Deus Ex Machina

Lately, I have been stumbling across stories that contain the deus ex machina literary plot device.  It is astounding how many authors attempt to use this device and often fail.  Deus ex machina is not a well known device, and I hesitated to write about the plot device as there is much criticism against it.  But you know me, I like writing about things that are often criticized.

The deus ex machina plot device is a tactic introduced when a writer writes himself or herself into a corner when he or she is unable to resolve an issue or conflict.  In most cases the use of the device is ad hoc and not well planned out, often resulting in a failed attempt to create a resolution that leaves the reader angry and unimpressed.  Though, when used correctly, it can provide an element of thrill or comic relief.  

(c) m anima

(c) m anima

Deus ex machina is a Latin phrase that means “god out of the machine”.  It originated during the Greek theatre era where actors, who had the role of a deity, were strung up on a crane-like contraption and lower onto the stage to instantly resolve a conflict.  The criticism around this device is that if a conflict takes route that cannot be resolved, the author would introduce a divine character in the storyline to immediately wrap up the conflict.  The divine character, quite literally, appears out of thin air, swoops in, and steals away all problems.  This allows the main characters to go about their merry way and the reader is left to scratch his or her head in confusion.  In its poorest fashion, the deus ex machine literary device is a complete cop out.  Lord of the Flies is a one of the best examples of poor use of the deus ex machina device.  At the conclusion of the book, a Naval personnel happens upon the castaway island, right before Ralph is about to become mincemeat at the hands of the hunting party, saving all the adolescent boys from becoming lost to their primal tendencies.  This Navy character’s appearance is sudden, jolting the reader out of the suspense and turmoil that is being played out between Ralph and the other boys.

While I personally feel that the Lord of the Flies story is one of the best dystopian novels in existence (and a favorite of mine), the ending left me irked.  I felt robbed and it seemed like William Golding was in a rush to wrap up the conflict.  That he just threw in the Naval officer as an afterthought.  In order to make the conclusion less jarring, he should have added more foreshadowing about a naval vessel canvassing the waters around the island, or something to that degree.

When efficiently used, the deus ex machina device can be a mark of a true genius.  Very few authors have been able to master its use.  Shakespeare leverages the device very well in a few of his comedies and tragedies.  For example, in As You Like It Hymenaios suddenly attends the wedding disguised as Forest of Arden to sort out Rosalind’s problems.  Leading up to this scene, there were details of the event defined and so the reader would not be caught off guard by the appearance of disguised Hymenaios. Shakespeare used the device again in Hamlet, where Fortinbras arrival pretty much nixes any attempt of anarchy within Denmark.  Again, the use of foreshadowing prevented Fortinbras from seemingly appearing from thin air and saving the day.

However, Shakespeare poorly used the device in the Merchant of Venice when Portia tells Antonio that all of his ships have come to port, even though throughout the story it is said that the fleet had been destroyed.  His entire life rested on the arrival of his ships and the conflict was solved with Portia’s lines of reassurance of the ships making port.  There are no details or explanation as to how the ships survived the storm or how the rumor started that the fleet was lost.  The audience / reader is left in mystery of what really occurred.

As you can see from these examples, the use of this device has ranged from poor to exceptional, which leaves the device in much criticism as it is mostly not utilized in the best scenarios.  However, as a writer you should not fear it.  You should be experimental with your writing, giving the deus ex machina device a try and the critics a run for their money!  

If you ever write yourself into a corner and think that the deus ex machina path is your only way out, or if you want to experiment with the device, just take into account these four thoughts:

1.  Don’t pull a Hail Mary pass and drop in a God-like character to save the day.  Revise your story and give that character a little background earlier on.  That does not mean that the character has to make a full appearance within the earlier scenes, but references or foreshadowing the character will not make his or her appearance seem so sudden.

2.  Don’t allow your deus ex machina character to disappear as suddenly as he or she appears. Allow that character to have a little screen time and purpose in your story, other than just to instantly appear to solve the “unresolvable” conflict.

3. Plot and plan the use of this device.  If you can shape and mold the dues ex machina in such a way that it is agile with your plot, then damn, you are going to have one interesting and memorable story.   If the idea comes to you to use this device, THINK about how you are going to introduce it and how it will play out in your story.

4.  Be unique with the device.  Add your own creativity and spin to it.  If you have no read Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, do it now.  The way he explores this device is pure genius.  Trust me, it will be memorable and hopefully inspirational.


What are your thoughts on the deus ex machina literary plot device?  Do you believe that the criticism over its use is deserved?  Do you think you may utilize it in a story someday?

Buzzfeed Lists For Writers

I love gif images. I’m a visual person, so combine that with anything writing related and I’m in heaven. I found these posts by Buzzfeed and had to share them with all my writing friends. Enjoy!

33 Untold Truths That Writers Know Too Well

29 Words That Mean Something Totally Different When You’re a Writer 

10 Essential Tips for Dating a Writer

We can all relate to these. I know I can. *giggles* What do you think?

Sorry I don’t have something more exciting for today. But I promise to have something awesome for my next post. Any suggestions for a topic? Leave a comment.

<3 Jen

Get Back on the “Write” Track and Find Your Focus

Get Back on the "Write" Track and Find Your Focus

Have you ever sat down to write, looked out your window, and thought, “Damn, I really want to be outside”?

Well, that’s how I feel today.

In Estonia we get an average of sixty days of sunshine a year. Most of them are not in the fall, unfortunately. So you can imagine I’d much rather be out walking around in the sunshine than writing a blog post. With that in mind, today I’d like to play off Chris’ post about writing after absences. What can we do, as writers, when we can’t seem to focus on our work?

A change in scenery

I know this seems a bit hypocritical, given that I’m still indoors (I’m going out as soon as I finish this, I promise), but getting out of the house is crucial. Get out of the office. Go for a walk. If you only see the sun once every two to three weeks, don’t sit inside and stare at it from the window. When it’s cold, it’s not easy to write outside, but you can get a lot of ideas by walking around. Or, if it works for you, you can go to a café or a library to write. There are a lot of options.

Do something else

This may also seem like a counterproductive form of procrastination (and it might be), but when I can’t focus, I do something totally unrelated to work. Watch an episode of a show that inspires you or read a novel. I know that when I read a good book, it makes me want to write my own all the more. But if you go off on a separate path for a while, be sure you come back to what you were supposed to be doing.

Cut yourself off from distractions

I love my friends on Skype, but once I start talking to them, it’s impossible for me to get anything done. Even though we may have many writing friends, writing is still a solitary venture. You and you alone are writing your novel. You and you alone can get the words on the page. If sprints with others work for you, then by all means, do them. But if you’re like me and you need quiet, then take a break from the online world for a while. It’ll still be there when you get back.

Just start writing

This has been my biggest problem lately. Once I’m in flow, the words comes quickly, but I can resist starting the actual process for days. That’s a problem, especially when I’m on a deadline. So what can you do? Write. Start writing. One word after the other. Make yourself do it. No matter what. I did this yesterday for my thesis and broke my two-week cycle of resistance. By the end of it, I had 1400 words. That’s 1400 words I didn’t have before and I feel better because of it.

In conclusion . . .

We’re going to hit bumps in the road when we’re writing. It’s unavoidable. But taking steps to make the transition easier can help. Work to the best of your abilities, but don’t be afraid to take breaks — to get out and enjoy the autumn sunshine or to read a good book. Sometimes those are the things we need to give us the push to get things done.

Happy writing!


Do you have problems focusing? What do you do to focus on your work?

Writing After Absences

Disclaimer: what follows is a transcript of the video footage recovered from the scene of the, now infamous, SarMus Tower fire, [Location redacted]. It contains references to deadly viruses and should not be read by those of a gullible disposition.

[MUTED ALARMS]

SUBJECT ALPHA: [COUGHS] Woo hoo! Freedom! Get a load of that fresh…erm…smoke. [DEEP BREATH. MORE COUGHING]. Is this thing on? Great. Told you I’d break out of there, Amanda. No prison can hold me. I told you I didn’t have Ebola, nor did I catch Zombie; it was only a cold.

Well, I’ve been away. A small break as it were but now I’m back and fighting strong… braaaaaaains… Stop that! I’ve been having these cravings but I’m sure it’s nothing.

[CAMERA OBSCURED BY SOOT. SUBJECT ALPHA WIPES LENS. SIRENS SOUND IN THE DISTANCE.]

If, like me, you find that a break from writing has an impact on your creative processes, you’ll know how difficult it is to get back in the swing of things. Finding your rhythm can be tough so I thought we could look at ways to get your writing back on track following an incarceration…I mean, break.

1. Freewriting

Some people love it, others hate it but the best way of getting back into writing is to just write. Give yourself permission to write junk but write anyway. All you’re trying to do is get back into the habit.

2. Use prompts

Writing prompts are an excellent way to ease you back into using your wonder noodle… braaaaaains… I said stop it. I use them all the time for sparking the few cells I still have left. There are some excellent resources on the net that will provide you with endless writing prompts. Even SM has a tumblr page which doles out a daily prompt. [COUGHS] Shameless plug [COUGHS]…here.

3. Re-read what you have

This is great if you’ve taken a break in the middle of a project and need a way to get started again. Reading back through what you’ve already written (along with any notes), will remind you of where you are and also point you in the direction of progress (or off on a wild tangent). This has the added benefit of preparing your mind for writing.

4. Baby steps

We’ve all heard that saying about running before you can walk and the same is true for writing. If the break has disrupted your routine significantly, maybe you should ease yourself back in. Write flash fiction instead of short stories, write shorts instead of your novella, write… you get the idea.

5. Try something a little different

Do you usually write short stories? Why not try writing a movie script? Only write fiction? How about trying your hand at travel writing? Often when we try something different, we find that new ideas begin to gel and form and it isn’t long before we get back to doing what we love most… Braaaaaains… oh for Fu–

[TRANSMISSION ENDS]


 

How do y’all get back into the write (see what I did there?) frame of mind after a prolonged absence from writing?