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  1. Robert_S

    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    Deus ex machina

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Robert_S, Dec 7, 2013.

    From what I read, this is a plot device whereby a divine or unforeseen force resolves all the the MC's problems. Shakespeare used it in some of his plays, the Greeks made heavy use of it.

    One essay I read said it's fine to use it to get the MC into an issue, but not out of it. That's fine.

    However, the question I have is what's the delineating line between deus ex machina and something that was there all the time, but just hanging out of sight?

    My screenplay uses what I probably would consider deus ex machina to get the MC in deep and change his life forever, but it's something that was there for 70 some odd years waiting.
     
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The timeline isn't the issue with deus ex machina, but instead the overly convenient fix it offers that then kills any meaning in closure, growth, or change for the characters. If your thing is what gets him into trouble, not out of it, then I would not think of it as deus ex machina.
     
  3. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    IMO, deus ex machina goes both ways. A writer who ratchets up tension by tossing threats out of the blue, without the slightest preamble, is nearly as troubling as one who neatly solves problems the same way.

    The trouble with deus ex machina is that it comes out of nowhere. Even if your MC doesn't know the threat or solution is lurking around the corner, you should take some steps to make sure your readers (or viewers, since this is a screenplay) do. This doesn't mean they should see it coming --they might see it in hindsight-- but the plot twist should have some groundwork laid before it hits.

    Use your own discretion. If you're having difficulty gauging reader expectations and reactions, you might want to run it by a few beta readers.
     
  4. Robert_S

    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    That's how I'm presenting it. An opening scene where some people (MC not included) discover something. Then slowly intro the MC to this until the something has to step in in Act I but the MC doesn't know the complete situation until Act II.

    As an aside, I wanted to do away with Acts, but I'm beginning to see them as a reasonable means of pacing and thresholding.
     
  5. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    per merriam-webster:

    as the term only refers to solving a problem [usually at the end of the play/story], it wouldn't apply in any way to 'starting' something... so, it can't go 'both ways' and you'll have to call what you use to 'start' or 'ratchet up' things something else...
     
    Andrae Smith and 123456789 like this.
  6. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks, mammamaia. Although I could've been clearer, I do know the definition of deus ex machina (and I suspect the OP does as well, since s/he opened his/her post with it). I was attempting to discuss how/why the things that make deus ex machina bad are just as bad when used to ratchet up tension. Perhaps a better wording would've been, "the effect of deus ex machina goes both ways." I figured the OP wanted to explore the connotations, not the definition, and having a dictionary thrown at me for that feels a little condescending but, again, I could've been clearer. Fair enough.
     
  7. plothog

    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think that the effects of problems out of nowhere are different to solutions out of nowhere. Solutions out of nowhere make heroes seem less heroic. The conflict has been won by an outside agency or blind luck, rather than the perseverance and ingenuity of the hero. The reader has been wondering how the character will solve the problem and now feels cheated. I could be wrong, but 1 or 2 unheralded problems don't seem so bad as long as they don't clash with the established setting.
     
  8. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @AnonyMouse @plothog Which is why a lot of people use the term "Diabolus ex Machina" to distinguish the two ;)
     
  9. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no offense was meant, am... i was really aiming my post at the quote below yours, which was in answer to yours, as i thought would be understood... i'm sorry obviously wasn't clear enough in presenting it, so you couldn't get that...
     
  10. Siena

    Siena Contributing Member

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    Foreshadowing.
     

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