1. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Deus Ex Machina

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by CMastah, Jan 8, 2015.

    (I feel like Deus Ex Machina is hated so badly that I can almost hear thunder in the background just by typing it)

    Ok, here's the thing:

    I have an MC who is saved from death by a magic item (one which an important character spends several years off camera getting, and which only serves one use and purpose), but whose use causes a rift between her and the one taking care of her (she thought her friend was truly trying to kill her, the item only caused her to think she was dying so the villain would leave. She reacts by killing her friend when she wakes up, thinking it was a failed attempt on her life).

    Does this sound too unpleasant as a Deus Ex Machina? The problem is that standing before the villain (and this part is necessary) would be akin to frodo standing before Sauron (with only Samwise at his side at best), no way to survive and no way out.

    The problem is that the item itself is never mentioned or brought up (although magic items with single use are known and rare) EXCEPT in this circumstance (another magic item is witnessed earlier in the story, but it's pretty much useless and is only there to let the readers know they exist).
     
  2. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You said it yourself, and I quote, "The problem is that the item itself is never mentioned or brought up."

    Yes, it's a problem. You need foreshadowing. Having an object turn up last minute that just happens to save the MC's life is too convenient and it's lazy story-telling. It's fine to have such an item and to save the MC's life with it - but it cannot just come out of the blue like that. And if it's meant to be a twist, then it still needs foreshadowing - it just needs to be clever enough that the readers never quite join the dots until it's revealed. But the dots need to be there so they can go, "Oh my word how did I not see this coming!?"

    But if there's no dots at all to follow and WHAM here's convenient magical item that saves my MC - and this coming in at the end of the book - you're looking at basically suicide, in my opinion.

    Trust your gut. If you didn't think it was a problem, you wouldn't be asking. Don't be lazy or afraid to foreshadow - your story will only be richer and better for it :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2015
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  3. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    To give one last detail (cause it might be necessary) the magic item isn't even a 'great' one (so to speak), it's something that's never seen again afterwards. The important character is seen at the start of the book (and this scene concludes with him telling someone he has use of her because he is now blind) and not seen until the end of it, when he provides the item. The issue is that the item is nowhere near the MC (or the friend) until that one scene (as an item it's entirely pointless except for that one ability).

    Building however on your suggestion, I COULD have it that the important character already has the weapon on him (and have it mentioned briefly that he's got it strapped to his belt) and bring it up during the first time he's seen. This Deus Ex Machina, while it's been planned from the start, sits less well with me the more I think about it to be honest.
     
  4. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    It sounds like this important character you mention could be interesting. I would consider getting rid of the device/ weapon all together if possible. The important character could be old, blind and incapable in appearance; but this is just a guise to facilitate the final meeting. He then pulls out a can of whoop-arse and forces a long, tall glass of shut-up juice on the Sauron guy.
     
  5. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me the problem is it tends to feel like no prethought. In your case your are thinking but if you don't show it then it looks poor. Example in one of my favorite stories Digimon. The digivices were a prime example of deus ex machina because the limits of the devices were never understood and as such when they did something it felt random. Like it was done without thought. Like they noticed a problem and went "Damn, uh, digivice did it! yeah that work!"

    So me personally, hiding it or never brining it up isn't the problem. It can be but the thing is when it happens it needs to feel like you are not just auto fixing a problem you found late in. That this was your plan and that it doesn't break the rules of the established universe.

    Does that help?
     
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  6. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    That might be a problem, because causing a rift between the MC and the friend is necessary to the plot (hence the MC thinking the friend tried to kill her), plus the old guy is most definitely blind (the villain blinded him and checked each eye before leaving) in addition to being crippled in one leg (plot reason for this, not important to this first story, nor any subsequent ones until MUUUUUUUUCH later), plus the old guy's role is to be the hateful/spiteful sort who only helps if he can use it to cause misery (the MC wrongfully killing her friend + escaping the villain), and also.....a part of me wonders if you're kidding (because that last sentence KIND OF sounds like it) :p

    It does, but solving it could be a problem.

    The weapon itself has to be found first (entirely off-screen), meaning it isn't one of those items that makes readers go 'oh, so THAT'S what it does', and if the important character mentions it cryptically (because he tells the woman who's aiding him 'there's something important I must do and I have use of you now that I'm blind') like saying 'Kaltsirran blade', then once Kaltsirran magic items are revealed to the reader, it won't be difficult to put two and two together when the friend tries to 'kill' the MC with a blade, and if the important character already has it, then the woman who's aiding him would've been free to help raise one of the two MCs (each of which are raised in separate locations and who could've really been happier for her help).

    The thing is, is that it wasn't enough for the important character to give the friend that blade, he told each a different story too (he told the friend that she could use it to fake the MCs death (without telling the MC the plan so she would look more believably distressed), and told the MC that the friend was trying to murder her and that he'd handed the friend a blade that would fake death (the MC was so distressed with his 'allegations' that she never thought that he was setting her up)). The purpose behind this was to cause the friend's death (why? because he can achieve his goal AND take a life he despises). The double cross becomes immediately apparent to the reader because while we read the friend's thoughts, the MC kills her and states that the important character had told her (the MC) everything.

    EDIT: I also wanted to say that the reason I mentioned the stuff just above this sentence was because I was hoping that this fact would lessen the impact of the deus ex machina (it's not there to placate readers, it is its own purpose).
     
  7. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Correct me if I am wrong because I am tired and may not be comprehending correctly. So a character almost dies but is saved by a magic item to whom he knows nothing about and was on him? A magical item that was acquired off screen for this situation?

    If this is right. Then I have 2 questions.
    How did they know he needed this item? Like without telling him? Its reminding me of that twilight zone episode "It is what you need!" Not sure the actual episode title.
    Does the item serve purposes after this point?
     
  8. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Here's what happens:

    Important character (who is entirely aware of the item's capabilities) spends years off-screen getting the blade (of which no one is aware of it except him and the woman aiding him) and then hands it to the friend and explains to her and the MC (separately, and with a different twist to each) about it. He knew the blade would be necessary because he knew the friend was an acquaintance of the villain and believed that this event was highly likely.

    The item actually does not serve a purpose after this, whatsoever (although the fact that magic items are single use anyway means the blade was inevitably going to prove useless).
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    No set up at all will be problematic for many readers. It would for me. I'd at least like to see some hint that this weapon has an extraordinary power, or is suspected of having it, even if it is only for a single use, and even if it is never mentioned exactly what that power might be. Otherwise, I'd be more likely to assume the author wrote himself into a corner and just pulled something out of his ass.
     
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  10. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    I was thinking I could probably remedy this by having the important character end his scene by telling the woman who's traveling with him that they need to get their hands on <insert fictional name> and then when the MC returns from death, have the friend mention the fictional name in her thoughts.

    Hrm....This brings to mind another Deus Ex Machina-ish thing I did:

    There's a character (not an important one in the first story) who gets killed and then later is walking around unharmed (she acts as a bodyguard for the important character I mentioned). The fact that she's still alive and well is never explained (and the important character she's protecting is not surprised by it) and only one character who sees that she's still alive (other than the important character) is surprised by it. I was tempted to add a line where the important character tells her that the villain is 'like her' to make it clear that something's up (but since she's really a minor character, I was hoping readers would only be intrigued by her rather than dwell on her immortality).
     
  11. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ok the part that rubs me the wrong way is how does the person who searches for it off screen "know" that his friend needs it? I mean to me that sounds like the Deus Ex Machina aspect. It sounds to me like he knew for years, cuz he went searching off screen and then he gives him this life saving thing without telling him why or how.

    Reminds me of that twilight zone episode again except he I explained as being able to see the future. How does your guy know? Why doesn't he warn his friend? This is like if we were friends and I knew you were going to be in an accident and your car was gonna go into a river. So I placed an oxygen tank in your car's backseat. Didn't tell you, just gave you an out. Does this sound like something a friend would do? Me? I wouldn't Heck even if I couldn't stop the event from happening I think I would explain why there is an oxygen tank in his backseat! lol Though this still doesn't address how he knows?
     
  12. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    A question....I was seriously hoping wouldn't get asked :p

    The truth is HOW he knows this was going to happen, I don't want to reveal at this stage. I was thinking I'd make it look like him being a racist (and he is) against humans meant that he never trusted the friend and had seen signs that indicated that the MC was being monitored and then INTENTIONALLY sent the villain to the MC to give the MC an opportunity to run with a headstart (and he also wanted to kill the friend).
     
  13. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    I'm not quite getting it yet. So the person who found this item and brought it to the friend was intentionally trying to cause the misunderstanding to get the friend killed by the the MC?

    It all sounds very convoluted by the way you are explaining it, I think laying it out use generic names like Fred, Bob, Alice rather than relative terms.
     
  14. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    John gave the weapon to Alice and told her to use it on Sally, and then lied to both women about how the blade works because he wanted Alice dead (because she's human). He COULD'VE told both the truth and Alice would never have had to die, but he's a pretty vile character.
     
  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I find this happens in fantasy more than any other genre of writing. People think up 'neat ideas' but they don't work out how the magic system actually works. I think you need to step and think this out more carefully.

    Pretend for a second, that these things aren't magic, but that everything else about your story is the same. Say, for the sake of illustration, your magical item is a herbal drink. If nobody reading your story had ever heard of a herbal drink before, and had no idea how a herbal drink can be either deadly or healing, depending on how it gets used, then how would you introduce that concept to your readers? How would you pull this off? If you can come up with a solution to a 'real' problem like this, then you can apply the same principle to a magical problem as well.

    For stories to work well and to have 'teeth,' any magic you create needs to operate within rules and principles. You get to set the rules, but you need to set them. And the readers need to know what they are beforehand, so when you start to use them, they don't look as if you just made them up as you went along.
     
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  16. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    All of my yes. And even some of my friends yes.

    Ok you don't have to tell us but the point is that there is a reason. Not only there is a reason that a reader can find that reason without having to email you.

    Does that make sense?

    As a friend once said;
    If your too simple in your ideas then no one cares. If your too complicated your basically just talking to yourself.

    Think that translates to this.
    I was reading this idea way different. So in a sense john gives Alice a booby-trapped weapon so she would in a sense kill herself. That is much easier a plot to work with for this. Because since I thought the weapon was saving a life from a random event. It begged the question how did they know the random event. But it isn't a random event. He is misleading people in order to create the event of her death covertly.

    Ok. Think harry potter. How snake died(sorry if I just spoiled) and all the events before that, like him looking evil and stuff. At the time it didn't feel like an it was pulled out of the authors bum did it? Didn't to me. lol Once you know the end, when you look back, you see a bunch of clues about that set up. This is good. Its how yours should work. Since it is a covert kill, you want a person to read by this as a random event. Like not realize it. Maybe even give a weird stupid explanation. At some point though the truth comes out. Once it does and you look back? You should see like everyway little indicators to what you were doing. Does that make sense
     
  17. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    Okay, I get it now, but just from my knowledge it sounds rather contrived. So it took this character years to find this weapon in advance, he then gave it to the friend so they can unknowingly provoke the protagonist into murdering them. This sounds like a Rube Goldberg plot, especially since there are so many things that could go wrong.
    As many people have pointed out (and it seems one of the major reasons for this thread) so far the fact that this character was some how expecting this situation seems somewhat contrived. But here's another point of failure for this person's scheme, what if the MC doesn't actually kill this person in retaliation. Unless the MC is some kind of kill crazed lunatic, I find the possibility that the MC could simply apprehend them rather than outright kill them to be a real possibility. Especially since they are apparently friends, the chance that they would first ask why they tried to kill them (or if the friend tried to explain or plead for mercy) is also very high.

    Not saying that the events as you described them can't happen, just that the idea of this person orchestrating this plan ahead of time with so many chances of failure does begin to strain my suspension of disbelief, since if even a single one of these very reasonable circumstances occurred then he would have spent years looking for this artefact for nothing.

    Some things you could fix. You should give the MC a reason to act without mercy (maybe make "John" give them a believable reason to do so). And you absolutely need to give him a believable reason for why he had the sword in the first place (he spent several years looking for it because he kind of sort of thought that maybe there's a chance they would meet with the villain later and he could possibly use it to get someone killed. That's really not good enough) although from your previous posts it sounds like you are working on that already.
     
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  18. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    There's some context that's missing here:

    1. The MC (Sally, not human) was raised by Alice (human) who treated her as ESSENTIALLY a pet (but still loved her like people love their pets). She did not want to believe her friend could betray her, but....it really was possible given their relationship (Alice has even violently beaten Sally for knocking a human out in self defense). As for why Sally would accept this treatment? She's young and her family had been murdered, she was desperate for any love at all.
    2. Sally was in correspondence (monitored by John) with the other MC (yes, two MCs), when she was forced to relocate (due to her whereabouts becoming known to the villain), John was entirely aware of her movements. The villain (who actually HAS been working with Alice this entire time) relocates to oversee a battle (he's a commander in the military, but due to a personal agenda, he can't allow the MC's true identity to be known to the realm), John sends a fake letter to Sally telling her the other MC wishes to see her.

    I DID just get a thought of having Alice meet with John in one section to receive the dagger, but then realized that no matter how I try to play that scene (for instance maybe she heads out, sees him grinning at her and then fade to black) it's going to grant readers a large clue. When Alice stabs Sally, I really want the reader to think the worst of Alice.
     
  19. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    It sounds like you've got it more or less sorted then. It seems the only thing left is to decide how much foreshadowing (if any) there should be.
     
  20. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    No no no. This doesn't help. See as void said. The problem isn't why this John wanted Alice dead. It is what lengths he goes in a very detailed plan that could fall apart at any point.

    Right now it sounds like he searched for a weapon for years, for one use to allow him to kill Alice without people realizing he was involved. Yet ultimately people are going to realize he was involved?

    To give it a real life comparasion this is how it sounds like to me.


    Ok, I wanna kill my girl. Here is my plan.
    I am going to run for senator, once I am senator I will have to move closer to the city. Forcing her to come with me. Then I am going to develop a habbit of feeding ducks. She hates ducks, so naturally she is going to visit a dog park. Where she is going to find the posion banana! IT IS PERFECT! As long as I become senator.
    Ok maybe that was a little over the top. But the point isn't why he wants her dead. It is why did he search for a magic weapon and spend YEARS planning this? If he has wanted her dead so long why hasn't he figured out a more pratical way?
    Hell he could hire someone to kill her and then kill that guy right after he does it closing the loose ends. People aren't going to accuse him. Because he was mad rageful as he killed the murder of his loved one that he just failed to protect! See it seems like that would have taken him like a week to set up. See the point?
    Not saying you can't use you idea. Just saying that as it curently is. It sounds kind of bad. Not Deus Ex Machina though. The complaint is that it is over complicated. Also the character has seemly no reason to make his current choices.
     
  21. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Killing Alice wasn't the point, the point was to trick the villain into revealing his partnership with Alice to Sally and then faking Sally's death. Alice originally intended on running away with Sally (because currently she still reports to the villain) because she loved her 'pet' too much (and she assumed John was going to help her).

    John killed Alice just for amusement.
     

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