Collaborative Writing – Mozdarkian Death Ray Syndrome

Posted by on Oct 25, 2013 in Creative Writing | 0 comments

What in holy fun cakes is Mozdarkian Death Ray Syndrome? I’m glad you asked, interested reader. I’m about to take you on a horrific journey through the caves of a far away planet. On this planet, evil Mozdarkian death squads are ruthlessly pursuing the royal family through a series of dark and dangerous underground passages. The king and queen stumble and crawl toward their waiting spaceship, hoping for a miracle escape amid the lasers and the lizard people. It is an excruciatingly painful hour and a half.

Not for the royal family, mind you – who were space bears by the way. No, it was agonizing for the creative writing student sitting in a bland conference room at a community center with a wacky old man and his “business partners.” The student thought he’d hit the big time when he answered a local newspaper ad looking for a writer. He thought he’d struck gold by landing a real, paid gig. Now he was sitting in front of a 13-inch Zenith that sat atop a wheeled cart as he watched a glorified storyboard come to life.

“Noooo!” the queen yelled. “No, don’t kill Thorian! Don’t kill my son. Please Mozdarkian king don’t…”


“Oh god, oh god, my face is burning,” Thorian shouted. “Oh god! Agony sounds, agony sounds!”

“Noooo! Thorian! Thorian is dead! Nooooo!”

And then they’d run weeping through the caves for another minute until…

“Noooo! No, don’t kill my daughter Lorian! Please Mozdarkian king, don’t…”


“Oh god, oh god, I’m dying! My name is Lorian and I’m dying such a painful death!”

“Noooo! Lorian is dead! Nooooo!”

And yet more crying and running until…

“Noooo! Don’t kill Florian. Don’t kill my other son. Please Mozdarkian king!”


And so on and so forth – you get the picture. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I was that unfortunate creative writing student. I’m not kidding when I say the entire twenty-three minute video was simply one royal family member after another getting violently killed before they all took off aimlessly through the caves again. Then at the end just before they were all massacred, they somehow managed to launch these two magic space cubs to Earth and now they hang out with a six-year-old named Danny. And of course, the space cubs teach Danny major life lessons about sharing and cooperation and why we don’t commit wire fraud.

When the video was over, the old guy leaned against the TV with a knowing smile. “This is a ground floor opportunity for all of us in this room,” he said with a peculiar overabundance of confidence. “An opportunity to be part of something that’s going to be sweeping the nation at this time next year. Barney, Big Bird, the Muppets… distant memories once kids discover the space bears. This is a multi-million dollar idea.”

He started going on about T-shirts, bibs, mugs, and posters. I think he may have even mentioned a theme park. On more than one occasion, I glanced around the room to try and find the hidden camera.

When he was done, people asked him all about the investment opportunity and the theme park, basically blowing an entire forest fire up his ass. People were really into it. Then after a half an hour, the room graciously fell silent.

Seeing as nobody had yet burst through the wall to tell me I’d been punked, I raised my hand. “I just have one question,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “Everyone, this is Kevin. He’ll be helping me out with the writing.”

Everyone clapped. I awkwardly nodded.

I looked around. “So, this is a show for kids?”

“Yes, obviously,” he answered.

“Just an observation then. We probably don’t need all the… death.”

The old guy squinted. “But that’s the backstory of the space bears. That’s how they got to Earth.”

“Uh… OK,” I answered. “But ya know, you can just say they’re from space and leave it at that. Kids aren’t going to deconstruct their past. Also in my experience, children aren’t real fond of terrifying screams. Constant and sustained hideous torture shrieks… not really all that common in children’s programming. Just an observation.”

He stared at me for a good ten seconds before he spoke. “But that’s how they ended up on Earth. Their entire family was massacred on their home planet. So they came here.”

At that point, I seriously doubt I had it in me to generate a reply.

The point of this story is that sometimes as writers, we’re so happy to get paid to write that we accidentally get roped into projects dreamt up by crazy people. Personally, I call it Mozdarkian Death Ray Syndrome. There will be times in life where it seems that half the population is afflicted with MDRS. So just in case you someday find yourself at a bland looking community center, staring at a 13-inch Zenith and wondering what the hell happened to your career, here are some tips.

1) Don’t try to own the project. Seriously, you probably have a project of your own that inspires you and isn’t completely insane. The MDRS patient just needs someone to type their ideas. You are not a valued partner in this deal. Just go with it. It will help you escape sooner.

2) Raise objections, but only once. If you tell the MDRS patient that the main character can’t hop in a monster truck and take off down I-95 because that particular character was paralyzed from the neck down in a cage fight in the first scene and they say it doesn’t matter – trust me, it doesn’t matter. Just move on.

3) Jump on any remotely decent idea they have. An idea that almost made sense? Let’s go with it! Let’s explore THAT!

4) Learn to filter good projects from bad ones. The second you get that queasy feeling of, “I’m not really sure this is something I want to be a part of,” – recognize that it isn’t. Roughly translated, “Eh, maybe I can make it work,” actually means, “I am about to make a gut-wrenchingly awful decision.” (As a quick aside for all you singles out there, this very same principle applies to relationships as well.)

5) Learn to say no. This is a huge lesson. I knew the space bear project was going to be a giant pain in my ass thirty seconds into the interplanetary snuff film I was watching. Yet because I was too nice and inexperienced to politely decline, I worked on it for a month before the guy mercifully decided he didn’t need to be paying an annoying writer to point out and attempt to fix his plot holes. But when you say no, don’t be a jagoff about it. Just memorize this phrase – “Hey, I like what you have going on here, but it’s just not the type of story I’m best at telling. I appreciate the opportunity and good luck.” BOOM! You didn’t burn any bridges and you’re not stuck trying to figure out ways to kill off Blorian, Jorian, Dorian, and Quorian. Oh, a Mozdarkian Death Ray to the face? Sure, let’s go with that.

I only write this particular blog because it really sucks to be stuck in the quagmire of a project you want nothing to do with. I’m not sure I know a single writer who hasn’t experienced Mozdarkian Death Ray Syndrome somewhere along the line. Cause it sneaks up on you. Projects like that are like mountain lions. You’re just casually walking along when suddenly you’re ambushed by someone’s pitch and next thing you know you’re being devoured by the damn thing without even remembering if you ever officially agreed to help.

So remember these tips to ensure you aren’t drawn into a creative cave where lizard people are trying to death ray you. Because almost no one who ends up in that situation makes it out alive.

And look, if you’re a space bear, this lesson is not only applicable, it could save your damn life.

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