The Damned Deus Ex Machina

Stephenie Meyer's Breaking Dawn
Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, last weekend my wife and I finagled a date night. I picked the food–a tasty burger bar and gastropub–and she picked the flick. After hemming and hawing a moment, she settled on “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn–part 2“. While she’d read some of the novels and watched all of the previous films in the series, I had only watched the first couple and never read more than a paragraph or so of Stephenie Meyer‘s work.

While I’ve had my fill of angsty vampires, I confess, I was curious to know how it would end. I’d been sucked in. (I know, I know, bad pun. Sorry.) I’ve always been a fan of vampires, being introduced to the genre by my father, then as a reader starting with Anne Rice‘s Interview With a Vampire and continuing with the many permutations from the many different authors and filmmakers that have tackled the trope.

So when I found myself nearly out of popcorn near the end of Breaking Dawn part 2, I was pleasantly surprised to see the characters having-at one another. Finally, consequences. Throughout my journey as a writer, I’ve read and been told that you really need to put your characters–specifically your main character–through the ringer. Then see how they respond. Torture them, and find out if they’ll stand up. It’s about Conflict, about Adversity. Now, granted, Bella Swan had plenty of conflict, though, teen angst might be low on my own list of compelling conflicts. But here, at the end, characters were dying as a result of the choices she made. Finally.

But–and there’s a spoiler alert here for those of you who haven’t seen the movie–it’s all a fucking vision. All the carnage and earth-splitting glory of it was a damn vision one of the characters shows the lead baddy vamp. Crap. While those around me groaned or cheered or made various other sounds of surprise, O. Henry‘s name popped right into my shaking head. A character who had been, at best, a sidekick throughout the series, becomes the savior. All of the character definition presented in during the fight, was washed away the moment the audience sees Aro, the Volturi leader, blinking in shock. Alice, the spunky, fashionista oracle vampire, rescues her entire clan with her move. The “twist”, apparently, isn’t much of a departure from the novel, though, since the entire series is told primarily from Bella’s point of view what Aro “sees” is given to the reader after the fact.

Hello, Deus Ex Machina.

I remember hearing the term in college and not really understanding it until I tried plotting my own stories. It’s a plot device where the problem you’ve created as an author seems unsolvable, but then a solution is presented abruptly by some unforeseen intervention. Crafting a satisfying plot is difficult, so I understand the allure of sudden solution. It allows you to build the suspense, so to speak, but to solve the problem you’ve so assiduously assembled as an author with a “god from the machinery” is a cop-out. I don’t know if fans of the series would agree, but that’s how I feel. I get it, though. The series is more about romance and relationship than anything else, so to present a major-character bloodbath at the very end–while pleasing to the popcorn-popping me, might not be something particularly palatable to the fans.

But maybe it comes down to something else I’ve heard along my writing journey. Successful writers can break the rules. With fiction, most writing rules can go straight out the window. Go ahead and end your sentence in a preposition, and start the next one with And. or But, or Or. Heck, the next one doesn’t even need to be a complete sentence.

I assume Stephenie Meyer knew exactly what she was doing, and told her story the way it was supposed to be told–deus ex machina be damned. She’s a hugely successful novelist, so she can do as she pleases. I don’t think I can get away with something so egregious yet in my writing. Maybe one day.

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