One of the most important ingredients of a successful story is momentum. When you mix momentum with mindset, you root for the achievement of the goal. Many TV shows and films make the mistake of not having enough momentum and not having enough character development. Understanding the use of these two things will help you to elevate your story both in life and on the page.
I’ve been studying and analyzing story for over twenty years. I am an author of three books, a Writing Instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC and a story/career consultant for writers. I read and analyze an average of two to three scripts a day. One of the areas of story that I’ve noticed can make or break a strong script is momentum. How do you create strong momentum? You start your story with a strong trigger incident that leads your central character into a powerful dilemma. Then, the choice made in the dilemma is what defines the external goal. You add momentum to this formula when you set up the personal dilemma and the stakes. We should always be clear about what the worst that can happen is if the goal is not achieved. It’s when we don’t know what’s at stake or why we care that the story loses momentum.
With regards to mindset, I’ve often taught the idea of ego versus spirit. In the first three quarters of the story, the central character wants to achieve the goal for ego-related reasons. It is in the last quarter of the story, after hitting a number of obstacles that the character’s motivation shifts to spirit. They now want to achieve the goal for the betterment of the greater good. I am currently reading an incredible book titled “Mindset” by Carol Dweck that made me take a deeper look into this idea. In her book, Carol discusses the idea of the “fixed mindset” versus the “growth mindset”. Carol writes; “The fixed mindset creates the feeling that you can really know the permanent truth about yourself. You don’t have to try for such-and-such because you don’t have the talent. You will surely succeed at such-and-such because you do have the talent.” She goes on to talk about the growth mindset. She writes; “By the way, having a growth mindset doesn’t force you to do something. It just tells you that you can develop your skills…. The fixed mindset stands in the way of development and change. The growth mindset is a starting point for change, but people need to decide for themselves where their efforts toward change would be the most valuable.” I love this! Even though she discusses it in relation to real life, it also applies to story. When you shift the mindset of your character from being a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, you add depth and momentum to your story.
Recently, I watched a show that had a very strong first season. This was due to a very strong season arc as well as strong episode arcs that built in momentum as the season went on. By doing this well the first season, the writers established an expectation from the audience. Then, during the second season, I’d say that the biggest mistake that was made was that you didn’t care about the season arc. There were three co-protagonists. The wounds/personal dilemmas were well developed for two of the three characters. The third character whose wound was developed the least was the one who had the most at stake within the season arc. Since we didn’t know enough about this character’s wound or understand his shift in mindset, we didn’t root for or care about the outcome. With the other two characters that were well developed, we rooted for them to find their peace but their stakes were not reflected in the season arc. If there had been more momentum in the season arc and we had understood the mindset of that third character in a stronger way, it would have made all the difference in the success of the season. I choose not to name the show simply because I admire all writers that put their heart and their soul on the page so that we can all use it to learn.
In life, momentum is the fuel that leads us toward our goals. When we understand how to utilize the idea of “what is the worst thing that can happen if we do not achieve our goal?” we ignite our possibility. When we allow our mindset to evolve from being a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, we open ourselves up to more opportunity. This thinking not only helps us to achieve more of our goals, but it also opens us up to find more fulfillment in the process. Momentum and mindset are key ingredients in our success in life and in the stories that we tell.
Your personal fall can be what drives you toward your professional win. As a story consultant, I like fiction that connects the central character’s personal wound to the professional outcome; their personal dilemma is tied to their professional dilemma, so that accomplishing the external goal signifies a win on both an internal and external level. For me, this is what drives story. When we understand why the central character wants the external goal and what is at stake if they don’t get it, we root for them to get what they want. If you learn how to apply this same concept to your life, you will be astounded by what kind of results you will see.
I’d like to give you an example of a recent film that I thought could have been even stronger if the personal dilemma of the character had been better connected to the professional outcome. In Zero Dark Thirty, written by Mark Boal, the dilemma is 9/11. The goal is to get Osama bin Laden. The lead character is Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA operative who is in pursuit of the whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden. My question is why her? What is motivating her character to want to achieve this goal on an emotional level? How is her personal dilemma connected to the professional outcome? For me, this is something that could have made this great movie even stronger than it is.
In the new TV series, The Americans, written by Joe Weisberg, the personal dilemma/wound is strongly connected to the professional outcome. We learn early on in the pilot episode that Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) is a KGB agent in pursuit of an ex-KGB Colonel who is a whistle blower on undercover agents. When Elizabeth and her husband Phillip (Matthew Rhys) apprehend him, they miss the ship that was their chance to complete the mission and hand him back to Russia. This is the professional dilemma. The goal that stems from this is to figure out what to do with the Colonel in order to complete their mission. Elizabeth wants to kill him. Through a flash back, we discover the personal wound driving her to achieve the professional goal: When Elizabeth was training as an agent in Russia, the Colonel took advantage of his position and raped her. This is an excellent script and pilot episode. This story really moves because we know why the central character is in pursuit of the professional goal and what the personal stakes are if it is not achieved.
In your life, I want you to think about how you can do this to add fuel to the fire of your professional goal. Have your life turns caused you to move away from your goal because of the scars they’ve left behind? Learn how you can connect this wound and use it to motivate you toward a new professional goal. By using what you lost to propel you further, there is no end to what you can accomplish.
In my own life, I lost a job after 15 years with two sister companies. It was a big fall for me that was very unexpected. After learning how to take inventory of what happened, I learned how to use this loss to move forward instead of falling victim to my fall. I knew what my strength was as a studio executive, my notes on story. I used this strength and designed a business around it. Since my personal story was a large part of what led to my new professional goal (i.e., teaching story on a global level to stop isolation and create community), I learned how to link the loss I went through to this professional outcome. This year, five years after opening my own company, I taught in London with The TV Writers Summit and I am about to go to Australia to teach the TV Writers Studio. I achieved my professional goal by linking my personal wound/dilemma and using it to propel me forward instead of hold me back.
In my upcoming book, Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Your Success, I teach, based on the concept of life imitating art, how we can learn from fiction, and how we can apply it to our own lives so that when we go through a turning point and experience a fall, we can get back up and use the fall to achieve a professional goal that can enrich our lives more than we ever imagined. We can become the active hero in our own story.
When it comes to your business or your life what is your message? This was the question in focus at the recent Experts Academy seminar. Eight hundred people gathered at the Marriott Hotel in Santa Clara to learn from one of the top business trainers in the world who teaches how you can use your message to lead people to a higher place. Attendees came from every area of business and about a third of them came from countries around the globe. The energy was electric and contagious. The desire and hunger to learn more about this topic was palpable. The audience congregated to listen to one man, Brendon Burchard, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling book “The Millionaire Messenger.” I questioned whether one man could influence a group this size into tapping into their inner expertise so they could formulate their message and change the world in the process.
Brendon’s story is what drew me to this particular seminar. Brendon was able to take not one but several “all is lost” moments and transform them into an empire that is now an eight-figure business. Brendon’s “all is lost “moments included the breakup of a relationship, two car accidents (one which was nearly fatal), and going bankrupt early on in his career. His story demonstrates to me the strength of the human spirit. I am drawn to Brendon because of his authenticity, his results and his message.
Another motivator to take this course was to conduct research for my upcoming book “Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Your Success.” I wanted to see if seminars like this one could truly inspire change in people. I was a little skeptical at first but also hopeful. On a personal level, my hope was to gain insight into how I could expand my business, Jen Grisanti Consultancy Inc., from storytelling in the entertainment industry to storytelling in the business world. I believe in the power of my message to help entrepreneurs and business owners understand how to tell their story in a way that connects their message to their clients or customers on a higher level and leads to their desired end goal. During this seminar, I witnessed Brendon teach the entire audience how to take their messages to a whole new level of clarity and understanding.
Seeing Brendon’s style of teaching in action made me understand why he is making eight figures. He understands what it means to be an expert and a businessperson. He acts from his spirit, not his ego. His knowledge and the way he is able to express it is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life. He makes it all sound so simple. For example, he takes powerful taglines and repeats them over and over and has the audience repeat them as well. He conditions you for success by having you do constant exercises that help you absorb the lesson, gain confidence in your delivery, meet other people, and move through your fear. He has a gift for breaking everything down into a “framework” and taking you from not knowing or not being totally clear to understanding exactly what he means and how you can put it into place in your life and your business. You leave his seminars feeling like you can deliver your message, help move people to a higher place and create tremendous wealth in the process.
Brendon is a protégé of Tony Robbins. Tony’s message had a pivotal effect on the path of my career. His audio series empowered me to find my niche around 20 years ago and climb up the corporate ladder. It all started with setting a strong foundation of discipline and belief. Now, I love that someone who learned directly from Tony is teaching us all how to move our businesses to the next level through the power of our message.
I walked in feeling skeptical but hopeful and I left as a total believer. I am excited to apply all of the lessons I learned during the seminar to my own business. I will be attending future seminars because I believe in the power of Brendon’s message to effect change in individual lives and in the world. He awakened something in each person who attended. I can’t wait to see all that is going to evolve in my own life and the lives of others from this one seminar. I give so much gratitude for this experience. This event fit right into the concept I am exploring in my upcoming book: you have the power to change your story and change your life in the process.
Higher consciousness: Is this a state that we will all become familiar with? Is it part of our destiny? As an author and a Story/Career Consultant, I study and am fascinated by the concept of how we move from ego into a higher consciousness that benefits the greater good both in our lives and through the stories that we tell. How do we move into a higher consciousness? What has to happen in our lives? I’m always seeking to further understand this shift so that I can help writers identify the shift in their own lives, in order for them to know how to apply it to the stories they write. I feel that writing from a place of higher consciousness is the key to affecting universal change through story.
I have found, from reading about others who have gone through this kind of transformation, a common story point in the experience – what I refer to, both in life and in story, as the “all is lost” moment. In scriptwriting, this is a moment when the central character is as far away as possible from achieving his/her goal. In life, we hit this type of moment when our world appears to suddenly turn upside down. We lose our balance. Part of our journey back to balance, I am learning, is directly linked with reaching a higher consciousness.
To reach the desire to move toward a higher consciousness in my own life, I feel like I had to hit my “all is lost” moment; it came after losing a job that I had for 15 years with two sister companies. At that moment of loss, I realized that I had become married to my career after my divorce years before. When I lost my job, it felt as if I was going through a second divorce. In finding a new direction, I knew that I had to find something deeper that meant more, spiritually. It took me losing all that was (i.e., the past tied to ego) to motivate me into venturing into all that could be – the infinite space of possibility. I find that behind the personal stories of many authors/screenwriters, there is a moment like this that causes the same type of transcendence. This is why we connect to what they write.
L. Steven Sieden is the author of the book, A Fuller View: Buckminster Fuller’s Vision of Hope and Abundance For All, which explores the life shift of “Bucky” Fuller – a wise visionary, architect, inventor and motivational speaker ¬– after he hit an “all is lost” moment. For the first part of his life (before the shift), Bucky had served as an officer in the Navy during World War I. He got married and experienced the birth and untimely death of their first child. He then went through a major business and financial failure with his own construction company. As a result of that endeavor, Bucky lost all of his money as well as the investments of his friends and family. Sieden writes, “With the loss of his construction company and the birth of his second daughter, Allegra, Bucky found himself stranded with a young family in 1927 Chicago. He had no money, no job, no formal education beyond high school, a reputation as an unsuccessful businessman, and no prospects for the future.”
Sieden continues, “Extremely dejected, he seriously considered drowning himself in Lake Michigan. It was then that Bucky had the famous mystical experience that transformed his life. He realized that he did not belong to himself, and consequently, did not have the right to end his own life.” Then Sieden goes on to explain, “In that cosmic flash, Bucky suddenly understood that he (like every human being) belonged to Universe, and he committed himself to an experiment that provided the foundation and context for his every action and decision during the next fifty-six years. He decided to embark upon a lifelong experiment to determine and document what one average healthy individual with no college degree and no money could accomplish on behalf of all humankind that could not be achieved by any nation, business, organization, or institution, no matter how wealthy or powerful.”
Justine Willis Toms, guest commentator in Sieden’s book, adds, “One concept of Bucky’s that remains a touchstone for me over the years is that we can all be ‘trimtabs’ – that is, we can play a role in changing the course of things. A trimtab is a small device that is part of the rudder mechanism, which plays a crucial role in controlling the direction of a ship or an airplane. The metaphor was so important to him (Bucky) that ‘Call Me Trimtab,’ serves at the epitaph on his gravestone.”
DeAnne Hampton is the author of The New Human: Understanding Our Humanity Embracing Our Divinity. Explaining her own shift into a higher consciousness she writes, “As I began stepping back from my egoic restlessness and dropping into an emerging essence that responded to my anxiety with more inspired thought and creative possibility, I was given graceful mirrors within my routine that allowed my physical energy to grow in equal proportion to the conscious work that I was doing and engaging within the higher realms. Enthusiasm grew as I created the space for more nothingness to enter, accepting that as my consciousness expanded from within, my ego that enhanced itself from without would become extremely uncomfortable.”
DeAnne adds, “I began to seek a new counsel within that increasingly guided me in conscious action to balance doing with being. Curiously, without knowing what it was, friends and colleagues started noticing a new glow, a radiance emerging that I would come to understand as the light of my inner being, hungry for spaciousness and room to grow… I no longer belonged to my self, I was suddenly swept up by my own higher intent to know my Self: the formless, creative, intelligent force of my spiritual essence.”
I was mesmerized by these two depictions of the life shift into higher consciousness. These books helped to increase my own awareness and understanding of how better to teach the idea of transformation into a deeper place of being – a place where we can each become a “trimtab” and, in the process of doing so, effect change in ourselves and in the world.
Celebrating the New Year often symbolizes a fresh start and a new beginning for each one of us. We reflect on the year past and give gratitude for our successes, think about what we wanted to do but didn’t or what we tried to do but perhaps didn’t work out. We celebrate our wins and mourn our losses. We reflect on what could have been and learn to embrace what is. We think about what we want our life to look like and why we want it. We also consider the obstacles we face. We gain fuel from all of this introspection and look at the start of a new year as a way to think about our new plans and how to start putting them into action.
Similar to many of you, I thought about how I wanted to bring in this New Year. Where do I want to be? What do I want to be doing and how do I want to feel? Well, I decided that because I am in the midst of writing my next book (Change Your Story, Change Your Life) that I would like to be at a Writing Retreat. I searched online and found a Wellness Immersion Retreat, a retreat geared towards wellness through writing, yoga, painting and healthy eating. When I read the description of this, it sounded like heaven to me. So, I decided to give it a try. I knew that it meant being away from home, friends and family for the celebration of the New Year but it also meant opening up myself to a whole new experience, new friends and new energy.
This particular retreat was in Tulum, Mexico, at a gorgeous resort (the Shambala Petit Hotel) nestled on the beach. I knew I loved this place as soon as I saw the coziness and the community of the grass huts and the plaque as you entered the hotel that read, “We are what we think. All that we are arises out of our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” Each night at dinner we saw the owner, Roberto Hernandez, who made all of his guests feel as if we were part of his family. It was a very unique and memorable experience.
Stephen Lloyd Webber and his wife, Jade Webber, headed the retreat. Don’t be fooled by their youth and beauty, they are the real deal. The Webbers have had successful retreats like this one all over the world. Stephen teaches the writing part and Jade teaches a daily yoga and meditation practice as well as painting. They both participate in the critiques of the writing every night. Stephen and Jade started the retreat with asking each one of us about our goals. I eagerly told them my goal and hoped in my heart that it would happen.
Fourteen writers/artists gathered to drink it all in and satiate their thirst for the experience. I made plans to meet a fellow author and good friend there. We are both writing our next book. Upon arrival, my friend and I were taken to our room, which was gorgeous and felt like a giant tree house. It had a phenomenal ocean view. As soon as I saw it, I thought to myself, this is where I am going to write my book. I knew that with this type of inspiration, the words would come. I was right.
Everyone else came by themselves, with the exception of a mother and daughter. So, we started with a group of strangers and quickly, through the experience, became an instant family.
Each day started with yoga and meditation. Jade often started it with a discussion before jumping into the practice. After that, we’d write some personal pages and then, go to breakfast (which we ate in peaceful quiet). So, we sat and ate our meals and took it all in with our heart and soul. Glances at one another were full of peace and gratitude. After breakfast, we’d gather for a discussion with Stephen and for our writing exercise assignments. Then, we’d write for a few hours before meeting for lunch, which was always a delicious new surprise. After lunch, we’d meet for discussion and then go and write again for several hours before dinner. I’d return to our room, sit on my bed with the ocean view and I would let the words flow. Every night we’d meet for dinner, which was always comparable to what you’d get at a five star restaurant. After dinner, we’d go through our critiques of what we wrote that day. I LOVED this part. There was no greater opportunity for me than hearing the voices of the other participants, which included some very talented writers.
I collected so many beautiful memories on this trip: the ocean in every shade of blue imaginable, men raking leaves, dogs sleeping, Mayan ruins, footprints in the sand, hearts opening, sounds of drums and techno, a child’s laughter, stories being revealed, voices emerging, wounds surfacing, and healing beginning.
I set my goal when I got there. I wanted to write 15,000 words of my book. Through the journey of the writing exercises, the experience of the place, the gift of my friend’s companionship, and the energy and stories of the participants, I was able to hit my goal. I wrote 4 chapters. I made new friends. I found peace within. I started the year with putting a plan into action. I highly recommend this experience to anyone that wants to go on a vacation and accomplish a goal. It was a beautiful way to end one year and start another.