1. Ore-Sama
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    Ore-Sama Senior Member

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    Deus Ex Machina

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ore-Sama, Sep 1, 2008.

    Not on here particuarly however I've seen cases where a writer uses what could be described as Deus Ex Machina, however when called out on it, he/she defends that "no it's not because it's something that is explained later on that it's natural, I had it planned"(paraphrase)

    It got me thinking about how something can indeed come out looking at Deus Ex Machina when in fact it was part of the world's internal logic all along, where as Deus Ex Machina is something that defies the world's internal logic to some extent.

    To give a clearer example, let's say in some sci-fi story, a character is infused with a device. No one has any idea what it is or what it does. Then the characters are in some certain death scenarion where the device activates allowing the person to fly. Then later on the person is healed by the device when bleeding excessively. The device turns out to be a defence mechanism that can act in anyway to defend the person infused.

    Okay I just made that up on the spot but the question is if the author had that planned all along, is it Deus Ex Machina? Is Deus Ex Machina defined by intent(the author didn't think ahead and needed a quick excuse) or is it defined by how it came out(even if it was planned, it still seemed to come out of nowhere) or is it not Deus Ex Machina as long as it dosen't defy the world's internal logic?
     
  2. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say the important thing is how it came out. The reader has to be given a fair chance to see the plot twist coming, regardless of what goes on "behind the scenes".
     
  3. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't say anything about what defines deus ex machina but that does remind me of something.

    Isaac Asimov once said that everybody always told him it was impossible to write a science fiction detective story because you never know when some unknown device will pop up and solve the mystery. He thought that was crap.* He went on to write several short science fiction detective stories and, I think, some novels. Later on he said that the key to doing it was to lay down the applicable rules of the world and make them clearly known to the reader at the beginning of the story, then stick to them.

    *Not his actual word choice.
     
  4. Foxee
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    Foxee Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that deus ex machina is all about how the reader perceives it, not how the author has planned it. Or am I wrong? It's just how I thought the term was defined.
     
  5. Ungood
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    Ungood Contributing Member

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    It could be. Just because you planned to have this "Thing" come and save the day, does not mean that it is anything less then a Deus Ex Machina.

    It is defined as to how it affects the situation.

    it not Deus Ex Machina as long as it dosen't defy the world's internal logic

    I think that sums things up the best. As long as it is inline with the rest of the world, and not some "God being" solving the situation like it is nothing.

    They never just "*Swat* problem solved" type issues.

    Basically do not depend on some "All Powerful" force to fix your problems.

    For example in Odyssis, Gods played a role, but they both caused and solved the problems for him, and they played within the confines of the world.
     
  6. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    It seems to be almost like the concept of the Mary Sue--everybody has a different idea of what it is.

    I think one of the key things isn't in where the Deus Ex Machina comes from or what it is or how it works, but in how neatly it cleans everything up. Even if the writer claims they were planning it all along and it does fit into the logic of their world, if it just ties up all the loose ends and solves all the problems too easily, no muss no fuss, then it's going to smell hinky. Even if not a true Deus Ex Machina, it's a very weak device that the writer is probably trying to use to get out of a sticky predicament they didn't write properly or well enough.

    "Oh crap! How am I going to get my characters out of this?? Aha! Some god or spirit will come along..." And yes, this world does have gods and spirits that solve problems, but they should not do so too easily or conveniently, without at least some kind of repercussions for the characters. There shouldn't be something that solves the characters' problems too quickly. It's too contrived.

    I guess it all amounts to effort on the writer's part to make their plot work, and a lot of times the Deus Ex Machina smacks of lack of effort.
     
  7. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I've been consistent all along in my story that nanintes placed in Kate's body for making blood cells mutated and can heal bodily damage of her-up to a point. Even they can be overloaded...so I don't think that idea fits into Dues ex machina
     
  8. Foxee
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    Foxee Contributing Member Contributor

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    The most clear-cut usage of deus ex machina that I've noticed lately was in Clive Cussler's book Valhalla Rising. The characters in the scene are adrift in a submersible used for deep-sea exploring and have lost the ship that they launched from. They are out of options and will most likely die adrift in the submersible.

    However, a man in a beautiful boat appears out of nowhere and picks them up. His name? Clive Cussler. He gives them a lift to where they can get help and leaves with no explanation.

    He had nothing to do with the plot and his only part to play was to swoop in from nowhere and unexpectedly save the characters in the impossible situation.

    Cussler did not have to do use the deus ex machina device but I think it amused him to do so. It certainly amused me.

    Your nanites, in my opinion, only are a deus ex machina device if they have nothing else to do with the plot and are a kind of outside intervention. From what you've said of them, I don't think they are. When you create your world, if it supports this kind of tech and the nanites aren't suddenly magically present where they weren't before, then they're a logical part of it.
     
  9. Ungood
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    Ungood Contributing Member

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    Good point on the examples Foxee.

    It is a tricky thing. Mainly it revolves around the idea that you have this *Poof* Problem Solved scenario involved in your story.

    I suppose it could be a little like a Mary Sue in some cases.

    You know it when you read it, but not when you write it. :rolleyes:
     
  10. Foxee
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    Foxee Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it would be real easy to write it just to get a problem solved. This is one of the beautiful things about editing and revising, though.
     
  11. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Exactly, the nanites have been around since kate received her bionics in the prequel/sequel that will follow...and the time frame is 4-5 yrs before the one being written.



    QUOTE=Foxee;272188]The most clear-cut usage of deus ex machina that I've noticed lately was in Clive Cussler's book Valhalla Rising. The characters in the scene are adrift in a submersible used for deep-sea exploring and have lost the ship that they launched from. They are out of options and will most likely die adrift in the submersible.

    However, a man in a beautiful boat appears out of nowhere and picks them up. His name? Clive Cussler. He gives them a lift to where they can get help and leaves with no explanation.

    He had nothing to do with the plot and his only part to play was to swoop in from nowhere and unexpectedly save the characters in the impossible situation.

    Cussler did not have to do use the deus ex machina device but I think it amused him to do so. It certainly amused me.

    Your nanites, in my opinion, only are a deus ex machina device if they have nothing else to do with the plot and are a kind of outside intervention. From what you've said of them, I don't think they are. When you create your world, if it supports this kind of tech and the nanites aren't suddenly magically present where they weren't before, then they're a logical part of it.[/QUOTE]
     
  12. Ungood
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    Ungood Contributing Member

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    nannites in general tend to be treated as deus ex machina in their own right because of what they are supposedly capable of "god like" event alterations.
     
  13. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's the literary equivalent of playing "Rock, Paper, Scissors" and someone using dynamite or some other random ploy. The only time I've seen it executed effectively is in Lord of the Flies.
     
  14. Scattercat
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    Scattercat Active Member

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    Nanites in Lord of the Flies?

    Now THERE'S a remake!

    ("Kill the pig! Drain his core memory!")
     
  15. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    True, but in this case they were always meant for medical necessity, because when you has their arms and legs blows off, there going at lest 90% of the human body's ability to mkae red blood cells. Someone on Baen's bar claimed the Spleen could do that...not really...the Spleen recycles what you have, but where will new ones come from? To have them make synthetic blood cells to mutate to handling body damage wasn't too big of a jump to make "deus ex machina" happen in my opinion...it wasn't like some mysterious item to make every circumspect.

    Kind of like the TOR prototype at the end of the story, while it can and does kick the tail of normal ships, you have one again known about it from just about the beginning of the story...preventing the "deus ex machina" aspect again. I think to prevent it from happening, you need to have the stuff from the very beginning.
    :cool:


     
  16. Ungood
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    Ungood Contributing Member

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    This is a good example of things. Something that "trumps all"

    But after all is said and done, many times the use of these things is also based on the skill of the writer and how they weave the story and implement the events.

    Which is why a deus ex machina is not determined by what form it takes but by how it affects the story.
     
  17. Silver Random
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    Silver Random Senior Member

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    I would say its another one of those things that just comes down to how it's written, and, perhaps more importantly, how it's read.

    e.g. a book i read a couple of years ago, Demon Apocalypse by Darren Shan

    Only read if you've read before or dont care if the biggest turning point is revealed.

    The MC and another teenager are off getting trained in magic by the Wise Mentor, so he can Save the World from the Unstoppable Horde. However, while he is away, the Horde have attacked, and are on the rampage. When the MC comes back, they have already slaughtered his friends and family, along with thousands or perhaps millions of others, and look set to take over.

    So the Wise Mentor assembles an Elite Team of magical fighters along with his two students, and takes them on a last ditch, suicide mission to try and stop the Horde. They fail, and several of them Die Valiantly trying to Save the World.

    However, at the Last Moment before the MC is killed, another teenager from Long Ago is suddenly Resurrected. It turns out that this teenager, along with the MC and his fellow student, are the 3 parts of a Mystical Weapon that can Save the World and defeat the Unstoppable Horde.

    The 3 then go back in time, along with the Wise Mentor, to before the Horde attack. All characters and innocent civillians who were killed are now alive again, and the main characters now have a chance to stop the Horde from attacking.

    When i say it or write it, it sounds like one of the worst examples of Deus Ex Machina ever. However when i read it, i thought it was done very well, and never for a moment did i suspect the author had came up with a solution after writing himself into a hole - it was clear that it was always planned. And i didnt feel like it made what came before it pointless, or ruined the theme of the book. But i know that someone else could have read it and thought that it was indeed a terrible case of Deus Ex Machina that ruined the book for them.

    So i think its basically a completely subjective term, like many in writing, that will never and can never be properly defined. Personally though, i would say that a Deus Ex Machina is a sudden solution that is written badly enough to make the reader feel that it is a contrived, "easy way out" which has a negative effect on the overall plot / themes, regardless of whether the writer planned it or not.
     
  18. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    It can still be a Deus Ex Machina if it comes out of the blue. For example, if an unknown person jumps out from a hiding place to aid the main characters at the last moment, without a hint that it was going to happen.

    I think the movie Sixth Sense pulled off its plot twist so well, it's the opposite of a Deux Ex Machina. It was completely unexpected, yet made perfect sense once it was revealed. I wrote a summary of the movie's plot, then I realised that the few people who haven't seen it should go and rent it instead of reading about it here. :)
     
  19. CobaltLion
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    CobaltLion Member

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    I've red 2 books in the recent past that have used a Deus Ex Machina endings in their story, both of them by decent, respected authors. In both cases it *completely* ruined the book (for me at least.)

    Only case in which I've ever tossed a book across a room. :mad:
     
  20. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    oh wow your comment made me laugh out loud! haha

    Which books were these?
     
  21. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would say that a surprise which has been properly foreshadowed is not Deus Ex Machina. The reader should respond in some way like "Ah, I should have seen that coming..."

    To use your example of the amazing protecto-gadget. Once it has been infused into the character, he wonders about its purpose, perhaps trying to experiement with ways of activating it or guessing what it does - whatever he does, it should suggest that the device clearly has some higher funtion, we just don't know what, yet. Now, once this is firmly established, allow your reader to forget the thing completely. Only when it comes to use they are reminded of it again, and says "Aha...!" (or something to that fashion).

    The bad way of doing it...really bad way: While the hero is standing on the top of the active volcano and already he's losing balance towards it, he exclaims "Oh, by the way! I didn't tell you this, but once I got an alien device implanted into me and now I can use it to fly away!"

    The reader had NO chance of predicting this, and will feel cheated.

    And that's what I think defines Deus Ex Machina: cheating your reader by using escapes that weren't there a second ago and were impossible to predict.

    You can bend and twist the rules you set out at the beginning, just make sure you do it well in advance of anything that relies on it. Consider character developement, which is pretty much a person bending and twisting their own rules. Just make sure it makes sense and allows the reader a reasonable chance of guessing the outcome.
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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  23. wiggons
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    wiggons Member

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    theres a game called Deus Ex.........and Machina too i think.........
     
  24. Colonel Marksman
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    Colonel Marksman Member

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    So, a quick question just to see the replies,

    What does that say of the story of Aladdin? (Historical or Disney revamp)
     
  25. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see any real Deus Ex Machina in the story of Aladdin.

    If the genie had appeared at the end of act 3 without any prior introduction, and made everything good by using magic, then yes it would have been Deus Ex Machina.

    Or perhaps you're referring to something other than the genie?
     

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