A Legend In Your Own Mind

Happy Friday! Casey Wyatt here. In five days, my novel MYSTIC INK, will be published. And it got me to thinking about myths and legends. The story is based on the idea of the Gods of Old living among us mere mortals.

Like all writers, I love to play the “what if” game. The possibilities are endless and it’s a lot of fun. Eventually, you have to stop playing the game and get down to the business of plotting the story. And along with it comes world building. Essentially creating a mythology or “rules of the world”.

No matter the genre of the story, they all have to have these rules. And once established, as the author, you’d best stick with them. As a reader, there is nothing more annoying than when an author bends or breaks the rules of their universe.

Drives me bonkers!! I’m all for thinking outside of the box, but the story has to make sense and follow the rules you’ve set forth. A story is like a contract between you and the reader. So if you say, the heroine is allergic to strawberries, you can’t turn around a hundred pages later, and have her eating strawberries with no side effects. Or, if you are in a world where vampires shun the sun, the vampires shouldn’t be walking around at noon in broad daylight.

Rule bending can take many forms. Even minor things, like continuity gaffes. Ever read a book where the hero’s eyes go from sparkling sapphire to a rich brown? (Okay, maybe in paranormals that can happen, but in romantic suspense or historicals, it doesn’t work – gaffe alert!).

And don’t get me started on the “deus ex machina” or “God from the machine” move. This is the first cousin of rule bending. It’s when, out of nowhere, something (be it an object or person) suddenly appears in the 11th hour and saves the day. A popular example, the eagle in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, who plucks Frodo and Sam off of Mount Doom in the nick of time.

So here’s my plea to writer’s everywhere (which includes screenwriters!), please be consistent and follow your own world’s mythology. Be truthful with us and don’t break your own rules for convience’s sake. Even if you have all these details straight in your head, it doesn’t mean the reader can see inside your brain. They can only experience what you have presented on the page.

And for readers and viewers alike, go easy on us writers. We do our best to ensure continuity, but it’s not always easy. Years can pass between writing books, so bear with us, if we don’t always get our own universes correct.

So Scribes fans, how obessed are you with continuity in books and movies? Do you cut your favorite authors slack or do you throw down the book in disgust at flagrant violations of a world’s rules? What’s your favorite (or worst) “deus ex machina” moment?

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18 thoughts on “A Legend In Your Own Mind”

  1. This is a great follow up to Suze’s post yesterday. I watch a lot of TV and movies, and I always love being surprised by the way writers can pull a story together and tie up all the loose ends so neatly. I’m disappointed by trite, easy solutions that require no effort or change on the part of the character. I don’t mind a miracle solution as long as they make sense and there is some rhyme or reason for the big save to come from outside the characters realm.

    I try to cut authors some slack, but I’ll admit I’ve snickered at a few dues ex machina moments that made me roll my eyes.

    1. The funny thing is, we didn’t plan on blogging about the same thing. It was purely co-incidental! I think Suze and I may have been separated at birth. We have this eerie thing where we channel a lot of the same thoughts. I love it too, when an author brings a whole plot together and the pieces to the puzzle were there the whole time (JK Rowling always did this fantastically in Harry Potter). One movie that does this really well is The Sixth Sense. The answer is in front or your face the entire time, but you get so caught up in the story, you don’t see it.

      1. 🙂 It was pretty funny when we realized Wednesday night we were posting about the same thing! It only took a tiny bit of tweaking to make it look like we planned them all along as companion blogs!

  2. That picture of Edith Hamilton’s classic brings me back to my days as a student at UCLA. I love mythology, and now my 12 year old is discovering it as well. I want the God in the Machine to come down and right every wrong, but she’s a no show most days. LOL. Great post.

    1. My oldest son fell in love with mythology thanks to Rick Riordan’s books. It’s the only time I ever saw him fall asleep with a book. I used to read my mother’s Edith Hamilton. The pages were all brown and the book was falling apart. I remember reading it cover to cover. I have my own copy now. And Bullfinch’s too. While researching Mystic Ink, I found a website called Godchecker.com. It’s got all kinds of Gods from all cultures. It’s easy to spend hours reading everything.

  3. Casey, I don’t like the obvious–I want to think and guess before an ending–see if I’m right when it concludes. I like consistency but take each story as a stand alone first. What irkes me are re-makes of great movies. They were great because of the original stories and actors–Most re-makes I find disaapointing. With so many talented writers out there today you would think Hollywood could create something unique. That’s my rant for the week. Enjoy your weekend.

    1. I totally agree Marion. I find TV shows to be super predictable. There is a running joke in my house, where I guess where the plot is going and my youngest quips “you could write for this show, Mom!”. Now, he’s following in my footsteps… still we have fun.

      And I agree on movie re-makes too. And movie adaptations of TV shows. Enough already.

  4. Hi Casey, Your post is apt. It is so easy to forget your heroine, who is allergic to strawberries, eats them 100 pages later and has no reaction. It sort of is the same knowing that in the 19th century there was no doorbell, but it rang anyway. Consistency of facts and accurate history is critical. The authoring learning curve is jagged. It takes time to nail all the facts with consistency from page 1 to page 350. Edee-gads. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Hi Gail. It can be easy to forget those details, but you can be sure readers will bag you for it! As far as historical accuracy, I’m okay with verisimilitude (the resemblence of truth). As long as there are no glaring errors like automobiles in Roman times, I’m okay with the author creating the flavor of the times, without going into exacting minutiea. But everyone is different!

  5. I can deal with the occasional deus ex machina. What I cannot deal with is an author who makes rules and then breaks them. Just don’t make the rules in the first place. Or leave the rules vague if you have to. Stephanie Meyers did that in Breaking Dawn and it bugged the heck out of me.

  6. Rule breaking and continuity issues irk me. As long as it’s not too egregious, I sigh, then do my best to forgive the authors (and editors) of stories put out by small presses, e-presses, and indies, because I ain’t perfect either. But if it’s a really huge author with a big publishing house behind her/him, forgiveness is more difficult, because they’ve got the resources to get this stuff right! And if they don’t, they should, because they owe that much to the readers/buyers who keep them in business.

    1. Good point Suze! I remember reading an interview by J.R. Ward. After a couple of books, she eventually hired someone to monitor continuity issues for her. Here’s hoping we all have enough successful books to have that problem! (and the means to solve it)

  7. I probably wouldn’t read an author again if they pulled a ‘deus ex machina’. Half of the enjoyment of reading a mystery is trying to figure out who the bad guy is or seeing the characters work their way through and out of predicaments. A good story teller shows the clues, even if they are vague, through out the book. So, even if in the end it’s a total surprise, the reader can look back and see the clues and say ‘ah ha’!
    I cut authors slack on world changing. If I notice it, I chalk it up to an oops in the editing. But I think that – the better the story, the more forgiveness we offer.
    Congratulations and good luck with Mystic Ink!

    1. I love that too! I want to be surprised. I hate when stories are too predictable. Especially murder mysteries. That is the whole point of reading them – to figure out who dunnit. I’m more okay with some predictableness in romances where the focus is the love story. But the story has to be plausible too!

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