Saturday, November 20, 2010


Post by Trai Cartwright

It was our last Advanced Screenwriting class last night, and as always when a class wraps, I get a little misty-eyed. Students know that the teacher gets emotionally engaged with them, don’t they? We all made plans to see each other again real soon, and that softened the blow.

What also softens the blow is looking at the distance they’d come since I first met them for January’s Screenwriting class at Laramie County Community College. I think one of them had seen a screenplay before; none had written in the format. They dove in with relish, setting impossible tasks for themselves: to exceed the 60 pages required and write an entire 110 screenplay. Some even did it.

When we finished the 16-week class, they were exhausted (as was I) and exhilarated. They wanted more. As did I. A handful decided to follow me to an Advanced class. “Advanced” didn’t refer to the level of lecture, as there was little of that; advanced referred to their own progress. And boy, did they progress. By the end of the class, not only had their screenwriting skills risen to competitive levels, they were even giving notes on unproduced scripts. They were ruthless (there is no one less patient with bad writing than a writer who’s had a breakthrough in their own abilities) and as viable as any I’d seen come out of a development executive’s office.

When asked about the value of the experience, I was fishing for the targeted goodies to include in future classes, but what they had to say was so simple (and sort of ruthless), it stopped me cold. The workshop structure of the Advanced class taught them far more than the detailed lectures in the Screenwriting 101 class.

I found this a bit odd. Couldn’t they see their own progress? That they hadn’t even seen a screenplay 10 months ago, and they were now doing final polishes to enter contests and look for representation? Without all that discussion about the art and craft of the medium, the “101,” they’d never have reached this level of proficiency.

My husband, as usual, set me straight. He said, “A lecture is just a list of information, and sure, it might be interesting, but it doesn’t mean anything until there’s practical application. That’s the best way to learn anything – put it in action.”

I’ve a new regard for teaching, thanks to my students: information is only as valuable as the use it gets put to. How did I miss that before?

So I’ve a challenge for all of us writers: take those classes, read those books and blogs, get that info – but whatever you do, don’t forget to activate it. If you see a workshop class, grab it. If you don’t have a writer’s group, start looking. If these aren’t feasible, then challenge yourself to take a principle you’ve read about and create a writing exercise around it. Expand your base of knowledge, get out of your comfort zone, surprise yourself with what you don’t know – and then put it to work. Your writing will thank you for it.

I’ll be teaching Screenwriting 101 again in the spring, both at Front Range and back at Laramie County Community College. You might want to come check it out. I’ll be applying a half-lecture / half-workshop structure. Maybe we can capture the best of both worlds. Writing for Film (ENG 236 / 65160) Literary Genre: Screenwriting (ENGL 2450)

What’s the best workshop you’ve ever taken?


1 comment:

Patricia Stoltey said...

My favorite was the all-afternoon workshop given by Donald Maass on "The Fire in Fiction" -- it was sponsored by Sisters in Crime and scheduled the day before Bouchercon 2009 in Indianapolis. I followed the prompts and did the quickie exercises and took notes, all with my work in progress and those characters in mind. It was an outstanding workshop.

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