Is the following deus-ex-machina? If so, should I remove it?

2018-03-12 20:57:27

I wrote a novel called Animal Suicide. It's a mix of romance and dark humor. It's about a girl who, after a weird incident, postpones a pill overdose and starts researching about the topic of animal suicide (sorry for repeating this on the site, but it's to make the question clearer).

The "universe" of this novel is set in real life, but, like in many humorous stories, it has its own crazy phenomena. For instance, Li-Mei, the protagonist, encounters two kinds of people: those who think that animal suicide is a crazy/taboo topic and those who are actively researching it. So, she eventually stumbles into an Animal Suicide Club and a lady who has been obsessed with animal suicide since childhood.

Everything is OK. But here's the problem: readers think that having Li-Mei find people who are interested in animal suicide is too convenient, kind of like deus-ex-machina.

So, I don't know what to do. Should I just remove all these deus-ex-machina? Or find a way to make them mor

  • If Li-Mei gets laughed at the Animal Behaviour class and gets attention of the founder and if all of this happens right before the first act ends or the first 20-22% of the novel which sets her story goal and the story question, it's not a Deus ex Machina.

    If it doesn't happen in the first act and happens elsewhere and entering the club is crucial for the story to move forward, it is a Deus ex Machina and you should remove coincidences and make her work for it.

    Why it's not deus ex machina if it happens on the first 20-22% and not if it happens after?

    Because it sets the story goal when in 1st act. That scene (and other scenes in the 1st act) will aid her or give motivation to solve the story question too. Elsewhere, it becomes a coincidence to move the story forward for which she will have to work for the course of the novel.

    A deus ex machina happens when the writer has gone to deep and generated so many conflicts that even he doesn't know how the protagonist will find a way

    2018-03-12 21:03:50
  • In real life people interested in the same thing do eventually find each other. This is especially true in the age of the internet, as is demonstrated by this very forum, but was true even before then. It's a standing joke among scientists, academics, and students writing dissertations that however obscure the subject of your research, you will find some other person has taken out the most relevant book from the library!

    Anyone deeply interested in animal suicide would be likely to go to where they could learn more about it. That place is an animal behaviour course. If you think that's still too unlikely given the presumably low proportion of people who are interested in animal suicide as a subset of people interested in general animal behaviour, say that the club founder has been going to relevant courses for years precisely because she is always searching for other people who share her obsession.

    2018-03-12 21:11:00
  • As Ville Niemi comments above, the simplest way to make this not a coincidence is to have your protagonist do some work to find these people.

    In fact, I can't imagine how she could casually stumble over something called an Animal Suicide Club. It's the "Club" part which requires the work. Animal suicide researchers, yes, you'd probably find those without an enormous amount of Googling. But a club? People who make investigating animal suicides a hobby? You aren't going to see that posted on a flier at the local coffee shop. Other than at a veeeeeeery outré small liberal arts college, this is a group of people who will be weird even to the animal psychologists studying this behavior for a living. She's going to have to go looking for them — hear rumors, get slapped down by researchers who think the club is full of dangerous idiots and don't want her involved, warned off by ex-members, that sort of thing. Finding the club should be a significant obstacle in itself.

    2018-03-12 21:28:33
  • Considering the club Li-Mei "stumbles into" consists of only two people, one of them absent half the time, and the club's founder is in the animal behavior class for the same reason as her - because it's the most likely place to learn about the topic - I'd say it's perfectly reasonable to have them meet that way. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense.

    However, when he first approaches her, none of that is obvious to the reader. In fact, the way he introduces the club comes across as not exactly humble, probably causing readers to assume it's a lot bigger and more organized than it actually is.

    You do, however, already point out Li-Mei's doubts, so my recommendation would be to just expand on that a bit. Let her make up an alternate explanation (e.g. Could this be a prank, targeted at her specifically?), perhaps let her mull it over for a while before she decides to take a look.

    When she finds out there's only two other members, make it clear how she feels about that - is she disap

    2018-03-12 21:49:57
  • A rule of thumb: A good coincidence gets the character into trouble. A bad coincidence gets the character out of trouble.

    2018-03-12 21:59:42
  • This doubles as an answer to your other question, How to make the reader "accept" absurdity?

    Some books strive for the appearance of realism, others don't. In either case, what is most important is a) that the book follows its own rules and b) that it has a sense of emotional reality.

    For instance, some books are built entirely on frameworks of improbable coincidence: Douglas Adams' books, for example, as well as Murakami's. That's part of the fabric of the work. Once the reader accepts that, it becomes just a part of the story.

    However, all the coincidences in Adams and Murakami rarely work to solve problems for the characters --or if they do, they just as often create new ones. This matches the emotional reality that we have to work for the things we get. If your character has worked hard enough for his or her reward, the reader is more likely to accept it, even if the actual mechanism is improbable.

    2018-03-12 22:03:28
  • As others have said, people tend to notice others with common interests, and they tend to go to places where people with common interests are likely to go.

    Suppose you are really interested in, say, Amish furniture. You are driving down the street and you see an Amish furniture store. Is that a bizarre coincidence. Probably not. In your drive you passed dozens, maybe hundreds of stores selling many different products. You noticed the one that interested you. If someone asked me if there are stores in my home town that sell golf clubs I'd have no idea, because I've never played golf and have no interest in golf. I might pass such a store every day and I wouldn't notice, because I don't care.

    Suppose you said that a character loves cherry pie, and so he regularly goes to a bakery called "Fruit Pie Palace", and there he meets someone else who loves cherry pie. That wouldn't be strange or a bizarre coincidence. That would be exactly the sort of place you'd expect to go to meet such a

    2018-03-12 22:07:27