Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Making the novel shine Part 2: The Crux of Deus-ex-Machinas

So, back to the subject of word count and polishing, since sitting idly while my query is standing in the long and hopeful but unpromising line to be torn to bits by the Query Shark won’t make my book more presentable. Which is crucial for when my query does at one point arouse an agent’s interest, in which case no writer seeking representation should be unprepared.

I’m at 109k right now. Still too long. In the query I sent to the Query Shark I fibbed a little, stating it was 105k – but I imagine she’ll still comment on it being too long, if she posts my query. I know I can make it to 105k, which is why I declared it to be so. But getting below 105… that’ll be a tough nut. I have a feeling major rewrites will be on the agenda, but I’m wary of that idea. I really like the plot as it is, and it’s not like it ever gets boring. In my opinion, anyway.

I’m still finding whole paragraphs that don’t need to be in there anymore; they were more of a crutch for me as a writer to lean on to understand my characters better, or things that were meant to lead up to events that were never written. Cutting those paragraphs out is easy, but it won’t be enough on its own.

So it’s the hang-man’s noose for another character. She’s a very likable one, but it makes sense to take her out, since her existence was a bit of a contradiction to the main character’s personal views. I can also easily rewrite the one time this character is actually important to the plot, which will in turn get rid of a somewhat deus-ex-machina element that never really gets explained and which even now I have no explanation for. My guess is an editor would label this as a clear candidate for snipping.

Deus-ex-machinas are considered to be poor storytelling technique, and as a reader I whole-heartedly concur. ‘Deus-ex-machina’ is latin for ‘god out of the machine’; it’s a plot device with which a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new character, ability or object. It implies poor creativity on the author’s part and often undermines the story’s internal logic.

For the writer, the use of a deus-ex-machina is of course the easiest way to get his/her character out of an irresolvable pickle. But for the reader it can be very anticlimactic; like seeing the dish of a beautifully arranged gourmet dinner, but, after taking a bite, realizing the food tastes bland. No reader wants to be confronted with unrealistic, out-of-the-blue solutions.

There’s another passage in my book that has a touch of deus-ex-machina-ism to it. I think I have an easy way to solve it. What I’m not sure about is how the new version will fit in with the plot. There’s a slight chance I can even use it to shorten the story. Maybe. Hopefully…

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction.  By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.  ~Mark Twain

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