by Janis Patterson
Writers have been lazy for a long time, even back to the earliest days of literature and drama, like the Ancient Greeks. They weren’t so much into novels - though they did have a form of them - but they were very big into theatre. Some of their plays are still performed in their original (albeit translated) form today.
One thing, though, that does not translate well is the concept of Deus ex Machina - i.e., god in the machine. The Greeks loved multi-thread stories, and they did so love to complicate them, crossing storyline and storyline and getting everything so mixed up that the action looked like a snarl of delicate yarn after three rampaging kittens have finished playing with it.
It got to the point where it would take another play longer than the first one to get everything unsnarled - if it could be in direct action at all - that the concept of Deus ex Machina evolved. Some god or another would come down from Olympus at the moment of maximum confusion, deliver a trenchant little homily on the fecklessness of man and sort things out with direct action. In other words, he would say ‘you go with you, and you go with you, and you are a criminal so you need to go to jail...’ etc. Morally and romantically satisfying, I guess, but really really bad drama.
These days we aren’t so big on gods coming down and meddling in our business - though at certain times I really think we could use some! - but writers have been known to substitute Great-Aunt Debbie or sweet old Professor Smith or even a talking cat for Zeus or Apollo. And that is not only a disservice to the readers, it’s a cheat, which is an insult to the reader. Worst of all, it is terribly lazy writing. Our characters need to work out their own problems in a rational and logical manner - and our readers need to see them do it.