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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pet Peeves, Resurrected (Deus Ex Machina)

I had a series of posts about pet peeves in writing, grammar, storytelling, et cetera. I thought they'd run their course, but then I started watching more TV.

My first knitting project. Everyone has to start somewhere.
You see, a friend taught me how to knit* in December, and I've been practicing while catching up on shows I'd been meaning to watch. It makes me feel like I've spent my time productively, even if the show is mindless drivel. It also makes me process the show in a different, slightly detached way.

I'd been noting about one show I was working my way through that the writing had gotten sloppy within the last dozen or so episodes. As it hit more pet peeves I hadn't written about yet, I started making note of them as things to avoid in my own writing.

For today's post, I wanted to discuss the deus ex machina. Literally, "god in the machine," it goes back to Greek stage plays, when a god would show up to fix everything in the end. Nowadays, it's used as a negative, as something that comes along out of nowhere to fix the story, rescue the protagonist, save the day, or wrap everything up nicely.

As a pantster, I've written myself into more than a few corners. I can understand the allure of throwing in, "Rocks fall; everyone dies" when the story arc isn't going the way you planned. I completely sympathize with realizing halfway through that you're writing a completely different story than you thought. It's fine. In an initial draft, your ending can come out of nowhere. In your first draft, you can have all the randomness you want.

That's what rewriting is for. Once you know where you're going, you can go back and put in the ground work. You can hint at the big reveal, or drop hints about what inner resource will pull your hero out of the fire. Foreshadowing is best placed once you can see the big picture.

Just don't leave it that your hero's saving grace comes out of nowhere, with no way to anticipate it. That's how you lose your reader. Life is random and unpredictable, which is why fiction has to have some predictability, even if it's only in retrospect.


*On a completely unrelated note, has anyone else noticed that writers tend to be creative in other ways, as well? The people I've been talking to about knitting are other writers, and the ones who don't knit draw or design or crochet, or have some other creative talent I envy.