Hatrack River
Home   |   About Orson Scott Card   |   News & Reviews   |   OSC Library   |   Forums   |   Contact   |   Links
Research Area   |   Writing Lessons   |   Writers Workshops   |   OSC at SVU   |   Calendar   |   Store
E-mail this page
Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Diablos ex machina

   
Author Topic: Diablos ex machina
Teraen
Member
Member # 8612

 - posted      Profile for Teraen   Email Teraen         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
So I know that one must avoid the dreaded deus ex machina. It makes a reader feel cheated when the plot has all the loose ends wrapped up as if by magic.

My understanding of the Deus ex machina is from old greek cinema, where a mechanism of pulleys would actually raise an actor in the role of the God up onto the stage where he would fix all wrongs and curse the bad guys, basically show a sense of justice and goodwill prevailing throughout the universe. When used it stories, it usually indicates weak plotting, or a failure of characterization. Part of the journey of a character, a way to show that they grow, is when they must overcome odds against them, but due to their own efforts. When the magic gizmo or whatever saves them, the reader feels cheated, and rightly so.

My question, however, is does the villian (antagonist) need similar explanation for all his villianry? Must the antagonist be someone of exceptional character that we see how he puts the protagonist at risk?

I admit, I enjoy stories where the villians are more than just some dark evil force, where they also are characters. But by needing to throw obstacles at the protagonist, I sometimes feel that without a justification for the evil/contrary factor, it is just a cheap way of making suspense. ie, the character must cross a gorge, and the only way across is an old rickety rope bridge, and its raining so there are flass floods, and the river has starving crocodiles and pirahnas and sharks and electric eels in it, and an army is pursuing him, and he slips and breaks his ankle, etc...


Posts: 496 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Owasm
Member
Member # 8501

 - posted      Profile for Owasm   Email Owasm         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
An excellent point.

I think it gets down to the role of a protagonist and the role of the antagonist. The antagonist exists to be a force or obstacle the protagonist must overcome to reaching the goal.

A better rickety bridge or a villain with character and his/her own plot line can make for a much better reading experience, but they are all part of the set of obstacles the protagonist must fight through.

So a diablo ex machina? sounds like the spider machine in Will Smith's Wild Wild West.

[This message has been edited by Owasm (edited October 13, 2009).]


Posts: 1607 | Registered: Feb 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Translating the Latin phrase to English, devil from the machine. Isn't there a story about that? Seems an infinite number of stories about diabolical machines. But that's a literal interpretation. The figurative spirit of the term when compared to deus ex machina is a diabolical character/prop object as character that comes in out of the blue late in the day to wreak havoc.

Diabolical characters can be a villain, a nemesis, an enemy, sometimes an antagonist but not always a diabolical antagonist. All of Harry Potter's allies at one time or another antagonize him in favorable ways, sometimes unfavorable ways. Voldemort is a nemesis, and the chief villain and enemy, but also a diabolical antagonist. He doesn't come in out of the blue though, not late in the storyline anyway. He comes in out of the blue in the backstory to incite the dramatic action that overarches the entire story. His backstory emerges gradually throughout the larger story. The diabolical complications he poses to Harry build as his import builds until he's fully realized as a diabolical nemesis, one that has the power to annihilate Harry, but Harry's emerging ability to engage him and triumph has also built throughout the story.

I can't think of a published story that has a diablos ex machina off the top of my head. I've read a few unpublished stories with a diablos ex machina, but it's probably the rarest of all failings compared to other story failings. Seems difficult to do that badly. However, it's in the exceptions and extremes of existence that I find great inspirations. Like water ice floats on its liquid state, unlike most other compounds in their solid states, a physical property of water that fosters life and jeopardizes life (the dual identities of antagonism's forces of change as I know it).

I suppose a diablos ex machina is the inverse of Chekov's gun. A handgun suddenly appears on the mantelpiece ready to a nemesis' or villain's hand at the moment of triumph to crush the protagonist's seemingly completed triumph. Wouldn't that be kind of a cheap "cliff-hanger" device? That's how I've seen diablos ex machina done badly.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 13, 2009).]


Posts: 5098 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Zero
Member
Member # 3619

 - posted      Profile for Zero           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Translating the Latin phrase to English, devil from the machine. Isn't there a story about that? Seems an infinite number of stories about diabolical machines.

"I'm sorry, extrinsic, I'm afraid I can't do that."


haha ok onto something more real

quote:
Like water ice floats on its liquid state, unlike most other compounds in their solid states, a physical property of water that fosters life and jeopardizes life

How does it in any way jeopardize life?

[This message has been edited by Zero (edited October 13, 2009).]


Posts: 2195 | Registered: Aug 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tchernabyelo
Member
Member # 2651

 - posted      Profile for tchernabyelo   Email tchernabyelo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
When I was analysing why some of my stories seemed to work really well and some didn't, I discovered that it wasn't just about having an interesting hero; it was about having an interesting villain.

If the villain doesn't have a plausible motive and/or isn't interestingly portrayed, then the hero won't seem as heroic. That old "everyone is the hero of their own story" maxim is important - what is the villain's story, that they are the hero of? How many people have you ever met who openly claim they are "evil"? Doesn't happen (even Aleister Crowley - largely misquoted on the subject anyway - was simply using the term as a counter to normal social mores). Everyone justifies their own actions somehow. Finding out how is what makes villains compulsive. I didn't like the BG reimagining (I'm not a MilSF fan), but at least they moved both Baltar and the Cylons away from being one-dimensional cartoon villains and gave them plenty of focus.


Posts: 1469 | Registered: Jun 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Meredith
Member
Member # 8368

 - posted      Profile for Meredith   Email Meredith         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
How does it in any way jeopardize life?

Ever hear of the Titanic?

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited October 13, 2009).]


Posts: 4377 | Registered: Dec 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
How does it in any way jeopardize life?

Water expands when frozen. That's why ice floats on water. When living cells freeze they're damaged by the expansion. When thawed, the cells are dead. Gangrene sets in. Creatures that are able to survive extreme cold have an antifreeze in their circulatory fluids. Most of those antifreeze compounds are sugar based, glycols actually. Like in antifreeze for automobile cooling systems. However, glycols are mostly toxic for humans.

Sugars, glucose specifically, aren't inherently toxic to humans. But that's what diabetes mellitus is all about, an inability to effectively metabolize glucose. High blood glucose levels kills cells, every cell type is affected. Paradox alert. High sugar is toxic for diabetics, yet we need glucose to live. Or do now anyway. We've evolved away from protein-based metabolisms.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 13, 2009).]


Posts: 5098 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Zero
Member
Member # 3619

 - posted      Profile for Zero           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I guess when you said it endangered life I took that to mean it endangered human life. And, while it is true that water expands, that isn't what's going to kill you. If you're in an environment that cold, you have more immediate problems.
Posts: 2195 | Registered: Aug 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Zero
Member
Member # 3619

 - posted      Profile for Zero           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
haha, Merideth, nice try. [nice try getting my goat]

[edited for extrinsic's apparently needed benefit]

[This message has been edited by Zero (edited October 13, 2009).]


Posts: 2195 | Registered: Aug 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The Titanic hit an iceberg and sunk, killing many people. But for the inherent property of ice to float on its liquid state, the iceberg wouldn't have been in the Titanic's way.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 13, 2009).]


Posts: 5098 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Teraen
Member
Member # 8612

 - posted      Profile for Teraen   Email Teraen         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Especially because the density of ice is a property that is actually LIFE-GIVING for many water dwelling fishies: it keeps their environment from freezing in the winter...
Posts: 496 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
Administrator
Member # 59

 - posted      Profile for Kathleen Dalton Woodbury   Email Kathleen Dalton Woodbury         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
So.... Is the Titanic's iceberg supposed to be an example of diablos ex machina?

(In other words, what does ice have to do with the topic?)


Posts: 8523 | Registered: A Long Time Ago!  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Zero
Member
Member # 3619

 - posted      Profile for Zero           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Ooh actually I think it could be an example of it.
Posts: 2195 | Registered: Aug 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
Administrator
Member # 59

 - posted      Profile for Kathleen Dalton Woodbury   Email Kathleen Dalton Woodbury         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Or it could be an example of you trying to hijack the topic, Zero.

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited October 13, 2009).]


Posts: 8523 | Registered: A Long Time Ago!  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
A sudden appearance of an antagonizing force out of the blue and late in the day. The context of discussing the antagonsims of ice could be construed as a diablos ex machina.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 13, 2009).]


Posts: 5098 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
annepin
Member
Member # 5952

 - posted      Profile for annepin   Email annepin         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
<aside>I believe the Latin would be Diabolus ex Machina. Diablos is Spanish. </aside>

I think both are troublesome, but perhaps dei ex machinis (yeah yeah sorry, Latin nerd ) more so. Part of it is that we expect, and want, the protag to undergo conflict and struggle. However, just like the well crafted antag will have a motive and reason for being, so, too, I think, do all the elements of the protag's struggle have context and a role. In other words, they should be there for more than simply providing an obstacle to overcome. Or they provide some kind of insight for the protag, or help facilitate the emotional journey. Also, most obstacles should have some sort of causality, or force him to make some sort of choice. And I think all of it has to build energy for the climax.

Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code serves as an example, I think, largely because of how each chapter is structured--small gain followed by some new obstacle and a cliff hanger ending.

What comes to mind actually is "collect the coupons plotting", where the obstacles are just, well, obstacles the hero must get over to move the plot along.

[This message has been edited by annepin (edited October 13, 2009).]


Posts: 2185 | Registered: Aug 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I found Diabolus ex Machina discussed more in literary secondary discourse genre, but more Diablos ex Machina in fantastical genre discussions, none of Diabolus ex Machinis. Different terms, seemingly identical meanings. I've been trying to tone down my references to literary circle resources, it's been a devil in my writing discourse machine.
Posts: 5098 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Teraen
Member
Member # 8612

 - posted      Profile for Teraen   Email Teraen         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I thought the term was greek, not latin???

Anyways, maybe I could bring up the whole reason this is pressing on my mind nowadays as an illustration. I want my good guys to be in a hurry to get somewhere, thinking they are avoiding a major catastrophe. When they arrive, it would be really bad for them if the enemy's army was waiting to capture them. But the necessity of their fleeing early means they really would get there before the army. So if the army just somehow showed up, and I attributed it to the antagonists cunning (without really delving into how he pulled it off...) it is my diablos ex machina: sudden appearance of complications without 'justification.'

That being said, I am trying to work out the plot details so that there really is a reason the army would be them there, and I hate having no justification or motive for actions in my story. But, since I didn't have one YET, it made me wonder about the whole scenario and if it is as much of a taboo as using the deus ex machina.

I wouldn't classify the Titanic iceberg as a diablos ex machina, because part of the danger in sea travel is icebergs up north. In other words, it is an expected complication, the same as mutiny, seasickness, krakken attacks... Now, if the route was through the Caribbean and an iceberg showed up...

[This message has been edited by Teraen (edited October 13, 2009).]

[This message has been edited by Teraen (edited October 13, 2009).]


Posts: 496 | Registered: May 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Classic Greek, theos ek mechanes, hard e sounds with - above both e's in the last word, Old Latin, New Latin, Latin-Spanish merged loan words in English usage, the etymology is complicated.

Historical battles where an enemy-antagonist beats a friendlies-protagonist to the battlefield might offer insight on how to avoid it being a sudden out of the blue, late in the day antagonism. Like a failure of intelligence to know the enemy's movements, or an intelligence coup by the enemy that discovers the friendlies' movements. Frustration with not knowing where the enemy is, an erroneous assumption, a suspiscously missing comrade in arms, etc.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 13, 2009).]


Posts: 5098 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Zero
Member
Member # 3619

 - posted      Profile for Zero           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Or it could be an example of you trying to hijack the topic, Zero.

haha, that it could. Somebody has to play the villain, may as well be someone who's good at it.

Posts: 2195 | Registered: Aug 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Upon reflection, I suppose a real-world, real-time appearance of an iceberg could be an abrupt, out of the blue, late in the day complication for passengers enjoying the Titanic's maiden voyage. It wasn't listed on the travel itinerary.
Posts: 5098 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
philocinemas
Member
Member # 8108

 - posted      Profile for philocinemas   Email philocinemas         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I do not want to participate in a hijack, but the Titanic has a very self-determining story arc, which is one reason I believe the movie was so successful.

When anyone creates the "infallible" object, whether that be a ship or anything else manmade, he or she is asking for trouble. The story couldn't have been fictionalized any better than what actually happened. I'm not saying I liked that this happened, but it represents the ultimate in humanity's sense of loftiness. It was possibly more effective as an illustration of this than the Tower of Babel was.

By the way, the iceberg was there all along. The story was the ship's steady approach toward disaster. I believe that there is actually a story archetype called "The Iceberg Story".

[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited October 14, 2009).]


Posts: 2003 | Registered: Jul 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Ben Trovato
Member
Member # 7804

 - posted      Profile for Ben Trovato   Email Ben Trovato         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
...I wouldn't want to wasting all you fine people's time, certainly not.

But, ah,

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DiabolusExMachina


Posts: 71 | Registered: Feb 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
dee_boncci
Member
Member # 2733

 - posted      Profile for dee_boncci   Email dee_boncci         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
There are plenty of successful stories out there where the villian is not developed much as a character. Since we're on a diabolical theme, The Exorcist comes to mind. We also have no idea what Sauron's relationship with his mother was like.

There are also plenty of stories where the "villian" is developed as a character, as in Hannibal Lector.

Sometimes the antagonist isn't terribly evil and isn't really a villian in the traditional sense (ala the sheriff in Rambo). Again, there are examples where these characters are developed, or largely offstage.

So it can go either way, depending on the author's vision I suppose.


Posts: 612 | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
tchernabyelo
Member
Member # 2651

 - posted      Profile for tchernabyelo   Email tchernabyelo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
While the specific demon in The Exorcist may not be developed, the story plays with and functions through our (viewers') knowledge of Christianity and the characterisation of evil as demonic/satanic. To someone not versed in Christianity I suspect the story would not work as well. Arguably, even Sauron works as a meta-Satan. You could argue that we therefore don't need to characterise any Dark Lord (and fantasy was full of them for many years, though they seem to be less popular now), but what flawed the sub-Tolkeinian pastiches in comparison with Tolkein was that other authors lacked Tolkein's intimate understanding of myth. Mythic stories are not about characters and motivations - in Lord of the Rings, the characterisation is frankly minimal in the way we would normally think of it, but it works because of the structures that Tolkein made use of, the archetypes and folk-memories he mined to write the story. One of the most telling things about Tolkein's creation - that it IS myth - is the fact that there is virtually no religion/religious belief present (other than occasional prayers to the Valar) - there's no churches or temples or priests or anything along those lines, which is unprecedented in any known human society. But Tolkein's world doesn't need myths/legends/religion, because it IS myth.

I did not suggest we "need to know the villain's relationship with his mother" (and interpret the remark as dismissive and faintly insulting, though it may well not have been intended that way). I am sure that my suggestions are not applicable in every case, but a common flaw I see, particularly in post-Tolkeinian fantasy, is the complete lack of any real characterisation/motivation for the bad guys other than "uh, well, they are evil". One of the few things I didn't like abut Buffy was the depiction of vampires as evil because they'd lost their "soul"; for me, that was never adequately explored. Sure, they needed to feed on blood to survive, so it's going to be hard to seriously treat them as fluffy teen idols a la Twilight and its ilk, but there's a big difference between "needing to drink blood" and "being perfectly happy to kill and eat anyone and everyone" and the "soulless" rationale always struck me as a shorthand copout for their (necessary to the story) villainny. The same with demons, etc - and it is something I've become aware of in some of my own stories, and I've decided I want a reason why my faux-Chinese-world demons are "evil" that is more cogent then "well, they just are, because they're demons".

[This message has been edited by tchernabyelo (edited October 14, 2009).]


Posts: 1469 | Registered: Jun 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
dee_boncci
Member
Member # 2733

 - posted      Profile for dee_boncci   Email dee_boncci         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
tchernabyelo:

Oh, sorry, I was not responding directly to you at all, did not mean to sound dismissive or disparaging. I was responding to the question from the original post, which I took to be whether it was required to develop an antagonist character so that their presence is not a klunker like a deus ex machina.

Honestly, the thread seemed to veer off track very quickly so I didn't read much besides the original post. My comments about Sauron were just me being randomly irreverant, not directed at anything anyone said here, but apologies if that offended.

You bring up a good point concerning the role of what readers bring in terms of innate or cultural attitudes/beliefs and how they contribute to the success of certain stories, with the Exorcist being a good example. I guess our innate fear of death drives a lot of stories in that regard, as do moral systems.


Posts: 612 | Registered: Jul 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The stock archetypes of movies' bygone simpler era used symbols to "tell" audiences who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Whiplash moustaches, white and black hats.

In this post modern neoexistentialist mindset world, questioning absolutes, questioning authority, questioning meaning, that sort of symbolism doesn't play as well anymore, not with our need to be told at times, shown at times, or decide for ourselves by readily questioning trustworthiness.

Even in villains and heros, we know from the perennial bombardment of the news media that good guys aren't purely pure, nor bad guys purely corrupted in the real world. Demons anymore gotta show they're evil and their otherwise good-intentions-gone-wrong motivations in order to be fully realized. Perhaps only in fiction can the proverbial moral paradox of the ends don't justify the means versus any means to an end be rationalized and explored for understanding.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited October 14, 2009).]


Posts: 5098 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2