We the writers are the gods of the story, we create the world, the characters who live in it and we decide what happens and what doesn´t. And because we know there is no story without a conflict, we give a bunch of problems and obstacles to our protagonists. But sometimes we make conflicts that are impossible for the characters to solve so we help them, the problem is that the audience may perceive that as forced or mechanical rather than organic. From there comes the expression Deus ex machina. I am Shofar and welcome to narratips.
Deus ex machina is a phrase in Latin that means God of the machine. It also is a plot device the writer use to help the character overcome an impossible situation like a power-up, is often used to surprise the audience but in long runners this could be predictable. Let’s take for example the dragon ball series, goku is the strongest man in the world so, in order to give him an obstacle you make him fight an alien, in the saiyan arc, vegeta was too strong for goku to handle him. So Toriyama gave him a power-up, the kaioken, the same when he fought frieza a stronger alien, then he fought androids and even gods. And don’t get me wrong power ups are awesome when they are well written and the kaioken is one of my favorite techniques in anime. The problem arrives when this become repetitive or your only solution. It maybe work the fist 2 or 3 times but 4, 5… Well when you are combining a new power up with an old one maybe you need to step back a little bit.
If you want to avoid a mechanical ending you shouldn’t give a power-up just because is the protagonist and you are too attached to it. So maybe is better if you try to avoid the deus ex machina and instead solve the problem with a more creative solution.
Although there is a way to use the deus ex machina to benefit the story. In old cartoons, we see this device a lot, for example in the looney toons. The thing here is that the device isn’t used to help the character but to thwart him. The deus ex machina, in this case, is a comic device, There is a huge difference in the narrative tone between an anime and a cartoon. Then we have Saitama from One Punch Man The living Deus ex machina. So why it works on one punch man? Because it’s not helping Saitama, his overwhelming power is not the solution but the source of his problems, the foundation of the story’s conflict. One punch man declares that it´s ok to struggle, that’s why is so popular and not just that. Saitama’s godly strength gives all the other characters a goal.
We see all the other heroes struggling against the villain so when Saitama punches him we feel relief, the narrative makes us want the final punch. It is a cathartic experience.
So at the end of the day is about being creative at the time you are setting up the conflict and when you are solving it. Never take the easy way because there are no shortcuts to a great story. If you enjoyed this video give it a like and share it with your friends, don´t forget to subscribe for more and consider supporting me on patreon. And it’s a cut.
Here is the video version.