Are You Suffering from Scripto Ex Machina?


Does your character move from one event to the next, handling each conflict with aplomb and proper heroism?

If so, you may be rescuing your character.

Regardless of the characters we design for our stories, they are always subject to our personal beliefs and thoughts. They are ultimately extensions of the author.

Because of that, they can also assume some unfortunate blind sides. If you are like most writers, your characters are very near like children, or companions, or friends. They are important on private levels. That is why writing is a deeply personal and subjective journey.

As most know, deus ex machina, is a plot device that is used to keep a character from suffering the consequences of the plot. The most obvious use of this technique is when another character that has more power, intelligence, experience, etc., steps into the fray just before it is allowed to play out and gets the main character out of trouble. This is generally an external event that quickly resolves the plot issue.

As a rule, using it in a story is a bad idea.

However, it still seems to find its way into some stories in a more subtle form. This can occur when the author writes a character that overcomes all obstacles with little consequence. He or she is attacked by bandits in the woods and walks away without a scratch, taking care of them quickly with his or her powers, then back home in time for tea.

It is a natural occurrence for us as humans to avoid painful penalties and this can be injected into a story when the author wants the character to handle some event differently, or even better, than we can or have. This could indicate an unconscious need to ‘rescue’ the character (our-self) from the pain of that event, possibly due to unresolved feelings regarding it. Call it scriptor ex machina.

Ultimately, this can hurt the story unless there is a specific reason for it.

Don’t be afraid to cause suffering to your characters. Let them face the full consequences of their actions. If they do something that should end in pain or loss, you are doing an injustice to the story by rescuing him or her from it, unconsciously or not.

Be brave, be courageous.

Because if you are writing from personal experience (which you should be) you will have to relive that pain that you are writing about. Let your characters learn from it.

Like you did. Or could.

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