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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The following contains spoilers, so if you read my Space Opera, don't read this post :)

I have a quandary.
In my current wip, at the climax, my intrepid heros are forced into doing something that, no matter how they approach it, will have devastating consequences.
Even I, as the author, have no idea what I would do in their situation or what would be the lesser evil.

They are saved from having to do the unthinkable by the timely arrival of another protagonist who helps them save the day by presenting a third solution. It's not something that character could accomplish on his own - he just makes it possible and it adds a nice bit of action - but I do wonder if this isn't a bit of a deux ex machina. Given where they are, there really isn't any other way to get them out of this mess. We do know that the third character is nearby somewhere, but he's thought to be off somewhere else doing things.

Not quite as devastatingly "doh" as a bunch of eagles swooping in to save the hobbits, but I'm still a bit worried. 

 

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As a reader, I would have to say that if I already knew the third character was around somewhere, I'd almost be expecting him to turn up and save the day.

Literature is full of heroes snatching victory from the jaws of defeat - I think it's only deus ex machina when it's something totally improbable / bordering on impossible, as well as unexpected.
 

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Personally, as a reader, I like stories that don't shy away from presenting hard choices, but it depends where you want your characters to end up. If the situation they're in is bad enough that they'll be left scarred regardless of what they do, and that might inhibit where you want the story to go from there, then it's probably best to find a way out. But if you can roll with the consequences, I'd take the hard road and put them through hell. The harder a character's journey is, the more satisfying the conclusion.

On the flip side, deus ex machinas are such a staple of story telling that your readers probably won't begrudge your use of one, if it's not slapping them in the face. I don't know the tone of your stories, but it also might fit better. I can imagine readers might get angry if they've spent several books in a fairly lighthearted environment, and suddenly, shit hits the fan and you start offing characters left and right.
 

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I think it will be fine.  You might want to emphasize the fellow waiting in the wings a bit, so people want him to appear.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks, that makes me feel better about my choice.

The "devastating consequences" will affect other people should be avoided at all costs, so it's not character-building.
 

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It depends on how the ending fits the rest of the novel.  If everything is driving toward this moment and your main characters do not solve the issue themselves, then that will feel like a let down or a novel-length false tension.  If you are having doubts about it, that may mean you will have to do something about it in your novel.  Depending on your novel, you may need to do something major, such as restructuring the plot to avoid boxing yourself into a corner or even rewriting to make the deus ex machina character the lead if he saves them all.  It all depends on what is really going on in your novel. 

If you are considering rewriting or restructuring things and you want an extra eye on it, I can give your outline and your opening and ending chapters a look.  Just as a beta.

Jodi 
 

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As a reader I find it more interesting if the novel goes through these hard choices where things get destroyed and people are mauled and killed. It makes them interesting. If there's always a neat ending, there's no surprise there either. If I can predict what happens, it's not that interesting.
 

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I agree that if the 3rd Protag is around and the reader is aware, it won't seem shoe-horned in or clumsy, but natural. I haven't read your books yet (I do not fear spoilers! Hahahaha) but as long as the ending is emotionally satisfying, even a Deus Ex Machina can work. (Remember, tropes are tropes because they get used.)

As others have said, I think the emotional pay off will come based on what your characters decide BEFORE Guy #3 shows up. That's what will resonate with the reader.
 

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I don't think it's a big deal to do what you're thinking as long as it's not something that makes people slap their foreheads in frustration and scream "That could never happen!"

If it's plausible and advances the story, go for it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
RoseInTheTardis said:
I think the emotional pay off will come based on what your characters decide BEFORE Guy #3 shows up. That's what will resonate with the reader.
I think I've got this. It is a moment when, faced by this evil, the characters learn more about themselves and their relationship and realize "What? I can't just shoot the bad guy and everything will be okay?"
I guess I'm at that horrible doubtful stage when the "publish button" looms and you start questioning yourself.
 

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I agree with some of the others that said they'd rather see the hard choice, but I think you'll be fine so long as you've established that the other character that swoops in is there well beforehand. The MC doesn't need to know but the reader should.

It's not Deus Ex Machina if it's not an illogical surprise. Logical surprise good, illogical surprise bad.

Someone helping is not bad. All heroes need help. The important part is how they accept help and the form that help takes. If it's someone doing it for him, not good. If it's someone giving him the tools and the manpower, that works. It doesn't even have to be his plan, but he should have some input in the plan because he needs to be part of coming up with the solution - no one likes a hero that can't solve a problem.

I think you're probably fine.  ;)
 

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Quiss said:
I think I've got this. It is a moment when, faced by this evil, the characters learn more about themselves and their relationship and realize "What? I can't just shoot the bad guy and everything will be okay?"
That sounds like it'd be fine then, particularly if they have to reflect on the decision they decided to make afterwards. :)
If the segment's accomplishing its dramatic/character developing purpose, and having a lasting effect regardless of the outcome, then that's the main thing. Deus ex machina just suck when they backpeddle all of the peril and tension the author's spent time setting up without any payoff.
 

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Claudia King said:
Deus ex machina just suck when they backpeddle all of the peril and tension the author's spent time setting up without any payoff.
I still can't decide if the end of Huckleberry Finn is a good use of this or not. I think Mark Twain was aware of it consciously, when he pulls Tom Sawyer out of thin air to resolve the story. Sort of tongue in cheek usage.

But I can't name another instance where this has worked well. I guess I don't encounter it often. I guess you could say I do this in Hurricane Regina, to a degree. But the character is a thinly-disguised God, so I don't think it counts.
 
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I think it would also depend partly on how much the reader is invested into the other character, like is the character a 'scene stealer' type who you think the readers will really get into? IMO it would be more easily forgiven if the savior character is someone who the reader feels the urge to root hard for anyway.
 

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Hard choices for characters are what make the story. Don't cheat your reader out of experiencing that with your character, and don't let your character get off easy - only because your reader won't be as satisfied with the outcome. #my2cents
 

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Jodi said:
It depends on how the ending fits the rest of the novel. If everything is driving toward this moment and your main characters do not solve the issue themselves, then that will feel like a let down or a novel-length false tension. If you are having doubts about it, that may mean you will have to do something about it in your novel. Depending on your novel, you may need to do something major, such as restructuring the plot to avoid boxing yourself into a corner or even rewriting to make the deus ex machina character the lead if he saves them all. It all depends on what is really going on in your novel.
Jodi
I agree with this, 100%. Chances are, if you have doubts about it, you know that something is off somewhere in your novel. Is the other protagonist, the one who saves the day, a viewpoint character? If so, if you follow that character a little more, up to the part where he saves the day, it might work better. If he just drops in and keeps your heroes from having to make a difficult choice, frankly, as a reader, I would probably feel cheated.
 

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Quiss said:
The following contains spoilers, so if you read my Space Opera, don't read this post :)

I have a quandary.
In my current wip, at the climax, my intrepid heros are forced into doing something that, no matter how they approach it, will have devastating consequences.
Even I, as the author, have no idea what I would do in their situation or what would be the lesser evil.

They are saved from having to do the unthinkable by the timely arrival of another protagonist who helps them save the day by presenting a third solution. It's not something that character could accomplish on his own - he just makes it possible and it adds a nice bit of action - but I do wonder if this isn't a bit of a deux ex machina. Given where they are, there really isn't any other way to get them out of this mess. We do know that the third character is nearby somewhere, but he's thought to be off somewhere else doing things.

Not quite as devastatingly "doh" as a bunch of eagles swooping in to save the hobbits, but I'm still a bit worried.
Sounds like the perfect time to give birth to a villain. One or two of these protagonists are going to have to compromise their ethics/moral code. Readers will be emotionally attached to this fallen hero because they know the back story. It also allows you to grow this fallen hero in a new direction.
 

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Quiss said:
The following contains spoilers, so if you read my Space Opera, don't read this post :)

I have a quandary.
In my current wip, at the climax, my intrepid heros are forced into doing something that, no matter how they approach it, will have devastating consequences.
Even I, as the author, have no idea what I would do in their situation or what would be the lesser evil.

They are saved from having to do the unthinkable by the timely arrival of another protagonist who helps them save the day by presenting a third solution. It's not something that character could accomplish on his own - he just makes it possible and it adds a nice bit of action - but I do wonder if this isn't a bit of a deux ex machina. Given where they are, there really isn't any other way to get them out of this mess. We do know that the third character is nearby somewhere, but he's thought to be off somewhere else doing things.

Not quite as devastatingly "doh" as a bunch of eagles swooping in to save the hobbits, but I'm still a bit worried.
The best writing advice I've ever heard in my life about being stuck as a writer comes from the brilliant David Mamet.

He said, "You're the writer. Figure it out."

Yes, it takes a bit of a Zen mindset to really appreciate the advice, but once you get there, you'll never go public with such a common problem again.
 

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Just a thought, without knowing the specifics of your situation:

Sometimes, a character deciding to make the hard choice--even if it doesn't get fully implemented--may be enough for the reader to "get it" and feel like it's not a cop-out.

Sort of the "Abraham and Isaac" solution, if you will.
 
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