How To Find Your Inner Screenwriter

Jen Grisanti
Jen Grisanti

Do your pitches keep getting the brush off? Consider borrowing a few tricks from Hollywood storytellers to make your press releases, pitches and other materials more emotionally compelling—and more successful.

There are four key elements that make up a strong story. These are the ingredients that make your favorite movies and TV shows so fascinating:

• Emotional hook

• Character with a goal

• Action

• Satisfying conclusion

Make these items the building blocks of your news announcements, contributed articles and other communications, and your audience will connect with your message much more powerfully. Here’s how:

Create an emotional response right away. Start with an emotional hook that introduces a big thematic question, so the viewer doesn’t change the channel—and the reporter doesn’t delete your email. For example, when writing a press release, try to pack that emotion into your headline.

In Hollywood, we write “log lines,” brief summaries of a story that introduce the main character, his or her dilemma, the action he will take, the goal he is striving for and a twist of irony.

You can’t put all that in a headline. But thinking about these factors will help you generate an emotional response that will grab your audience’s interest.

Introduce a character who wants something. The show “The Good Wife” opens with Alicia’s husband, Peter, giving a speech about the sex scandal he’s been caught in. Alicia is by his side. This scene introduces our hero and shows us her dilemma: How will Alicia bring security back to her family?

It also sets up the emotional stakes. She wants something that’s important to her, and to get it, she’ll have to go back to the law career she abandoned thirteen years earlier.

Think about adding characters with clear goals to your press releases, contributed articles and news announcements. People connect with people.

Who’s the hero of the story you’re telling? Is it your CEO, who wants to create a family-friendly workplace because he’s struggled with work-life balance in his own life? Is it a creative inventor, designer or product developer on your team, who wants to build a brilliant new product? Is it your customer, who wants a solution to a problem facing her family?

Sketch out a plot. In fiction, a good writer establishes and defines the hero’s goal, her answer to the opening dilemma, by the end of Act I (for example, by the first commercial break in a TV episode). You should do this by the end of your first paragraph in your communications.

Give your audience a clear sense of what your character is pursuing. Show them what’s happening in the story you’re telling.

What are some of the obstacles your character has faced? Add a quote from your hero that shows him or her in action—not just a bland statement about how pleased the executive is with the results of the study or the design of the new product.

Write an emotionally satisfying conclusion. Your conclusion should answer the thematic questions that came out of your opening. At the beginning of AMC’s “Mad Men,” for instance, the question is asked: What happens when an “ad man” pursues the American Dream while living a lie?

This season’s finale resonated powerfully with audiences because it offered an answer to that question, when Don Draper came forward with his emotional truth instead of continuing to build on a lie. We saw how Don has grown as a person and we responded to that.

In a press release or article, if your conclusion loops back to your opening and answers the question, you’ll get a stronger emotional response to the actions that made up your story.

This may mean waiting for the right moment to make your pitch—you’ll get a better response from a pitch that shows you’ve implemented a family-friendly results-only workplace policy and it’s improved productivity than from a pitch that simply describes your new policy.

With a few Hollywood story tools to deploy you’ll write press releases, pitches and articles that are more creative. You’ll connect more strongly with your target audience. And you’ll get your message across in a more memorable way. PRN


Jen Grisanti is a writing instructor at NBC’s Writers on the Verge and blogs for the Huffington Post. She can be reached at

This article appeared in the July 15 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.