Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Leave Rabbits and Top Hats to Magicians
Don't you want to scream when you're reading a terrific, suspenseful, well-written and well-edited book, and the characters get into an impossible situation, and you can't wait to see what the author came up with, and (take a breath) . . . voila! . . . magic! Suddenly, out of nowhere, they are saved. By something utterly unbelievable.
(Castle fans will know what I'm talking about, if they watched the other night.)
This contrived plot device is known as deus ex machina. And it's something to be avoided, unless you're a fantasy writer and then I think you can pretty much get away with anything.
Research in to autopsies and toxicology screens tore a hole in an important part of my plot, requiring re-thinking (and I'm not always good at thinking in the first place) and re-twisting (ditto). While Stephen King may be able to do all of his research after he's written the book, I find I need to get the big stuff taken care of early.
So I've spent the last few days working on a scene where two of my characters come to a conclusion based on events and information that occur in previous chapters. Although nothing was contrived, it was important to me that their conclusion be logical and not merely a plot device. My thanks to my trusted writing friends who pushed and punched me into giving the scene the meat it needed, hopefully without creating a boring information dump. I'm pretty sure it's a lot closer now than when I first asked them to take a look.
What about you? Have you ever been tempted to employ a deus ex machina? Do you remember the last one you read?
CR: The Pure in Heart by Susan Hill.
It's all better with friends.