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Writing Report November 30, 2016

30/11/2016

Just a short one today. NaNoWriMo is drawing to an end, and I’m nowhere near their target of 50K words or my own of 25K words.

But…

I am happy with where I am right now on the second female barbarian fantasy story. As mentioned earlier, I got off on the wrong foot when I started and had to go back and begin afresh, but this second draft is seeming to take.

I wrote a total of 1,680 words at last night’s NaNoWriMo event at The Open Book in Santa Clarita, so progress is being made. Add this to what’s already in the digital file (I’m writing at NaNoWriMo events in a collegiate notebook, my favorite means of composition on the go) and I’m at 16K+ words and roughly slightly past the hallway mark of the story.

I’ve got until early January to complete the story and get it off to the 3rd market I mentioned earlier. Should this and / or the first story fail to sell by Spring 2017 they’ll go up as ebooks on Amazon.

6-golden-rules-of-writing-by-earnest-gaines

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THUNDARR THE MOVIE or How I Almost Created Kickstarter

27/11/2016

Well, this is a blast from the past!

thundarr-the-movie-presentation

Patrick Sullivan, over on Facebook’s Charlton Arrow page, found in the archives of Charlton Comics a copy of the old and long since forgotten Thundarr The Barbarian movie treatment I wrote for Ruby-Spears, one of the last things I did for them as a salaried employee (though I came back for a couple of freelance gigs).

How it wound up at Charlton I have no clue, but I suspect somebody was trying to make a comic book deal as Charlton was well known at the time for publishing TV tie-ins.

Thundarr The Movie is an interesting bracket to the Thundarr TV series because it was intended to be a prequel, telling the origin of the Sunsword, how Thundarr came to possess it, and how he teamed up with Ookla and Arial to fight wizardry and super science and evil mutants on the ruined Earth of the far, far future (i.e., post 1990).

On the other side of the actual Thundarr TV series, a proposed follow-up series.

Let me back up a bit and set the stage and context…

Joe Ruby and Ken Spears are the guys who created Scooby-doo. This set a lot of dominos in motion until they ended up in charge of their own animation studio.[1]

They had some success with weekend and afternoon specials, but their first — and arguably biggest — post-Scooby hit was Thundarr The Barbarian.

I’ve posted elsewhere on my involvement with Steve Gerber and Jack Kirby and Mark Evanier and Marty Pasko and a host of other well known and not so well known creative geniuses[2] who shaped Thundarr.

Thundarr lasted a paltry two seasons, and when the series was taken out behind the barn and shot put to pasture, Joe Ruby had us explore options to keep the basic idea going.

IIRC John Dorman created a canine version called Thundogg The Barkbarian while Jack Kirby conjured up Eric The Rude, an intelligent barbarian kangaroo in Thundarr’s world.

None of these saw light of day beyond some preliminary art.

One possibility Joe wanted to explore was turning Thundarr into a feature film.

If memory serves correctly, Steve Gerber was already strapping on his parachute to bail on Ruby-Spears so Joe handed the development task over to me.

Let be back up a bit further and talk about Ruby-Spears’ feature film ambitions:  They always had a desire to do an animated feature but could never get any traction. Steve Gerber and Jack Kirby (along with numerous other R-S staff artists) developed an idea called Ripoff which was to have been the ultimate mash-up funny animal parody of all 1980s movie genres featuring a Burt Reynolds-like dog and a Sally Field and / or Dolly Parton-esque canine counterpart (another idea called Animal Hospital, art by Jack, started as a TV series pitch but ended up being incorporated into the Ripoff presentation).

Joe asked me to develop a sci-fi detective series derived from inspired by Blade Runner and I came up with an idea called Numan, the last private eye in the world of the future (2020, IIRC). The idea quickly proved itself too edgy for TV at the time and so it was ported over as a feature development.[3]

Another couple of stray ideas may have been briefly considered for theatrical film development but for the most part that was it before Thundarr The Movie.

Thundarr was a frustrating situation for us. It was by all rights a popular show and character and we should have secured any number of marketing deals, but nobody could ever make a go of it.

This was before the big syndication boom of the mid-1980s[4] and so the last chance for Thundarr before disappearing into the mists of TV history was to get a feature film off the ground.

I suggested a prequel to the series, one that would be grittier and grimmer[5] than the TV version, with a little more oomf! to the violence and a whole lot more boomba-boomba-boomba if you know what I mean and I think you do.

The problem was finding financing and distribution for a film.

You’d think that in Hollywood that would be easy:
Somebody would cough up a few million bucks to make the movie and others the millions needed to distribute it.

Well…no.

Numer-o uno:
Nobody was making independent animated features at the time — especially straight forward action-adventure science-fantasy — so there was no marketing model any distributor could follow to success.

Numer-o two-o:
The rights situation at Ruby-Spears was already starting to grow messy. One reason there has been virtually no authorized merchandising off the show is that Ruby-Spears eventually was subsumed by Hanna-Barbera, their chief rival, and H-B in turn was absorbed into Turner Broadcasting (or Media or Pictures or Studios or whatever the hell they were calling themselves that minute) and soon after that Turner hizzownsef was bought out by the Brothers Warner and today there’s virtually no one at Warner Bros animation who knows about, much less gives a rip, for Thundarr The Barbarian. The feature film threatened to become even messier rights-wise.

Still, we were determined to give it the old college try.

My premise altered the backstory a bit:
Instead of a comet nearly destroying the Earth, it would be the Sunsword itself that wreaked the havoc.

An indestructible alien weapon of immense power, it was lost millennia ago in an epic space battle between two alien species. The inert hilt fell towards Earth, shattering our moon when it hit but slowing down enough as it passed through so as not to utterly destroy the Earth when it landed here.

As best I recall (we went through several drafts and kicked a lot of ideas around) the story proper would pick up with Thundarr and Ookla enslaved by Arial’s wizard father. Arial is not a wholly virtuous character though she is demonstrably better than her father. When they learn of the existence of the Sunsword from advanced alien scouts, she sets off to find it first. Thundarr and Ookla either escape and kidnap her in order to find the Sunsword first so as to keep it from falling into evil hands, or (depending on which draft it was) she drags them along to do the grunt work.

In any case, the story reaches a climax in which our three protagonists plus her evil father plus both still-warring alien species plus the local mutants actually in possession of the Sunsword all go for the weapon at the same time.

All hell breaks loose but Thundarr eventually prevails and Arial comes to realize there may be something to this goodness thing after all, and we end at a point sometime before the very first regular episode.

As hard as it may be for some of you die hard Thundarr fans to fathom, nobody wanted to give us a few tens of millions of dollars to do this.

Two things I do recall vividly:
First, Joe was really opposed to my idea about the mutants who possessed the Sunsword until our protagonists show up. My idea was that the hilt would have crashed into the middle of a championship football game so that thousands of years later a religious cult was grown up around the Sunsword, one in which the priests wear religious garments patterned after football uniforms, the high priests would be dressed as referees, the temple choir would sing football cheers in the manner of Gregorian chants (“Rah, rah, sis, boom, bah…”), etc., etc., and of course, etc.

‘Cuz my approach to the material has always been “embrace the absurdity”.

There are plot holes and logic gaps in Thundarr big enough to fly a fleet of Airbuses through wingtip-to-wingtip so if you’re going to have a future where indestructible handheld weapons shatter moons and wipe out civilizations as the result of an unintended impact, you might as well go all the way and pile the wild ideas on top of each other.

I seem to recall Joe allowed me to keep the basic idea but insisted we water it down considerably.

The second thing I recall was that I came up with the idea of funding the film by pre-selling tickets.

Now, that’s not a big thing in these Kickstarter / Patreon days, but at the time it was a pretty radical idea.

I know Ken Spears chuckled at the idea when I suggested it, asking how we were going to sell tickets before the movie had even been filmed.

I had an answer for him, an idea stolen from Kenner’s Star Wars Christmas gift coupons:  We’d sell certificates that could be redeemed at theaters for admission when the film was released; theaters would be encouraged to participate because since those members of the audience had already long paid for their ticket, they’d have money to buy popcorn and candy and soft drinks[6].

Ken eventually came around to my way of thinking insofar as he agreed it was possible, but wasn’t convinced enough to want to make the effort to find out if we could actually pull it off.

So that idea — and Thundarr The Movie — died aborning.

It’s a pity, since if we had done the movie and the follow up TV series we proposed — Thundarr The King — then we could have had a really nice animated epic that would have spanned our hero’s life from young adulthood to a (physically) mature man and father of twins.

What? You never heard of Thundarr The King before?

Well, let me tell you that story…

…some other time.

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[1] How they met, teamed up, came to create Scooby-doo, and the aftermath leading up to the creation of Ruby-Spears Productions is a fascinating story in and unto itself but one for another time.

[2] Plus some insane maniacs; R.I.P. John Dorman.

[3] Joe disliked the name (a nod to New Wave musician Gary Numan) so we changed it to Skanner (a nod to David Cronenberg’s Scanners). I know I spent a lot of time world building for the show, but aside from a few stray details I have nothing substantial to share. I did create a futuristic patois and cadence for the characters to speak, but can’t recall much more of it than his introductory tagline: “Dub me Numan; I peep.”

[4] Not that the syndication boom would have done us much good as it was almost entirely focused on other people’s toys and almost never on new and / or original characters.

[5] Hey, those words weren’t hackneyed back then!

[6] And theaters don’t have to share any concession sales with the distributors or producers.

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the sweet science

25/11/2016

boxing
has this odd
moment of tenderness
when a fighter
is pummeled to
the canvas
and the ref counts over him
but his eyes
have no fight left
and his legs
won’t work
properly
and before
finishing his 10-count
the ref waves his arms
and the fight ends
and then
after all that
brutality
the ref
cradles
the defeated boxer
and hugs him
as if to say
“it’s okay
you did your best
you did your best”

ref-comforts-boxer

© Buzz Dixon

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Writing Report November 23, 2016

23/11/2016

“When I was a young man about to go out into the world, my father says to me a very valuable thing. He says to me like this… ‘Son,’ the old guy says, ‘I am sorry that I am not able to bank roll you to a very large start, but not having any potatoes which to give you, I am now going to stake you to some very valuable advice. One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice, brand new deck of cards on which the seal has not yet been broken. This man is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of that deck and squirt cider in your ear. Now son, you do not take this bet, for as sure as you stand there, you are going to wind up with an earful of cider.’” — Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando), Guys And Dolls

guys-and-dolls-marlon-brando-1955The female barbarian fantasy sequel is proceeding nicely (good thing I restarted it rather than slug ahead), but it did make me realize my original ending was not a very good one[1].

I posted the following on Facebook and asked for suggestions:

Working on the second female barbarian story I mentioned earlier. Will post a full writing report in a day or two, however…

Could use some suggestions re story’s climax. Without giving too much away:

Story is set in fantasy equivalent of Middle East in ancient / Biblical / classical eras. Climax involves a small city besieged by vampire / zombie-like monsters that only come out at night and are vulnerable to sunlight, requiring coffins or caves to hide in during day. (These are monsters of my creation so I can give ’em pretty much any vulnerabilities I wish.)

City has several caravans and store houses with standard trade items of era: Spices, silk, salt, oil, etc.

I’m trying to figure out:

How to prevent monsters from returning to coffins (the location of which are known to protagonists) by leaving something in them / doing something to them

Effective way of fighting them / holding them at bay until sunrise

No religious / magic solutions such as charms, spells, etc. Real items (such as wooden stakes, salt, silver weapons, etc) preferred.

Suggestions?

About two dozen FB friends posted a variety of suggestions, some workable from a story POV, others not[2].

And their ideas certainly helped:
They kicked loose the log jam and got me to thinking and doing some research and I realized my main protagonist and one of her allies would have a perfect reason to know what to do and how to do it to counter the monsters.

Now I have to go back and indicate they know this information long before we get to the point of the story where it’s necessary for them to know it.

It’s known among literary writers as “prefiguring” and among Hollywood scribes as “laying track,” “laying pipe,” or “hanging a lantern on it.”

It can be done well or
it can be done badly.

When a no-name character actor is introduced as Steven Seagal’s bestest friend ever in the whole wide world in reel one and his first line of dialog is, “Hey, thanks for lending me all your guns last week; as soon as I clean ‘em all I’ll bring ‘em back” well, we know he’s not going to see the beginning of reel two and at the end of the movie, when Steven Seagal is alone and unarmed and outnumbered a gazillion to one, he’ll remember all his guns are over at his bestest deadest friend ever in the whole wide world’s house and that the production armorer is buying blank rounds by the bushel.

I’m trying to do it better than that.

There are two places where I can prefigure / lay track for my climax:
One in which my protagonist sees something in the fortifications as she first enters the city, a second when she and her ally discuss a previous campaign they served in.

Now, that scene is interesting because it’s really not about them serving together; that point has already been brought up in dialog.

Rather, it’s about a secret the ally is hiding, one that doesn’t go back to the campaign in discussion but involves another character crucial to the story. Originally my intent was just to introduce the fact that this third character exists and that the ally is no longer in contact with them.

And the scene will still serve that purpose.

But changing it slightly will also give me a chance to explain how my protagonist and her ally know all about the technique they will use to fight the monsters and so in the end when our guys are surrounded and threatened with the proverbial fate worse than death…

My protagonist will say, “Wait, remember that time in the earlier campaign…?”

And her ally will say, “Yes! Of course! Quick, men, do what she tells you!”[3]

And then it becomes a fierce battle of men vs. monsters, with the men desperately holding on until the first rays of sunlight will decimate the monsters.

So what’s that got to do with Sky Masterson’s advice and his underworld of gamblers and gangsters?

Simple:
It is a perfect example of prefiguring as one could hope for.[4]

It is establishing the rules of Guys And Dolls to the audience:
You will be tricked. You will be tricked in a way that seems random and unbelievable, but when it happens because you have been told this is a story where the random and unbelievable are to be expected you will laugh and cheer and feel happy for the characters.

Everything I logically need to make my new ending work is already established as being in the city. And this scene will make my protagonist seem smart and tough and capable…

…and not like the author is pulling it straight outta his ass.

.

.

.

[1]  It involved A Much Too Convenient Volcano, which is always bad news for a story. If the whole point of the story is centered on the volcano — say The Last Days Of Pompeii or You Only Live Twice — you can use a volcano. But if it’s just an arbitrary device to force the plot to work, well, then you can’t. Or at least shouldn’t.

[2]  Because I did not include all story details, and so without knowing it they suggested something that wouldn’t fit.

[3]  Hopefully not that baldly. Or badly.

[4]  As opposed to the all too real Steve Seagal example.

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Tumblring Along…

20/11/2016

6-minds-1-thot-capSpent the bulk of the day loading up my Tumblr account, Things I Do When I Should Be Working, for well into the next year.  The Instagram photos I upload eventually find their way there where they’re easier for others to share.

andrew-loomis-beg-for-it-cap

art by Andrew Loomis

A few of the fictoids I post also end up there, and of course everything gets Tweeted as well, so between this blog and Facebook you have no way of avoiding me.

bernie-fuchs-how-many-pieces-and-how-many-precincts-cap

art by Bernie Fuchs

Here are some of the goodies you’ll be seeing in 2017.

girl-of-steel-cap

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Writing Report November 16, 2017

16/11/2016

earl-norem-conan-wont-ask-for-directions-capart by Earl Norem

As you’ve seen, I’ve done quite a bit of writing in the last week, but none of it for the barbarian story I’m doing for NaNoWriMo.

It’s been a week, as they say, and there will be more political and cultural commentary from me in the months to come, but I do need to get back on track.

-*-

Item:
The first female barbarian story (the one to which this current effort is the first of three sequels) was rejected by the prestige well paying market. They said nice things about it (more so than the standard thanx-and-try-again) so they’ll remain on the top of the list for more stories in the future as I write them. That first story is now in the hands of the aforementioned perfect match market; presumably I’ll hear from them no later than early February.

-*-

Item:
I became bogged down with the sequel. I had a two page rough outline written and was following that, but as I did more and more unnecessary supporting characters began popping up and working their way into the story. I say unnecessary because none of them were moving the dramatic thread of the story forward (nor were they likely to, with only one exception). I was at the 8,900+ word mark and I realized that not only had my main antagonist not made it onstage yet, but I was going off in a side direction that would take me even further from the core theme of the story.

Now the NaNoWriMo people suggest blitzing out a first draft in one month and going back to fix it later, but my years of experience writing for TV works against that. When you’re writing for the clock you need to realize ASAP when something isn’t working and you need to jettison everything past the point where it goes south and if that means start afresh on page one, so be it.

It’s a lot easier to restart a story and do it correctly than to slog through and try to fix it later.

So despite hitting the 8,900+ word mark in my collegiate notebook, I’m moving the writing over to the computer now. Much of what I’ve written is salvageable in whole or in part, but I am cutting loose tons o’ loose threads and superfluous characters.

-*-

Item:
While the basic two page rough outline covered the broad strokes of the story, I’ve written a somewhat more detailed format outline ala
I.
A.
……1.
………a.
as we learned in grammar school. (You did learn that, didn’t you? If not, WTF are they teaching kids nowadays?) I’m breaking everything into big / BIGGER / BIGGEST arcs and scenes, working my way up to what I’m sure is going to be a thrilling action-packed climax once I actually reach it.

But this big / BIGGER / BIGGEST approach makes it easier to see when I’m starting to drift. This is not a story that can afford to meander; it needs to get in / get out / quit muckin’ about. As such I’ve been jettisoning a lot of the stuff I wrote by hand.

-*-

Item:
Despite ejecting trunk loads of superfluous characters, I am keeping one. I try not to plot or project too tightly when writing, preferring to let the characters and story surprise me as we go along.

The first story in this cycle started as what I thought would be a 2,500 – 3,000 word story and mushroomed to 16,868 by the time I was done. And when I was done, I saw room for not one, not two, but three sequels that would wrap up my character’s story.

So I wrote short paragraphs about what would need to happen in each sequel, seeing a specific ending that would require a certain group of character types.

As I began writing this, the first sequel, I really hadn’t given any thought to what was going to happen, much less who was going to be in sequel #3 (there were four characters whom I knew would have to be in it, but since they were already introduced in the very first story they were hardly new characters).

So when I began writing this first sequel, I was filling it chock-a-block with good wholesome bloody barbarian-on-barbarian fantasy action.

And in a scene not at all uncommon in barbarian fantasy stories, my protagonists and a few others enter a city in the aftermath of a massacre and find bodies piled everywhere.

And for reasons the story will make clear, they began pulling bodies off one particular pile.

And until the last body was pulled off, I had absolutely no idea there was a four year old child still alive under it.

And I realized she was going to be crucial for my heroine to make a change of plans from her goals in sequel #1 to sequel #2, justifying those changes instead of making her look indecisive.

And I realized she was going to be one of the crucial lynchpin characters in the third sequel.

So you don’t want to be too anal-retentive
when you’re plotting these things out.

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.

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text © Buzz Dixon

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haiku for cat

9/11/2016

the cat’s litter box
doesn’t include elections
and still needs cleaning

.

.

.

text © Buzz Dixon

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H.L. Mencken Prepares Us For The Worst

8/11/2016

HLMencken on ideas

“Any man who afflicts the human race
with ideas must be prepared to see
them misunderstood.”
— H.L. Mencken

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Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments Of Writing

2/11/2016

henry-miller_1965-10-14-by-david-levineHenry Miller by David Levine

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

found here

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Writing Report Special NaNoWriMo Edition (Nov. 1, 2016)

1/11/2016

National Novel Writing Month has kicked off and I’m already well underway to my first sequel (i.e., story #2)* of the female barbarian fantasy series I started a few months ago.

You’ll notice from the photo below (taken at The Open Book store in Santa Clarita) that I’m using a collegiate notebook to write this one, not a tablet or an iPad or an iPhone.

I had a good experience writing the first installment of the story by hand; it slowed me down enough for this particular story to put a little extra thought into what I was doing.

There are other things I write where a
computer is not only valuable but essential.

In any case, I may not be posting much new stuff (“new” as in “written this month”) on this blog for November.

I’ve got a lot of stuff loaded up and will periodically post updates, but the weekly reporting may drop off a bit.

See ya on the other side…

nanowrimo-2016

* Confusing, no? Wait till you see how they’re gonna muck up the numbering on the Alien sequels. And Sylvester Stallone’s 3rd outing as John Rambo shoulda been titled Rambo II: First Blood Part 3.

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