It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
Recently I read a novel by one of my favorite fantasy writers. I’ve already read several of her books and loved them. I loved this one too. The characters were multidimensional, and the plot compelling. But it was also oddly disappointing. You know why? Because the heroes, after all their struggling and suffering, failed to solve their problems. By the end of the story, they were still floundering, neck-deep in shit, when some minor character popped on the scene, solved their problems for them, and disappeared again like a well-behaved fairy godmother.
Granted, the problems the heroes faced were not of their choosing; they just got accidentally caught up in a nasty power game between a couple of foreign princes. Still, I felt cheated.
In the best stories, a hero must always deal with his predicament himself. It’s much more satisfying to a reader, when a hero finds his own way out of his jam than when someone else waves a magic wand, and PUFF! – all the storm clouds vanish, and the sun shines again.
As far as I know, such a literary trick is frowned upon by the modern writing theory. Of course, ancient Greeks used this device a lot. When a god stepped down from Olympus and cut through all the hero’s complications to reward him for good behavior, it was called deus ex machina. But it was two millennia ago.
Sometimes, the heroes can’t fix their conundrums, and the story becomes a tragedy. It happens. Think Romeo and Juliet. But if Shakespeare brought the kind Friar Laurence to the crypt a few minutes before Romeo killed himself, instead of a few minutes after Juliet followed her lover into death, I don’t think this story would’ve enjoyed such an immense popularity through the centuries. It would’ve been a farce.
Do we still use deus ex machina in today’s fiction? As a reader, I can attest that I didn’t like it in a story. As I writer, I go to great depths, so my heroes could deal with their messes themselves. And if they can’t, then I’m not doing my job as a writer properly. Maybe the problems are unsolvable, and if I don’t want a tragedy, I need to fix that. To nudge the story in the direction I want it to go.
Do you accept deus ex machina as a reader? Do you employ it in your own writing? Are there special conditions that warrant its implementation for you?