1. Lazzamore
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    Lazzamore New Member

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    Is this too much of a Deus-ex-machina?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lazzamore, Nov 11, 2015.

    I had an idea I got really excited about for one of my projects, but my friend (He's also a writer) tells me it's a deus-ex-machina. I got pretty excited because of this idea, so I decided to get a second opinion from you guys. It's a bit of a spoiler, but I admit it's originality is not it's main point, so I don't think it needs a spoiler around it.

    One of my main characters is the leader of large band of aliens attacking the planet my story centers on. Through out the book, the reader is shown his mysterious alien prosthetic taken from an extinct race. At the end, the MC dies, but the prosthetic revives him by rebuilding his body with nanites fused with his DNA. Then all through-out the second book (If I do decide to write one) he dies in various horrible fashions, from all of which the prosthetic revives him, and the book would focus on how he slowly loses his identity in his race as he becomes more and more artificial, and goes a little nuts.

    But my friend says it will get old, him dying, and that it would basically amount to a bunch of Deus-ex-machina. I value his opinion, but I'm not so sure. What do you guys think?
     
  2. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it is appropriately foreshadowed it could work, but if the resurrection comes out of left field it will appear like a deus ex machina. I have read sci-fi books with revival (normally the brain is downloaded and uploaded into a new body). The risk with this is that it removes all tension if there are no stakes, i.e. if death is just an inconvenience then who cares? However, I do like the idea of him losing his identity through multiple deaths, it sounds interesting.
     
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  3. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree, it could get old. My favorite part of a story is the tension. If the reader realizes the MC can't die, then life-or-death situations suddenly become less interesting. There's no fear of the MC dying or getting injured.

    Like Chinspinner said, losing his identity is cool. But I'd also like to see some kind of weakness. Something that can actually hurt him and the nanites can't replace right away. It could be a cool scene. The MC becomes reckless, thinking he can't die, then encounters something that hurts him. So he has to be more cautious after that.

    Anyway. Good luck! :)
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It's not a deus ex machina. Rather, in the story you propose, it is the point of the tale - to follow his growth or degeneration as a character while all this is happening to him. There is a similar character in Steven Erikson's novels, and it doesn't go well for him. The fact that this is the focus, the real story if you will, means it is not a deus ex machina. If you were just writing a story about this guys exploits, and at the end the prosthetic randomly saved the guy for no apparent reason, then it would be a problem.
     
  5. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    Yeah, there are plenty of good stories that focus on how lack-of-death can be a problem. The movies Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow come to mind. They succeed by making the stakes something other than survival--in Groundhog Day it's his love for Andie Macdowell, in Edge of Tomorrow it's the fate of the rest of humanity, etc. So if the stakes are this guy's sanity, rather than his physical life, I feel like that could be a really interesting premise.
     
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  6. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Is it a never before seen element, which resolves all of the conflict without any action on the part of the protagonist? Because that's what an ex machina does. If your protagonist simply dies and is revived there's really no one who could level that accusation at you.
     
  7. ToeKneeBlack
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    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

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    The reader might need clues as to the prosthetic's capabilities before it suddenly rebuilds the MC.
    Presumably the prosthetic is difficult, but not impossible, to destroy. It may also need to be recharged after each resurrection, and there's also the possibility of it being stolen while he's alive - unless it's bolted into his skeleton.

    Each death could change him slightly. Without a fear of permanent death, he might even become addicted to dying, trying out various ways to die without destroying the device. But that's unlikely until he's died multiple times.

    You could go the other way - the MC could be so fearful of permanent death that he takes care of the prosthetic above all other priorities. As long as it's in working order, he isn't afraid of much else.

    Such changes might have to be gradual though.
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Why don't you read the Japanese novella All You Need is Kill? Terrible title but the story - at least the manga version that I read - is excellent, and deals with the same device. The MC gains the alien's ability to go back in time every time he dies, meaning he never dies. Time just goes backwards and he's alive again, retaining memories of his death etc so each time he does something differently, learns more about the aliens and become better at killing them.

    The Hollywood adaptation, called Edge of Tomorrow, loses the philosophical angle a bit really. Didn't do the story justice at all. However, it was still entertaining. The manga deals with the MC's loneliness because he alone dies and survives, and how this time loop, this ability to resurrect is really more of a curse than blessing.

    And no, it didn't get old at all watching them die and revive multiple times. But then again the manga was done well and the film wasn't too bad either. It was originally a novella so you can even see how it's done in narrative.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2015
  9. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is the key here. If the character's life isn't what's at stake, then something else needs to be at stake. Good stories don't always involve life-and-death situations. The main character has to be at risk of losing something, but that something could be anything of importance to him. As long as you set up that conflict/motivation/goal/etc you should be fine.
     
  10. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's a lot to explore with this idea.

    Your DNA can rebuild your body, and some of your personality, but not your experiences and memories... explore how your device reconstructs them, and since the device is alien, and perhaps does not even know what human is, perhaps it reconstructs them a little along its builders' lines, rather than his... Each death would result in something changed within him, something forgotten, or no longer important. At first, he attributes this to the trauma of dying, but then he realizes that with each death he is less human, more alien. When he figures out what is happening (how might that happen?) then he must decide whether to allow it to continue, or try to get off the train. Suicide doesn't appear to be an option, and retiring from combat isn't either, because old age or disease will kill, just more slowly. How does he struggle to retain his humanity?

    I like this idea!
     
  11. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, the first one isn't a Deus Ex Machina if properly foreshadowed. Actually, nothing is a Deus Ex Machina if properly foreshadowed. Deus Ex Machinas are, by definition, a product of inadequate foreshadowing rather than instances in themselves.

    As for the theoretical second book - that's not a Deus Ex Machina at all - it's the fundamental premise. Now, if done wrong, it could certainly read as a running gag that falls flat. If done right, it could be awesome. I think the pitfall there would be to not use the prosthetic as a "get out of jail free card" that fixes every problem. Actually it could cause some really weird issues in terms of the behavior it causes - as your character will have an incentive to engage in heroics that literally involve certain death. That's not a positive, even if it looks good. You could also deal with the cumulative effects of being put back together over and over. Seriously - how many times can you put Humpty Dumpty back together again without the cracks showing? You could even get metaphysical with the question of whether the reconstructed version is the same guy as before, or whether the first version is dead and the new version is a separate being who has been programmed with his memories (I had a guy in my writing group do this to me with a teleportation story once, blew my mind).

    So - basically if you do it right, the story won't just be about him always coming back from the dead, it will be about the IMPLICATIONS of the fact that he always comes back from the dead. (Which now re-reading your post sounds exactly like what you're doing - that's a classic sci-fi implications-of-tech premise.)
     
  12. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also, the way you have it set up, the fact that he CAN'T die becomes a problem in itself. That's the fundamental question posed by all immortality stories - the denial of closure and the open wounds of not aging. That's at stake in Bicentennial Man, Age of Adeline, Highlander, Arwen's sub-plot in the Lord of the Rings movies, The Picture of Dorian Gray, etc.

    You're fundamentally writing a story about immortality, so I'd definitely look to other stories that deal with the concept, from both inside and outside sci-fi.
     
  13. Adrian Perron
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    Adrian Perron New Member

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    I think some of my favorite - and most hated books, have all been ended by deus ex-machina plots in some way. Obviously, as others have stated, it depends on the foreshadowing. If the purpose of the story revolves around the abilities of this prosthetic, and all or most of its functions are pre-known then it would be cool.

    If it just comes out of nowhere then it would be bad. However, some suggestions would be to incorporate its healing as a regular function of the device, but revival as a unknown or unmentioned until his death than it can work. Of course you have already stated his weakness, it being that he loses memories/parts of himself as he revives. I think anyone that started realized they were forgetting people and important things from themselves and noticing their behavior doing weird bi-polar sort of things would be an obvious weakness that would fight against his immortality, as eventually he would just become a immortal mindless body if he died too much.
     
  14. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    sorry i agree this isnt really a deus ex machina, especially if you explain the process through the story... a true deus ex machina is completely out if the blue ....

    What you propose is interesting... if it was just.. he died and a magic/scientific item suddenly has the power to bring him back to life then never be spoken of again then that would be a deus ex machina... but i like the clever shift that its his sanity at stake and not his life.. making the item cursed and a blessing, giving the item purpose... because the focus has moved in such a way that really opens the plot... i say go for it as long as your clever with it, :)
     
  15. Moth
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    Moth Active Member

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    Reminds me of something in Brent Weeks' Night Angel Trilogy. It's fantasy as opposed to sci-fi, but worth the read.

    Deus ex machina is something that breaks the internal logic of your story, what you're talking about seems to be a side-plot. As long as it's explained (in a way that's consistent with your story/world) and isn't too overpowered, I don't see any reason why most people won't be totally fine with it.
     
  16. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    The idea is good overall but I think you need to take it in a new direction. To simply have the regeneration process lead to decay has been done in various ways. I may not be understanding the initial premise properly but maybe with each battle the protagonist physically touches their opponent and in that process some part of the opponents DNA and/or mental thoughts bleeds into your M/C might be a different direction for example.
     
  17. NeighborVoid
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    NeighborVoid Active Member

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    It's not really a deus ex machina if the story centers around these nanites rather than using it as a contrived plot device. Ideas don't get old, but certain interpretations of an idea can and will become overused. Try to think of different approaches to th same idea.

    Honestly, the immortality nanites don't even need a weakness to create a compelling plot because weaknesses and flaws are naturally present in humans.

    "You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain."
    I once wrote a satirical story about the "reincarnating hero prophecy" trope. Being the hero, the MC is reincarnated as a different person with his memories intact so many times that he goes insane from his immortality and becomes a villain hell-bent on destroying the world so he can end his own life.
     
  18. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some really good comments here. All I have to add is that if you do need life-n-death tension, hide the prosthetic from the MC or make it questionable whether or not he'll be able to use it because of circumstance.
     
  19. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    This suggests that you can "notice things you've forgotten" or "notice that what you're doing is weird and out-of-character".

    But, unless your actions are the result of some physiological chance that makes your brain incapable of controlling your body, a bit like Tourette's, you wouldn't be aware of anything wrong in what you were doing, or that you'd forgotten things.

    You can only notice your descent into inhumanity if you also have a functioning humanity to compare it against.
     

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