Tag Archives: Trai Cartwright

Writing for TV – Then and Now … by Trai Cartwright

I love Downton Abbey. I love House of Lies, House of Cards (both UK and USA), Orange is the New Black, Black Orphan, Girls, and I especially love The Walking Dead.

I’m a TV junkie, have seen since I was parked, along with the majority of my Generation X co-horts, in front of a TV rather than sent to after-school programs. My babysitter was Wonder Woman and reruns of One Day at a Time.

To this day, I don’t need bowls of macaroni and cheese or a glass of wine after a hard day – I need a marathon of The X-Files.

When I first moved to Hollywood in the 1990’s, I had a yen for TV writing, but it just felt insurmountable. I’d never even seen a teleplay, much less had any idea of how to write one. But Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on TV and I had dozens of Buffy episodes dancing in my head. I knew I needed to write TV spec scripts, because that’s how writers got started in TV.

But what exactly was a spec script? How did I write one? And what did I do with it when done?

I got lucky. My temp agency sent me to be the writer’s assistant for a legendary TV writer named Jay Tarses. He wrote for The Bob Newhart Show, and that infamous clown funeral episode on The Mary Tyler Moore Show? That’s him.

His first and best writing lesson to me was this: “See that bookshelf packed with TV scripts over there? Start reading.”

So I did. I spent the summer transcribing his notes into teleplays (he still wrote longhand, four hours every morning), answering his phone, making him coffee, and eavesdropping on all the meetings for his new show. And I read. And read and read and read.

Then I started writing. I loved it—just loved it. Something about the way Act Breaks formed the structure and how every episode followed a pattern that pleased rather than bored audiences.

I was hooked. I wrote a dozen spec scripts (turns out, this meant I wrote sample episodes for a range of shows on “speculation” – the speculation being that an agent would see talent and send me out to interview for the writer’s staff of a show. Not the show I loved, see, that’s not how it worked—any show that was willing to talk to a baby writer.)

That summer was blissful, and I thought my future was sealed: I’d be Jay’s assistant on the show I was transcribing scripts for, I’d get to learn TV on the set and in the writer’s room, and eventually, I’d get a chance to write an episode for that show, and boom! zang! I’d be a TV writer.

It didn’t work out that way.

The show was a sitcom about a police vice squad, and as it turns out, no one found sexual assault funny. We didn’t even make it past the pilot.

I shook hands with Jay at the end of the summer and he said, “You got talent, kid, keep at it.” I swooned.

I kept at it, but I never could get those writer’s room interviews. I wrote pilots no one would look at without it being packaged with a prominent show runner. Hacking into TV was damn near impossible back then—assisting a show runner like Jay really was my best shot, and I never got another shot like that again.

Meanwhile, the siren’s call of feature length film was louder than ever, and hacking into films was way easier than TV, so I walked away from my dreams of TV.

Still, every now and again, I’d get an idea for a TV pilot and couldn’t help myself—I’d dash it out with a mad gleam in my eye.

Now that I live and teach screenwriting in Colorado, I’ve had an audience-member’s seat for the radical, unprecedented changes in the TV business model over the last few years. TV is no longer a tiny pipeline you could only squeeze into if someone on the other end was yanking you through.

TV has been democratized, and the old rules (and rulers) are dead. Love live TV!

Now anyone can create a series, and there are dozens of “distribution outlets” awaiting—from Netflix to the internet, from cable to Amazon.com, for goodness sake. The pipeline is so vast that there is a desperation for content I haven’t seen since the indie film revolution of the 1990’s.

You don’t need showrunners, you don’t need season bibles, you don’t need an agent making magical phone calls. What you need is an amazing idea for a TV series.

That, and some teleplay writing skills.

So welcome, TV lovers and dreamers, to RMFW’s first ever Writing for TV class in Denver. 8 weeks to pilot. $225 for RMFW members. Begins May 13.

Teleplays have their own formatting and structural secrets, and the range of approaches are numerous. From sitcoms to network procedurals to mythology series to straight up dramas, we’ll discuss the most current techniques in putting your show to paper. This class will help you to identify and develop the storytelling elements at the core of every episode, every series, and every pilot. Don’t have a pilot in mind but want to start building a spec portfolio? No problem—come with an episode of your favorite show in mind.

See ya on the small screen!

Register here.

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Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Awesome Events Ahead from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Attend a Class

Online Class
Editing and Revision
for Fiction Writers
Presented by Cindi Myers
3 Week Course

Start Date: Monday, February 3
End Date: Sunday, February 23

$35 Members – $40 Non-Member

Register

E.B. White said “The best writing is rewriting.” No matter how much care you put into your first draft, only when you’re done and you’re able to see the book as a whole will you be able to give the work the polish it needs. If you’re a rough draft writer like Cindi Myers, the editing and revision process is where the real magic of creating a book happens. Cindi will share her process and techniques for taking a story from a messy rough draft to a polished gem ready for submission. Exercises and class interaction will help you address your particular editing and revision problems and learn techniques for making the daunting task of editing a complete manuscript more manageable.

In Person Class
RMFW Screenwriting 101 with Trai Cartwright
Tuesdays, 6:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M.
Start Date: March 4
End Date: April 22
2369 Trenton Way, Suite M
Denver, CO 80231

$225 Members – $250 Non-Member

Register
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Submissions for 2014 Conference Workshop
Submit Workshop Proposal
RMFW is now accepting workshop proposals for Colorado Gold through March 31, 2014.

If you have any questions, email Susan Brooks at conference@rmfw.org.

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RMFW Anthology 2014 Submission Guidelines
Download PDF of Theme and Guidelines
Anthology Theme: Crossing Colfax
Submissions are due by March 14, 2014.

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Attend the 2nd Annual RMFW Writers Retreat

With Special Guest, Agent Kate Schafer Testerman
Organized by Angie Hodapp
March 16-21, 2014
Table Mountain Inn,
Golden, CO
REGISTRATION CLOSES FEBRUARY 15TH

The 2013 writers retreat was a smashing success! It’s back in March of 2014 and will become an annual spring event. How much does it cost to attend the retreat? We are pleased to introduce flexible registration options. Attend for two days (minimum), three days, or all four days, and pay only for the days you attend. How do I register? Go to the RETREAT EVENT PAGE for more information and the link to register.

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New events and other announcements are available on the Home Page of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website.

The Time is Now

By Trai Cartwright
Post 6 of a 6-part monthly series

Happy New Year’s, writers! Just like everyone else, we’re making our resolutions, dedicating ourselves to special projects. Maybe it’s a book we’ve been trying to finish, or personal essay careers we’ve been longing to launch, or short story publications we promised to pursue, if only we had the time.

The time, of course, is now. The time is always now.

In doing my own soul searching and trying to find just what was going to make 2014 extra special and gratifying as a writer, a very surprising answer came to mind: TV.

That’s right, TV.

While working in Hollywood for 15 years, I’d focused primarily on feature films; despite Buffy and The X-Files and the early years of The Sopranos, TV was never “the place to be.” It was all about film. I’d done my share of work in TV—I’d been the writer’s assistant to legendary 70’s TV writer Jay Tarses, had worked for several months for the “pixie father” of reality TV, Mike Darnell, and had even spent a few glorious weeks on a desk in Chris Carter’s X-Files office (swoon!).

And just like every other writer in town, I’d written my share of “specs:” teleplays that riffed on hit shows in the hopes of getting a staff job, and had even written three or four pilots, even though it was nearly impossible for an outsider to launch a show.

Still, I wasn’t convinced I was a TV writer. I couldn’t nail the voices like so many great TV writers can, and couldn’t fathom being in a tiny room with other writers, jamming out draft after draft for twelve hours a day. Staff writing seemed like its own special hell, and I might never get to have my own voice craft a show.

TV had always been there…and had never been of particular interest.

What a wonderful thing to discover that TV has changed.

Last month, I spoke to an agent taking pitches at an MFA residency, and this is what he had to say:

“There are so many people and production companies looking for TV content right now, there’s actually not enough. I’m disappointed more people didn’t pitch me pilots. Features are tougher than TV right now—you don’t need a show runner, you don’t need a show bible, you don’t need a resume, you just need a great idea.”

A writer friend of mine in LA just told me that 85% of the jobs for screenwriters right now are in TV.

And three things occurred to me:

  1. Without even trying, I came up with three ideas for TV shows I’d love to watch.
  2. I know a lot of people who’ve expressed interested in learning to write for TV.
  3. NOW is a great time to pursue that dream of creating a TV show.

My New Year’s Resolution: write as many pilots as I can (I’m halfway through my first one already—23 pages, so easy!), and add Writing the TV Pilot to the Film Program I’m designing for RMFW.

Not only am I going to teach screenplays in 2014, but I’m also going to teach teleplays, and I can’t wait.

So if you’ve got a pilot (or 6!) rolling around in your head, contact me, and I’ll put you on the list for this exclusive class. Join me in the newest media gold rush—it’s an amazing time to be a TV lover!

Are any of you venturing into a new writing medium?

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Trai Cartwright HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Looking With Better Eyes

By Trai Cartwright
Part 5 of a 6-part monthly series

For the past few years, I decided I wanted to get better at reviewing the medium I watched. It’s a weird goal, but one I realized was essential because every writer gives this edict to would-be writers: read.

I read, you read, we all read. So what?

What those great writers mean is that, read closely. Read smartly. Read with writer’s eyes or we’ll miss one of the best educations out there. Reading with better eyes helps us steal the secrets of a fine piece of storytelling for ourselves.

Here’s how I learned to be a deeper thinker about the stories I watch and read.

1. Reading The Critics

When I was 20, I had a job that involved quite a bit of downtime, and there was a copy of Roger Ebert’s A-Z collection of movie reviews. I read all 2,000 onionskin pages of it (there was a lot of downtime). This immersion into cinema studies taught me more about how to understand movies than film school or all my years in Hollywood ever did. Roger Ebert was a genius, a passionate lover of film, and a beautiful writer.

The best critics verbalize exactly what you were feeling or thinking, but with pithier, more organized language. They deal in abstracts but can cut right to the heart of things—namely, theme things. They tell you what the film’s trying to do, if it did it, and what it all means in the end.

The only downside is, well, sometimes by relying on their hallowed opinions, we look at the film through their eyes and forget to look with our own.

2. The Academic Approach

This is new to me, as I had to learn it to teach Film Studies at a university, but it’s proven invaluable.

The Academy tends to not want to indulge of the banality of the combative, hyperbolic language of mainstream thumbs-up, thumbs-down reviews, so it sticks to “filters” through which a piece of media can be deconstructed. Those filters include Aesthetics, Economics, Technology, and Social History. I include Talent.

These filters can empower our writing because it reminds us that we do not write in a vacuum; there is a whole world with a long comet’s tail of tradition and trends that will influence the reach of our work.

However, the Academic approach makes engaging in media a bloodless event, as it can turn your favorite book or film from a vital living conversation and into an artifact for study.

3. Breaking Down The Craft

The driest, most bloodless approach of all, but so important. My film students are delving into the language of cinematography, weighing the lasting contributions the original Russian editors and the American ones, slowly mastering the art of deconstructing structure. “Why was it good?” I ask them, and the response tends to be something like, “The story hits all its beats, it had classic Eisensteinian montages, and the Dutch angles really informed the mise en scene.”

Yes, those are all reasons why the movie was great. But was it a satisfying answer? Did it address that elusive thing, the soul, the passion, the je ne sais quoi that transforms a film from well-made to a miracle.

Take, for example, the film Gravity.

Audiences can’t seem to separate the thrill ride from the technology extravaganza. Was it great because of the never-before-seen-tech, which was crucial to tell this story, or was it great because Sandy convinced us we were stuck out there with her, rapidly ratcheting through our limited options, knowing that if we didn’t figure it out (or get spectacularly lucky), there was no dues ex machina coming to our rescue. Was the magic in just knowing that, out in this dire void so convincingly wrought, we were hopeless and helpless, without scientific knowledge or even jimmy-rigged pop culture education that would let us reason our own way out of this, thus we had no choice but to let go and give in to the movie?

Dunno. Sometimes these questions have no answer, but pondering them is part of being a writer. Being aware of what’s beyond our ability to deconstruct reminds us of the potential all storytelling has to connect with our soul.

Understanding the craft and technique that went into the making of work is vital—these were choices the writer made, and understanding those choices is the key to being able to make those kinds of choices for yourself.

Like many of you, I’m making my New Year’s Resolution to look with better eyes. And steal every trick I can find.

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Trai Cartwright HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Screenwriting Comes to RMFW!

By Trai Cartwright
Part Four of a Six-Part Monthly Series

Come on, admit it. You’re curious. Something about it speaks to you and that part of you that’s a little rebellious, that loves trying new things. Well, come on, then, give in to the dark side! Or at least just a dark room. All the better to see the screen…

In what must have been a bit of magic (and some cheering on from a few key folks), Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers have agreed to let me head a screenwriting program.

If you’ve ever had a story that you thought was just perfect for the movies or if the scenes in your book come alive in your head, here’s your chance to come play. Writing for film is easier than it looks (and a lot harder!), and it’s going to be my pleasure to guide a handful of intrepid souls into this amazing medium.

The first class we’re offering is an online class, and it’s ideal for any writer: “The Top 10 Things Movies Can Teach Novelists.”

This two-week, do as much or as little as you want class will demonstrate that there’s plenty novelists can steal from how movies tell their stories. Beginning in early December, we’ll discuss all the things that movies do wonderfully and how thinking in film terms can actually help you focus your writing.

All for $25!

And then in the Spring, I’ll be teaching an Introduction to Screenwriting class that will get 12 students rolling on the first half of a screenplay. While we do begin at the beginning with formatting, even those who’ve done a lil’ scriptwriting will find tricks and tips that will advance their movies. This is an in person class complete with vital workshopping and lots of clips from modern classics.

It’s my absolute honor to bring my Hollywood know how to Denver and be the first screenwriting teacher for RMFW! If you’re interested in joining us, drop me a line and I’ll put you on the list to contact when we’re ready to roll.

Meanwhile, I gotta keep this short. I gotta save my words for NaNoWriMo.

Always so much more to learn and to explore—glad I’ve got 50,000 words this month to give me a leg up! See you at the finish line.

To register for Top 10 Things Movies Can Teach Novelists:

http://www.rmfw.org/events/online-classes/#12021513

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Trai Cartwright HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

New Adult: Defining it in Art and in Life

By Trai Cartwright
Part Three of a Six-Part Monthly Series

If you haven’t already heard, the writing world has a Hot New Thing. It’s called New Adult, and everyone’s after it – but no one can agree on what it is.

I’ve been known to take a poll or two, collecting data until there are enough consistencies to connect the dots, draw a conclusion, feel well-informed. You know, the old-fashioned way to self-educate, before memes explained everything in tell words or less.

So I’ve been polling all the writers, agents, and editors I meet lately and ask them: What is New Adult?

Here are some of the answers I’ve gotten:

  • New Adult, or “NA,” is a relationship-driven story in which said relationship has transformative healing powers.
  • NA is about 18 – 24-year-olds who go to college. Or get their first jobs.
  • NA is any story about a person aged 18-35 who is doing something in the Adult World for the very first time (so marriages, new home ownership, zombie apocalypse, world travel, world travel during a zombie apocalypse…).
  • NA is Chick Lit from 10 years ago.
  • NA is YA with sex.
  • NA is YA, basically, but with a sophisticated writer’s voice. Like, a story about a 16-year-old, but with a voice that isn’t quite literary so only oldsters would read it, but isn’t glib and chatty or texty or slangy like much of YA.
  • It’s rooted in the real world. If you do all of this in scifi or fantasy, don’t call it New Adult Fantasy, just call it Fantasy or Scifi.

Egads. Does the publishing world even know what they’re all so fired up about? I even saw one contest seeking to award a New Adult manuscript but the contest rules didn’t even define what New Adult was to them!

Then it occurred to me that a great place to look for NA models was TV and the movies. Hollywood has been doing New Adult their entire existence, updating as the audience got more diverse, sophisticated, and/or more morally corrupt.

Here’s a five-second list of on-screen New Adult titles:

Johnny Got His Gun

Veronica Mars

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (in the last seasons, it seamlessly transitioned from YA to NA)

Rocky

Norma Rae

Alien

Silkwood

Wall Street

Badlands

Bonnie & Clyde

A billion action movies staring some hot young stud / studette who is at the top of their car racing / parkour / psychic / super- / computer hacking / spying skills.

Any war movie ever

And perhaps the most definitive New Adult movie ever:

Risky Business

Here’s the dots I’m connecting across all mediums:

  • School of any kind may or may not be a part of the main character’s world, but it’s not a key component. Mostly these protagonists need lessons school can’t teach. They often leave their school at the mid-point.
  • They are newly-forged adults in a world that hasn’t laid out a red carpet for them to take their place in it. And our main characters may not want or care about that red carpet (golly, I wonder if this ties in to all the anti-hero stories we’re seeing…?).
  • The main characters are all under 30. Because apparently if you haven’t figured out how to start working the system by then, we cast you out of our society and/or start writing mid-life, book club-bait dramas about you.
  • There absolutely is Scifi and Fantasy with new adult qualities. Tons it, actually. They practically forged the genre. But yes, the publishing world really does just call it Fantasy or Scifi. (Or Horror.)
  • Unlike YA, in which the young person who, no matter how heartily she rebels, still realizes that in the end, she needs a community to survive, and must tamper down that rebellion and take her place in society, New Adult isn’t about finding your place in society. It’s about surviving the reality of being responsible for yourself in a tricky, dangerous, complicated world.

So here’s my conclusion: while it might well include a grab bag of other components from above, in general New Adult fiction is about:

  • Young people facing graphic adult issues. Like sex, violence, domestic issues, disease, addiction, job loss, etc., but it’s not a “rite of passage” to adulthood. It’s just part of their world, and it might be all of that stuff, all at once.

Because sometimes that’s what being an adult is.

Now swim.

I almost feel a responsibility to write New Adult now, to give guidance to our young people graduating high school and trying to get out of their parents’ basement and not completely fall to pieces. It’s a scary world and a lot is expected of them. The least we can do is pass on what we know. And maybe if it’s packaged just right with a shiny new genre title, the young ‘uns won’t mind that it’s an oldster telling them.

Any books you’ve read that you think of as New Adult? Any components or definitions you’ve heard for New Adult?

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Trai Cartwright HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Making the Long and Winding Road to Publication a Little Shorter with RMFW

by Mark Stevens, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers President

As she accepted the Writer of the Year plaque at Colorado Gold, Linda Joffe Hull talked about living and writing for a decade in the “purgatory of almost” before finding a publisher for one of her books.

As she will tell you, it was a long and winding road.

But Linda credits a certain organization (its initials are Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers) for the final break-through. As she talked about the two books she has launched in the last 12 months, she talked about the relationships she developed by taking an active role in the group.

Our group.

Yeah, yeah, yeah—for the last few weeks it’s been all Colorado Gold this and Colorado Gold that. (See paragraph #1 above.) It was three days of good times for us fiction nerds.

But RMFW is so much more than Colorado Gold and, I dare say, the tremendous variety of other events on the calendar offer an even better chance to develop relationships and make new friends who might have that one key introduction to an agent, an editor, a publisher. The conference can be, you know, intimidating. Fun, sure, but pressure too.

I’m not saying the conference isn’t cool, but now it’s another 12 months away (Sept. 5—7, 2014).

In the meantime, there are plenty of other chances to dive in and make friends—and develop your network—in a more casual setting. (And, in some cases, free.)

Check it out:

  • Later this month, a free two-hour workshop titled “Diving In: Character and Motivation” by Courtney Koschel. Location: Arvada Public Library, downtown Arvada. Date and time: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 1p.m. Courtney is the senior acquisitions editor for Month9Books. Senior. Acquisitions. Editor. Enough said.
  • Also this month, the experienced Trai Cartwight is offering a dirt-cheap online course called “Building a Better Book” that will help you demystify the process of novel building. It’s all about asking—and answering—key structural questions at the heart of every well-executed novel. Trai has roots in Hollywood, among other places. Get to know Trai and it’s one degree of separation between you and Stephen Spielberg. Or something like that.
  • Next month, there’s a free two-hour workshop titled “World Building: Don’t Let the Dream Collapse.” Location and times are still being finalized, but the program will be given by Colleen Oakes, author of the best-selling Elly in Bloom.
  • Also online soon, Sharon Mignerey (a true RMFW legend—she helped start our group about 30 years ago) is running a dialog workshop called “Let Your Characters Do the Talking.”
  • Also next month, over at our Grand Junction home away from home, best-selling author and RMFW stalwart Jeanne Stein is leading a day-long workshop titled “A Publishing Primer.” The first 20 people who register have the chance to pitch to Angie Hoddapp with Nelson Literary Agency and/or receive a two-page critique and 10-minute meeting with Warren Hammond, author of the KOP science fiction series. (Warren also won the Colorado Book Award this year!)

Cool programs, great opportunities to improve your craft and, maybe give you a chance to get to know other writers, develop connections and work your way out of the “purgatory of almost.”
All the details are available at www.rmfw.org. You probably knew that.

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2013conference66Mark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Are You Serious?

By Trai Cartwright
Part Two of a Six-Part Monthly Series

Am I misguided or perhaps a tad, a bit, a dollop delusional, or are the forces behind the world of storytelling building like a Gangnam-style viral video? Have you felt it too?

I’m convinced this groundswell of creativity has been coming on for the last year or so: more and more folks, both in film and in fiction, have been taken over by the urge not just to write, but to be amazing at it, and to be serious about it. And, as if vindicating these impulses, more and more avenues to publishing and to audiences are arriving by the digibyte-load.

Why do you suppose that is? I know when I worked in Hollywood (pre- and post-Internet/cell phones/Blackberries/Smart phones, etc. etc. etc.), business stopped in August. Had to take our month-long vaca’s from living in paradise, don’tcha know. And from mid-December to mid-March everyone was at or thinking about the Holidays, the Sundance Film Festival, the Oscars, Cannes, so no go then either.

These were the times writers wrote in earnest, knowing that the minute the executives and the producers came back, they’d look around and say, “Whoops! Guess I haven’t developed any material for a while, and without material, there’s no product to sell, and without product selling, I don’t get to travel the world on Disney’s dime anymore.”

And the floodgates for submissions would open wide.

Oh, how I loved September and April.

In the publishing world, August suffers from the same absenteeism because, really, have you tried to live in NYC during that month? Even the AC has AC. And that love of month-long vacations infected a whole nation of agents and editors. (I’m not as familiar with this world — is there another time to avoid trying to pitch because everyone’s on vacation?)

So while our erstwhile moneymen and gatekeepers and greenlighters are fanning themselves in spectacular locales (at least, that’s what I wish for them), writers of every ilk are hunkering down.

This is especially seen in the fiction world right now, right this minute. Fall is the time of year we give ourselves a stringent self-evaluation:

How much have we accomplished this past year?
Did it meet our standards and goals?
Do we have anything close to being ready to sell?
What’s it going to take to get it there?
Just how seriously we’re going to take ourselves for the next twelve months?

Why this brutal going-over now, when everyone else is watching their tans fade and their kids head off to school?

It’s Writers Conference season!

This magical time happens twice a year, Fall and Spring, and it’s serious stuff. Who among us can’t wait to spend our hard-earned money to take classes, network with writers and agents, be inspired by the new author panels and key notes, pitch the future editor or agent of our books? Or are we going to wait for Spring?

The power of a good writer’s conference can’t be disputed. There are endless stories of writers who were blocked going home charged up to write, writers who did indeed find agents (I’m one of them!) that lead to book sales, writers who learned just the right skill when they needed it, and the business acumen to act on it, writers who remembered who they were, just by being immersed in the stew of their people.

We are your tribe. No one else quite understands you the way we do. And we love you.

Needless to say, I love writers and I love conferences. I teach at several a year, and am always thrilled by the success stories I hear, the vibrant life of the classroom, the prosciutto-stuffed chicken breasts. I love seeing old friends, both presenters and attendees, making new ones, and sitting in on classes so I can keep that learning-part of my writer brain alive.

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Conference is one of my all-time favorites. Most of you already know it’s coming right up, and I’ll be there once again to present. My master class on Friday morning is for the particularly brave and sadistic: “The Only Character Class You’ll Every Need.” (I’m a big believer in hyperbole and then trying to deliver on my outrageous declarations.)

And on Sunday, I’ll be teaching a high-level perspective class called “I. You. Them.” This is not just a rehash of your high school English lessons—this is a potent discussion about how story is shaped by POV, and vice versa.

If you haven’t been to a conference, maybe it’s time to go. If you’re going again, I look forward to seeing you there. Regardless, ‘tis the season to ask yourself: how serious am I? How serious am I gonna be?

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Trai Cartwright HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Colorado Gold Conference Master Class: The Only Character Class You’ll Ever Need

We’ll be featuring information about the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference and the Friday morning master classes throughout the month.

The Only Character Class You’ll Ever Need
Instructor: Trai Cartwright
Friday, September 20, 8:00-11:50 Platte River

From your hero to your villain to your comedic relief, characters are what every story is all about. Learn the key questions to ask yourself when you start creating the people that populate your fiction, how to build them in a dynamic, dramatic way, and of course, what to do with them once you’ve got them. We’ll discuss arcs, motivation, and why you never ever give your character what they want. Then we’ll move from a conceptual perspective to a craft one by breaking down 10 techniques for making our characters come to life.

This master class hits on all levels: from understanding how to build a protagonist (and a villain), to knowing how to assign roles for the secondary characters, and then of course looking at how a character’s story drives the plot (I firmly believe it’s not the other way around), and then even exploring motivation with some Shakespearean actor-ly input. Finally, I show them ten fiction-writing techniques, 5 overt and 5 subtexual, for taking all those those thoughts and ideas and executing them on the page in a high-level craft-intensive way.

Trai Cartwright HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. More information is available at Trai’s Craftwrite website.

The registration link for the Colorado Gold Conference, scheduled for September 20-22, 2013, is http://www.rmfw.org/conference/ The deadline to register is September 15th. The cost of each workshop is $50 add-on to the regular conference fee.

Additional information on the conference schedule, hotel accommodations, and presenters is available in the brochure at: http://www.rmfw.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/2013-Colorado-Gold-Brochure-07.17.13.pdf. If you have additional questions, please contact Susan Brooks, Conference Chair, conference@rmfw.org

Why Should Authors Care About Screenwriting?

By Trai Cartwright

This is part one of Trai’s six-part monthly series.

Why in the world would a fiction writer care about screenwriting? Turns out, films are a prime educational resource for novelists, and whether you’re a fictioner or a filmite, our communal and cultural understanding of our craft is drawn from both realms of storytelling.

My background is in both realms of world building, the 50-foot high visual and the black-and-white textual. I love them both and work and play in both. However, thought I’d approach this blog as a map of my adventures as a new screenwriting resource in Denver. And what’s more appropriate than introducing myself in the story structure way?

Act 1 – Meet our main character: a teenaged refugee of Fort Collins, passionate about theater and novel writing. I went on to graduate from a highly esteemed but overpriced film school with a new passion: screenwriting! Destined to be in the world of storytelling, I embarked for Los Angeles.

Trigger Incident – Landing a job with an old school Hollywood moviemaking pro! I was mentored by an Academy Award-winning mensch who taught me the ways of the Force: how to use kindness and enthusiasm to get the best out of writers. He optioned one of my own screenplays, let me develop the scripts our company was interested in, and made me believe in myself. On to Act 2! Lots of practice, lots of dead ends, produced a few movies, worked for some major studios, always learning, learning, learning…

False Resolution – The head of CAA, the biggest talent agency in the world, loves one of my scripts! He’s going to “send it out,” and when he sends something out, careers start. It’s my big break!

Oh wait. He was just forced out by the young guns nipping at his heels. My script has been “burned.” He’s out; so am I.

Things turn dark. LA begins to implode. The writers strike, coupled with the burst of their freakishly out-sized housing bubble and the downward-spiraling economy—it all equals no jobs for writers. Or anyone else. No work to be found in the industry I love.

It’s the end of Act 2 and my lowest point…or the beginning of something amazing?

Act 3 – A move to Colorado, my home state, results in levels of professional growth and community-building I’ve never experienced. As a teacher of both screenwriting and fiction writing, I get to connect with hundreds of writers, teach in a myriad of classrooms, edit dozens of manuscripts. I’m having an amazing time, and really developing my skills on all levels. Don’t tell anyone in LA that working outside of Hollywood rocks this hard. They might get wise and get out, too!

Which brings us to The Sequel:

Act 1 – Making the big move to Denver, a storied land where many wildly accomplished and talented writers live and learn and publish. I’ve just finished a screenplay that’ll fly back over the mountains shortly and bang some drums, and I’m nearly done with my first YA book. Could I be more excited to land in the Mile High City at this crucial juncture in my own writing life?

I could, because Denver is also home to a Top 25 Film School, where I’ll be teaching future filmmakers how to get their voices heard. Connecting to the amazing film resources here is important, so I’m meeting folks from the Denver Film Society and the Denver Screenwriters.

But I’m still fiercely in love with Fiction, so I’m also looking for ways to connect to more novelists. How lucky are we that grounding this community is the amazing Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. What fun you all have, what joy you bring to the study of our craft! I’ve already had some terrific experiences with you all and can’t wait to continue. I’ll see you at the conference in September, for sure. Come find this old Hollywood hack so we can continue this conversation about our love of story.

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Trai Cartwright HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.