we take the time to heal, it is our spirit that lifts us up.

Ann: Taking the time and doing the emotional work to heal is often avoided by most of us (at one time or another) and we usually end-up repeating similar scenarios, in-turn, creating patterns in our lives. What are themes, how can we identify them, and why are they important in our life as well as in stories?

Jen: Themes are invisible threads that weave the tapestry of our life together and unify our story arcs. By understanding themes in our life and how some of them are holding us back, we can learn how to use them to move us toward success instead of away from it. In story, we often see a character go from one side of the theme to other. For example, in the movie, “Up in the Air”, we see Ryan go from having the philosophy of being detached and non-committed (this is symbolized through his talk about going through life with an empty backpack) to being committed and attached. Toward the end, he can no longer give his talk on the empty backpack because he sees the flaw in his philosophy; it is not bringing him the kind of feeling that he hoped it would. The theme defined his journey and deepened his pursuit. By doing this in our life, we can think about the themes that are holding us back. We can identify how to use the theme to propel us forward by understanding if we can move from one side of the theme to the other. Do we want to go from detachment and non-commitment to the idea of being committed? By doing this, we can find a greater sense of internal fulfillment in our life and our achievements.

You can identify themes in your life by thinking of the blocks that get in the way for you achieving your goal. For example, some themes to think about are addiction, low-self esteem, ego, fantasy, disbelief, poor work ethic, low motivation, responsibilities and the list goes on. We can think about the wounds from our past that bring up more themes in our lives such as betrayal, divorce, end of a friendship, lack of achievement, lack of commitment, etc. We can think about positive themes to help us know how to go from one side to the other like love, happiness, fulfillment, achievement, ambition, success, spirit. By identifying what our own themes are that are holding us back and strategically thinking about how we can do the emotional work and take the external actions to get to the positive side of the negative themes that are holding us back, we can create the story of the life that we want to be living. We can use our identification of our themes to recognize a faulty life philosophy that we have that might be holding us back instead of moving us forward.

Ann: You're one of the few women who've worked their way up into a top executive position at a Hollywood studio and now you're the owner of a leading consultancy business within the film and television industry; what additional advice can you give to those who have dreams of achieving the type of success that you have in the show business?

Jen: My advice is to first define what you want in your life. Once you define it, be active in your pursuit moving toward your goal. Recognize that you will hit many obstacles, escalating obstacles, and “all is lost” moments. These are all part for the course. If you can get over them or through them, you will get to where you want to go. If you do get there and find out that it’s not what you thought it was going to be, set a new goal and create a new plan to redefine your direction. In my career, I learned that the word “no” didn’t mean anything. All it meant was I had to try a different angle to get where I wanted to go. You can do anything that you set your mind toward doing. It all comes down to knowing what you want and being active in your pursuit. You can do it. You will get there.

You can connect with Jen Grisanti at and purchase a copy of Change Your Story, Change Your Life at Amazon or MWP.
Ann Baldwin is a screenwriter (The Power of Dreams, Scent of a Trail, Dream Catcher) with several spec scripts in development. She reviews books on screenwriting and filmmaking, writes articles, interviews, and has several books (fiction & non-fiction) in-progress. Prior to launching her writing career, she was a special event coordinator and manager in the hospitality and entertainment industries for over 25 years. You can visit her website at and her blog page at