29 May 2017, Writing Ideas – New Novel, part x58, Creative Elements in Scenes, Plot Devices, Deus ex Machina
Announcement: Ancient Light is delayed due to the economy. You can read more about it at http://www.ancientlight.com. Ancient Light includes the second edition of Aegypt plus Sister of Light and Sister of Darkness. I’ll keep you updated.
Introduction: I wrote the novel Aksinya: Enchantment and the Daemon. This was my 21st novel and through this blog, I gave you the entire novel in installments that included commentary on the writing. In the commentary, in addition to other general information on writing, I explained, how the novel was constructed, the metaphors and symbols in it, the writing techniques and tricks I used, and the way I built the scenes. You can look back through this blog and read the entire novel beginning with http://www.pilotlion.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-novel-part-3-girl-and-demon.html.
I’m using this novel as an example of how I produce, market, and eventually (we hope) get a novel published. I’ll keep you informed along the way.
The four plus one basic rules I employ when writing:
- Don’t confuse your readers.
- Entertain your readers.
- Ground your readers in the writing.
- Don’t show (or tell) everything.
- Immerse yourself in the world of your writing.
All novels have five discrete parts:
1. The initial scene (the beginning)
2. The rising action
3. The climax
4. The falling action
5. The dénouement
I finished writing my 27th novel, working title, Claire, potential title Sorcha: Enchantment and the Curse. This might need some tweaking. The theme statement is: Claire (Sorcha) Davis accepts Shiggy, a dangerous screw-up, into her Stela branch of the organization and rehabilitates her.
Here is the cover proposal for Sorcha: Enchantment and the Curse.
The most important scene in any novel is the initial scene, but eventually, you have to move to the rising action. I started writing my 28th novel, working title Red Sonja. I’m also working on my 29th novel, working title School.
I’m an advocate of using the/a scene input/output method to drive the rising action–in fact, to write any novel.
- Scene input (easy)
- Scene output (a little harder)
- Scene setting (basic stuff)
- Creativity (creative elements of the scene: transition from input to output focused on the telic flaw resolution)
- Tension (development of creative elements to build excitement)
- Release (climax of creative elements)
How to begin a novel. Number one thought, we need an entertaining idea. I usually encapsulate such an idea with a theme statement. Since I’m writing a new novel, we need a new theme statement. Here is an initial cut.
For novel 28: Red Sonja, a Soviet spy, infiltrates the X-plane programs at Edwards AFB as a test pilot’s administrative clerk, learns about freedom, and is redeemed.
For novel 29: Sorcha, the abandoned child of an Unseelie and a human, secretly attends Wycombe Abbey girls’ school where she meets the problem child Deirdre and is redeemed.
These are the steps I use to write a novel:
- Design the initial scene
- Develop a theme statement (initial setting, protagonist, protagonist’s helper or antagonist, action statement)
- Research as required
- Develop the initial setting
- Develop the characters
- Identify the telic flaw (internal and external)
- Write the initial scene (identify the output: implied setting, implied characters, implied action movement)
- Write the next scene(s) to the climax (rising action)
- Write the climax scene
- Write the falling action scene(s)
- Write the dénouement scene
Here is the beginning of the scene development method from the outline:
- Scene input (comes from the previous scene output or is an initial scene)
- Write the scene setting (place, time, stuff, and characters)
- Imagine the output, creative elements, plot, telic flaw resolution (climax) and develop the tension and release.
- Write the scene using the output and creative elements to build the tension.
- Write the release
- Write the kicker
Below is a list of plot devices. I’m less interested in a plot device than I am in a creative element that drives a plot device. In fact, some of these plot devices are not good for anyone’s writing. If we remember, the purpose of fiction writing is entertainment, we will perhaps begin to see how we can use these plot devices to entertain. If we focus on creative elements that drive plot devices, we can begin to see how to make our writing truly entertaining. I’ll leave the list and we’ll contemplate creative elements to produce these plot devices.
Deus ex machina (a machination, or act of god; lit. “god out of the machine”) – Current discussion.
Flashback (or analeptic reference)
Story within a story (Hypodiegesis)
Deus ex machina: Here is a good definition of Deus ex machina– Resolving the primary conflict by a means unrelated to the story (e.g., a god appears and solves everything).
I’ve written about this before. This is an identified plot device, but not a good plot device. Do not use it. The definition above is a pretty good one because, to have a deus ex machina, you don’t actually need a god, all you need is a miracle. A miracle in a novel can be okay as long as it doesn’t progress the plot. I know you want some examples.
The protagonist is about to die unless she can figure out how to open the door to a room. She has never before picked a lock, but suddenly discovers she can pick the lock on the door and thus saves herself and progresses the plot.
Below, I give you multiple miracles. These miracles are creative elements in the scene. They do not progress the plot in the sense that their actions don’t progress the plot. Their existence does progress the plot by telling James and Kathrin something about the girls who appear to be goddesses. Indeed, these two girls are goddesses, a goddess of light and a goddess of darkness.
The priestess moved away and gave a signal. The headman stepped forward and took something from the top of the table. It was another toy, a couple of jump ropes. He placed one in front of Hēi’àn and one in front of Guāng. The girls acknowledged the gift and the old man stepped to the side. The four men who carried the table then approached the girls. Each of the men took an item from the table and alternately presented their gifts to Guāng and then to Hēi’àn. Then the people of the village came forward. Many didn’t say a word. Some asked a petition out loud. Some whispered their requests to the girls. That is when Kathrin was first struck with amazement. As the children of the village stepped forward with their parents to present gifts to Hēi’àn and Guāng, before they stepped back, Guāng handed a small item to the girls and Hēi’àn a small item to the boys.
Kathrin noticed it first when a small girl stepped up with her mother and father. The mother presented Hēi’àn and Guāng each with a small cooked package of rice. Before they stepped back, Guāng reached behind her and came up with something in her hand. She placed this at the lip of the platform directly in front of the girl. It looked to Kathrin like a marble or a small translucent stone. She had no idea where it could have come from. She could see a little behind the small thin girl on the platform. The stones Guāng gave could not be under or behind her. They would have been evident on the platform.
Likewise, Hēi’àn presented the boys with a small gift, usually a coin from the space behind her. Kathrin knew there had to be a trick. These two girls didn’t wear enough to hide anything. There must be a concavity or a hidden hole on the platform from which the gifts appeared. She pursed her lips and scrutinized everything very carefully. After all the villagers had passed and presented their gifts, everyone waited, at first patiently and then with growing impatience. Finally, the headman pointed toward the table, a few small fruits and other morsels of food rested there. He pointed surreptitiously to the remaining gifts and then at James and Kathrin. With a slight blush, James stepped forward and took a couple of pieces from the table. He presented one to Hēi’àn and the other to Guāng. Kathrin then embarrassingly found herself the center of everyone’s attention. She knew what they all expected from her, but something else tugged at her thoughts and mind. She went to the table and glanced over the last of the offerings, but instead of taking an item from there, she reached into her pocket. She presented a pocket book novel she had been reading to Guāng and a small plastic comb to Hēi’àn.
Guāng cocked her head at this and a slight murmur ran through the crowd. When Kathrin presented Hēi’àn with the comb, Hēi’àn’s face lit up with great joy, and the people all let out a unbidden sigh. Kathrin stepped back beside James.
Hēi’àn spoke for both of them. She spoke of things few young girls would ever think about, much less understand, “Oh, people of Panghkam, we thank you for the bounteous gifts you have bestowed upon us. The harvest will be fine this year. The jobs will increase. You will know sickness, but your children will flourish. Do not transgress what you understand is right and your marriages, your comings and goings, your love and lovemaking, your peace and community will be blessed.” She paused for a long moment, and everyone waited in expectation. “Guāng will bless you.”
That is when Kathrin saw the first miracle. Guāng reached into the air around her. The sunlight seemed to become malleable in her hands. She gathered it like thick rich honey and held it. It was bright and pulsing and beautiful. A brilliant smile filled Guāng’s features, and the villagers, though they acted as if they had seen such displays before, were filled with awe. After holding and gathering and molding this fantastic material, Guāng lifted it up in her small hands and released it. The light was a blaze. It washed over them truly like a blessing. It was warm and seemed to Kathrin for a moment to drive away all the humidity and the sweat from her body. At once, she was dried. Her clothing was completely dry; it felt as though it came directly out of a warm drier. The people all around her released a great sound of awe, but that was not the end. They stood expectantly—they expected more.
Hēi’àn sat up straight, “I will bless you also.” She put out her hands and the shadows gathered from the crooks of the stones. She gathered in her hands a piece of darkness. It was not threatening. It did not build fear in Kathrin. It was as beautiful as the sunlight in its own way. It was like a bit of cool shadow in the midst of a hot day. It was like the clouds that covered the face of the sun when the heat was unbearable. It was like the night and the beauty of the night filled with loving and sleep and gentleness. Hēi’àn held this in her hands for a while. She raised it up and let it free. A darkness washed over them all. It was cool like a blast of cold air. It was tingling and raised the hairs on the back of Kathrin’s neck. Kathrin felt a comfortable chill and a stroke of passion that she quickly subdued.
The use of a miracle of science, magic, or godlike origin does not a deus ex machina make. The use of a miracle to progress the plot does. You might ask, what does it mean to progress the plot? In other words to solve a problem, get a character out of a circumstance, or make things come out right without any reasonable or logical explanation. Look at Harry Potty. The novel is full of miracles and small gods. On the other hand, the author doesn’t rely on miracles to usually progress the plot. The miracles such as magical spells does that quite well. The author can easily pick from a free assortment of spells to magically solve the problem. You see a little of this activity in the novel, but not enough to hurt the novel much. A very wise author when penning a novel about magic uses foreshadowing to tell us about the magic and the spells, then brings those skills out when needed. This is the trick of all literature. The author teaches the protagonist the skill of lock picking if lock picking is needed to progress the plot. The teaching occurs first and then the need. If the need and the skills learning come too close there might be an appearance of deus ex machina. The author must at all costs prevent the appearance of deus ex machina. This is not a useful plot device.
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