Because a lot of people seem to be confused: A Deus Ex Machina is a plot resolving event which happens for no reason whatsoever. It's the largest indicator of bad writing all around, because it's so simple to avoid. Merely foreshadow it. Foreshadow your twists long before they happen. No ifs, no buts. Foreshadowing. Learn it, apply it, and you'll never pull a stupid stunt like a Deus Ex Machina ever again.
A lot of people seem to be interpreting the deus ex machina as any random action occurring outside the character's control. But something like this is perfectly acceptable if it is properly set up, seems believable in context, and fits the story.
I don't get why someone wouldn't want to foreshadow unless they're writing a TV comedy, in which case my advice would still be to use randomness like that sparingly. Even when an event is beyond the control of the characters, you can still create suspense around it. There are many ways to do this, though the easiest is when writing from a 3rd person omniscient viewpoint. In that case, you can just shift focus to, say, a chandelier about to fall on the main character's head, describe how it slowly loosens from the ceiling. Switch back and forth a few times to increase the feeling of urgency. If writing from the viewpoint of the character, perhaps the main character has already noticed the chandelier above him, dangeling dangerously, while he is otherwise occupied so he can't get out of the way immediately. That way, you can add another dimension to a scenario and put it on a clock, raising the feeling of immediate threat to the health of the characters involved. The crafty writer will have the characters visit this location earlier and have an occupant of the building point out the age of the chandelier and how he never has the money to have someone fix it. Add that in as an offhand remark.
This is to say: the reader should never feel lost. He/she should never think: "Where did that come from? What just happened?"
(The example is of course, notably chosen for its simplicity. Applying the same mechanisms to complex plots is what really counts.)
That was a main concern of mine. Even with Foreshadowing, I worried that some stupid thing I introduced during the beginning of the chapter would result in a Deus Ex Machina moment. Biggest thing I did for the second chapter was having the main character show how enthralled he was with the Library. The purpose this serves is that the library becomes a battle ground in the end of the chapter where an object is used as a weapon while another is used as a device to restrain an individual. Final end comes from the library being engulfed in flames and the chandelier falling down just as the antagonist escapes the fiery blaze, ending the battle. It's not climatic for the enemy to run away, however, after thinking about it, I do think it's best.
Though it's probably not alright, I have the protagonist thinking the library will be his grave as he feels the heat of the blazing inferno growing around him. I want this particular moment to serve as an anti-Gary Stu counter-measure to show the main character can't do everything on his own, requiring assistance. Though his companion flew off, I do have her return to save the main character. It's at the end of the chapter both of them share a "tender moment" while the protagonist takes a moment to reflect upon his actions of causing the fire,and, unfortunately in his mind, killing the antagonist's living specimens in his lab.
If you're worried you're not foreshadowing enough, don't. It's good to keep it in mind as a question to ask your beta readers. They're the ones giving you your most valuable feedback, after all. If they felt it was properly foreshadowed, then you've done enough foreshadowing. If they don't, then you haven't and should revise to add more or make the foreshadowing more clear or memorable. In any case, readers aren't morons, they're quite capable of remembering details.
Your character simply shouldn't be a Gary Stu, and shouldn't need a particular event to reaffirm that. If it makes sense for your character to react that way, and learn from it in this way, then that's been part of your character all along.
Deus ex machinas are pretty much always unacceptable by their very definition; it's resolving a conflict in a way that doesn't fit the story and makes the writer seem lazy. The problem is that people disagree on what counts as a deus ex machina and what doesn't. I've seen online writers claim that the end of their story was planned from the beginning and therefore can't be a deus ex machina, when just because it was planned doesn't mean they actually thought it out properly and made it fit with the rest of the narrative.
"is it ever acceptable in any type of medium to have a deus ex machina moments?"
See greeks. All their literature has deus ex machina.
In real life, shit happens. Not all stories end due to the actions of the characters. A lot of things in real life are completely out of our control. We have a mon and her daughter fighting, then bam, car accident/hurricane/meteor kills both of them.
If shit happens in real life, it can happen to fiction. It looks lazy, of course, but that doesn't mean it has no merit.
Yeah, I'd say Deus Ex Machina moments shouldn't be necessary at this point unless someone literally has no other option. And even then, they should at least consult their source material before they do it.
Glad that it isn't a cliche way of solving the problem. With the story in question, I provide a smooth flow for the reader where they understand that the antagonist the main character meets is strong. I absolutely refuse to pull a "Goku" moment, the moment where he goes super saiyan against Freeza, and have the protagonist become all powerful. However, with that said, I do want to have a surprise moment for the arch-nemesis where he sees what the main character's abilities intriguing, and lets him live so he can study the character. I'm adding a bit of arrogance that is revealed down the road since this character has gone unchallenged for some time. Though he's not so arrogant as to allow himself to be done in by a stupid "monologue moment" which results in him being defeated.
Hardest thing for the villain i've created is that he might be a Gary Stu of villains where he is too perfect. Thankfully, this can be easily remedied in later chapters with his carefully created facade broken down, piece-by-piece to achieve the villain's defeat.
I'm not actually sure how much risk there is of creating a villainous Gary Stu--or even just of having the villain be overpowered. Mary Sues/Gary Stus are usually created as a sort of wish fulfilment exercise for the author. The author thinks think "Wouldn't it be awesome to have sparkle eyes and superpowers and a dragon pet?" without actually considering whether or not it'll make for an interesting story. The Sue/Stu coasts through the story clobbering bad guys and winning over the most handsome/beautiful guy/gal in the world without ever really facing a challenge. I think you're less likely to run into this problem with a villain because, if the villain is genuinely overpowered, the story grinds to a halt because the protagonist just can't win.
I would be wary of having your near-perfect villain do anything too stupid, though. It's reasonable (and suitably dramatic) for them to be undone by one small flaw, but letting an enemy go at any point (particularly if this villain is otherwise ruthless) sounds almost as bad as the monologue moment. If he's intrigued by the main character's abilities, shouldn't he also be thinking about whether or not they might pose a threat? If he wants to study the character, hasn't he already realised that he doesn't know what he's dealing with?
Assuming that the tiny country next to you won't fight back when you invade? That's arrogance. Assuming you can repel an alien invasion because you beat the big country? That's stupidity.
Villain Mary Sues/Stus from what I read can be wish fulfillment of the writer wanting to be the "bad" boy/girl. The villain in the story is near perfect, and while he is stronger than the protagonist, i'm making sure to piece things out carefully.
For the overall story, I have an idea for the villain to be a somewhat likable/redeemable individual because of a past event. As they were trying to help a family member, the antagonist became consumed with the obsession of learning everything that ever existed or will exist. He even went as far as designing a special liquid immersion bath to make him young again.
I do see your point DamonWakes, and what I may change is the end of the second chapter. Instead of having the villain leave the main character alone, it maybe wise to have their battle escalate. It's during their battle that the main character creates a new, unintended spell which engulfs the antagonist's home in fire. What may be best is having the antagonist believe this to be a good test for the protagonist. He can "potentially" live, but at the same time, there's a high probability that he will die. Another factor is that the flames are rapidly consuming the battle ground, so the arch-nemesis is in from being consumed by the fire as well.
Though he is powerful, the antagonist does have a limit to his powers, which is why I have him leave while easily disguising those limits from the main character. In a the final arc of the story, I reveal that the antagonist has several flaws concerning his abilities. The only reason he is more powerful than the main character is due to his intense training, and the fact he is several hundred year old, accumulating a vast amount of knowledge concerning combat.
They might serve as wish fulfilment, but I doubt it would be a very long story. The villain has to face at least some challenges, otherwise they just beat the heroes and that's it. I guess a villain protagonist would be different, but plot-wise they tend to behave like protagonists rather than villains. That is to say, they face challenges and eventually win (or perhaps lose). Typically a villain will be poised to achieve their goal, and the heroes have a hard time stopping them.
The situation you describe seems plausible in some ways, but unlikely in others. Having the villain leave because he's in danger makes complete sense: no point risking his life when the hero will probably die. That's significantly more realistic than most Bond villains. Still, I feel like "This would be a good time to test this guy" shouldn't really come into it at all. If the villain is in serious danger, he should be focused on his own safety. If he's not, it seems odd that he wouldn't take the opportunity to finish him off. After all, this is the guy who just burned his house down.
The whole testing thing just seems like a Catch-22 to me. Surely anybody worth testing in this way--anybody exceptional--is enough of a threat that a clever villain would kill them while they had the chance. Perhaps it would be more plausible to have the villain believe that the hero cannot survive--preferably while in enough danger that he doesn't want to stop and make sure. I mean, the hero caused the huge fire by accident, so it seems reasonable to expect that he's unable to control it. And if the stronger villain only managed to escape by using his considerable power, he would have no reason to believe that the weaker hero could also have survived.
Just because it isn't cliche doesn't mean you shouldn't avoid it. As long as you set up everything beforehand, or make it logical in context of the villain's personality, or generally explain the unexpected twist in a believable way, it should be easily avoidable.
I think it can be acceptable, but mostly if you're going for comedy. The one exception I can think of is The Odyssey, where the goddess Athena turns up at the end to prevent the suitors' relatives from taking revenge on Odysseus. I think this sort of works because the main story has already been resolved by this point. Athena basically just turns up and says "Look, if you don't drop this now the story's going to go on for weeks."
As a big example of it turning up in comedy: Futurama. After being shot deep into space, Bender literally meets God, who sends him back to Earth. Having been stranded on a collapsing planet with no starship fuel, Leela discovers an indigenous creature that poops starship fuel. An exploding boiler impales Fry on a large pipe, but the worms from a dodgy sandwich he ate heal the injury immediately. A character who got his arms stuck in a universe-destroying missile and his feet stuck in an airlock simultaneously, and was then stretched/crushed crushed to death by said missile, is resurrected by an alien who can do that for some reason. I'm not sure all of these are strictly speaking Deus Ex Machina moments, but you can see how the quirky, light-hearted tone of Futurama means it doesn't have to stick with likely or even plausible situations to work. Sometimes things just happen because it's funny.
It's acceptable, but only with good justification. If something which seemed sidelined suddenly explains in a more complete much that seemed random that's one thing. If something comes out of nowhere to obviously patch together a broken plot, it's not as redeemable..
YTcyberpunkFeatured By OwnerJan 4, 2013Hobbyist Traditional Artist
The notorious giant eagles in the "Lord of the Rings" movies are the worst (I don't remember if they're in the books).
Then there's this "Star Wars" novel I read, the one that introduced the character Callista (I forget the title). It was a great book until the last chapter or so. Up till then, it was this beautiful story about dealing with death and letting go of loved ones who have died. Then, suddenly, the girl who lost her boyfriend commits suicide, rather than learn to live without him, and allows the dead ghost girl to use her body to come back to the living, rather than move on to the afterlife and just accept things. This twist came out of no where, it was childish, and it had some disturbing implications (committing suicide rather than learning to move on is A-Ok!). Obnoxious on SO many levels.
Then the cyberpunk novel "Prodigal" actually stole that twist ending, so that one bland character could be interchanged with another bland character. See, in the first book, the protagonist was this really boring guy named Cray. Then Cray died tragically, except it wasn't that tragic because he had no personality so we didn't care. Then in the second book he was replaced by a guy named Nathan who was almost identical in backstory, and who somehow managed to be even more bland. Then at the end of that book, Nathan died, not-quite-tragically, and just when I finally thought we were done with bland Gary Stu cyber heroes, Cray used Nathan's body to come back. Damn. I'm not too excited for book #3.
There's actually another deus ex machina at the climax of LotR, and it's arguably worse than the Eagles. More, it was almost literally that, an outright act of Providence inserted by the author, although perhaps adumbrated and set up as at least a partial consequence of one character's earlier actions. But it was an act of God nonetheless.
YTcyberpunkFeatured By OwnerJan 5, 2013Hobbyist Traditional Artist
If you're referring to Gollum attacking Frodo, so the ring is accidentily dropped into the fires, then yes, that's a bad duex ex machina (though admittedly, it's such a cool plot twist, I almost don't mind).
It depends on how its written. Twilight's Machina in the last book (which created a happy ending) wasn't, in my opinion, handled properly at all and sort of betrayed the readers. In the book, the ending battle had a HUGE climatic feel to it, but Alice coming and explaining everything, with the book ending with no battle AT ALL, was just lazy writing in general and was one of the reasons why I stopped being a fan of Twilight (and that I grew out of it)
Yup, that's one of my concerns where I feel that a Deus Ex Machina moment might be appropriate; however, a person may view said moment as a lazy attempt to cover something up.
Example would be a fight scene i'm thinking of where a character remembers his teacher's training. She always cautioned the protagonist to never put too much force behind a spell because it could backfire, but the MC disobeys this teaching. The resulting spell is a powerful fireball that overwhelms the arch-nemesis of the MC as he attempts to take control of it. Though the spell spirals out of control, the antagonist still maintains control over the situation. Instead of killing the protagonist, the antagonist lets him live out of amusement. This is mainly done since the MC has to live with the guilt of killing the arch-enemy's labratory creations, which were helpless animals turned into horrible monstrosities through cruel magical/alchemical experimentation.
While that single "Eureka" or epiphany moment, remembering the teacher's lessons, seems appropriate to me, I am concerned the reader might view it as my lame attempt to have the hero defeat the villain. The main reason I am doing this is due to the antagonist being on a completely different level than the MC. However, I want to show that the protagonist has promise and that amuses the villain to the point he leaves the burning place while the MC's new companion saves him.
"antagonist lets him live out of amusement"...I would call that even more of a deus ex machina if it's not obvious the antagonist is that type of person from the beginning. I mean, it's what makes James Bond villains kind of comedic, they never kill him when they have a chance.
I mean, the fireball didn't even kill the antagonist.
I try to do some foreshadowing throughout the chapter where the antagonist is like the MC. Both of them want to learn about the world around them, however, the protagonist has his limits. Unlike the main character, the antagonist is based on the crude reference "can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs" where he's willing to do what it takes to learn, even if it means sacrificing the life of another when and where necessary.
I've plotted things out in later chapters where the protagonist is unwittingly serving a role the antagonist's scheme. Though, that doesn't mean the main character is extremely stupid and blinded by his obsession for learning.
Sorry for taking so long, had to collect my thoughts a bit.
Essentially, I have the chapter opening with the introduction of the antagonist. The protagonist is unnerved by his presence, but that feeling starts to go up and down like a wave. During the course of the chapter, readers gain hints about the MC's soon-to-be nemesis as he sees a "grand library."
The sight of the library indicates to the reader, along with some minor verbal speech, that the antagonist is a "seeker of knowledge" like the main character. Things culminate as the protagonist's obsessed nature dooms him as he's lead into a trap. Did a cliche thing in the trap where the main character throws a table against a sealed door, causing a piece to fly towards a bookshelf, and that in-turn causes a small reverberation from the sturdy piece of furniture. It gives a signal that there's a hidden room behind it which is revealed to be the antagonist's laboratory.
I make the laboratory scene the turning point for the main character. He sees all these animals turned into monstrosities which cause him to question, "at what point do you stop?" or "when is it wrong to seek knowledge?"
The main character gets out of the laboratory and finds the antagonist torturing his new companion. This is the second turning point where the main character turns into the reluctant her, realizing he doesn't care about the knowledge the antagonist has gained. A quick fight ensues where the character manages to break his enemy's spell that subjugates his friend. As he fixates on his friend this causes the staring match between the two centric characters of the chapter. The protagonist realizes he has to fight this powerful wielder of spells.
It's throughout the battle that he manages to hold his own, but just barely. When is fatigue starts to set in, the protagonist realizes his teacher's lessons and to now push a spell beyond its limits. That's where i'm cautious since the spell catches the arch-nemesis off guard, but he still maintains a certain amount of control over the situation. With his home engulfed in flames, the antagonist conveys some words of wisdom towards the protagonist before leaving him. The enemy conveys to the hero that he found their battle "enjoyable" and wants to "see" what the burgeoning protagonist is capable of, then dissappears while leaving the hero to a fiery fate. That's when the main character's new companion re-emerges, saving him from that fate.
The final scene involves a moment of introspective reflection where he can't believe what he has done. Though his companion was saved, it was at the cost of those creatures in the lab as they were burned to ash. It's more heartbreaking for the hero because one of the creations begged him for help, wanting the pain it was enduring while living to be alleviated.
That's a pretty cut and dry example of the story in question, but hopefully it gives an example of what i'm thinking. Right now i'm stuck on the part where the main character gets passed the illusionary wall, and confronts the antagonist. Want this story to be the best it can be, but I will have to pull the trigger her shortly.
the part that gets me is that you're not sure about this confrontation yourself. it's not good to only trust instincts but in this case it sounds like you have a pretty strong gut feel against this. so why doesn't the protagonist run away instead of deciding to fight?
That's one good question, and I would probably say the protagonist is in a spot where he can't. He's a hundred to two hundred feet off the ground in the antagonist's dwelling, a spire which is held together by magical forces because the enemy likes to display his prowess. Not to mention that the antagonist has several abilities at his disposal to prevent the protagonist from escaping.
I think of it like that moment in The Matrix. Neo faces off against Smith in the train station, and even though there's a slim chance to escape, he has to fight. My character isn't as confident, but he knows that he has to fight. If he doesn't, the antagonist will just hunt his new friend down and try to subjugate her under his will again.