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I'm working on a detailed plot outline for a fantasy story that revolves around three main characters, Liana, Celia, and Ander. Here's a brief overview:

  • Celia suffers from a condition called "Essence Depletion Syndrome," leading her life essence to diminish quickly.
  • Liana, an infant twin mage with vast magical reserves, is taken by Celia's mother, Elara, when both girls are infants. Elara establishes a magical bond between the two, allowing some of Liana's magic to sustain Celia. While Liana remains unaffected by this bond, it's vital for Celia.
  • Importantly, twins in this world possess a potent bond that could disrupt the connection between Liana and Celia. Hence, Elara separates Liana from her twin, Ander, preventing this twin bond from forming.
  • However, as the narrative unfolds, Ander finds Liana and establishes an emotional bond with her, allowing the magical twin bond to start forming. This poses challenges, as they later learn about the bond Elara created to sustain Celia and have to ensure the twin bond doesn't endanger Celia.

My conundrum is this: I want to introduce a potential cure for Celia's condition so that she'll no longer be reliant on Liana's magic to sustain her, but it needs to appear nearly impossible to achieve, ensuring the perceived gravity of her condition remains. Considering the rarity of twin mages in this universe, I'm hesitant about adding another incredibly rare element, even if I foreshadow it early on, because I worry it will feel like a deus ex machina.

Do you have any suggestions on how I can do this without it feeling contrived?

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  • What genre? For example, if it's a romance then having her love interest reveal "oh, I was a twin mage too -- our bond of love also cures your condition" is just perfect. Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 15:09
  • You can make a deus ex machina work, if you provide an in-universe reason for it, but it's hard. Consider the ta'veren of the Wheel of Time series, which is basically a concept that means "these people have Plot Armor and Weird Things happen around them a lot". Importantly, this isn't always a good thing--some of the Weird Things are actually very bad things, and all of them end up saddled with much more responsibility than they'd ever wanted.
    – Hearth
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 15:45
  • If the point is that you to introduce a (potential) cure for Celia's condition, why is the Question Posted here in Writing, rather than somewhere (much) more relevant such as World Building? To put that another way, how is this a 'writing' problem? Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 21:36

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I think your intuitions about your story depending on too many rare events are good instincts.

Rare events that are miraculous detract from a story proportionally to how much the flow of the story depends on the event. If a comet appears in the sky and explodes, but it doesn't materially impact the character arc or how the story unfolds -- it's just background -- then it doesn't much matter. But if that comet hurtles towards the planet and kills the villain right before they defeat the heroes, then that would most likely be an unsatisfying story.

This is not the same as a rare event starting a story. A figurative meteor impact kicking off the story is totally fine, as long as what follows makes sense, in the narrative logic of the story. I am talking about multiple figurative meteors smashing into the planet so the story can move in another direction.

In your case, if these are the rare and unlikely events you think fit for your story, then do everything you can to make them not miraculous. Don't let them just happen. Make them the outcome of the characters' daring, hard work, fortitude, etc.

This takes them out of the realm of events that the reader either swallows whole or rolls their eyes over and makes them into manifestations of the characters' agency. Character agency is what separates okay stories from really great stories.

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We Are Deus Ex Machina. You will be Assimilated:

Don't pull away from the abuse of fate. Yours is a world with magic. YOU control that world. So don't make it coincidence. Make it inevitable.

Create a rationale for each thing. It's not that Liana is a twin mage: Liana NEEDED to be a twin mage for the magic involved to work. The blocked twin relationship opened Liana to the connection with Celia.

Ander and Liana's newly established bond and the location of the cure aren't coincidence, but somehow causative. The twin magic is somehow involved with the cure. Or Ander/Liana have feelings for Celia and refuse to let their bond progress until a cure is found - leading to an all-out quest to find the McGuffin needed for the cure. Or the weird set of bonds have allowed them to form an even rarer configuration - functionally TRIPLET mages with unique properties.

Maybe this was Elara's goal all along.

Or simply establish that essence depletion syndrome is bleeding off Celia's life force to fuel an alteration of fate. It's MAGIC. So the incredibly rare condition is distorting the probability of events around Celia. Maybe even make this a frightening part of the illness - Celia has bizarre, sometimes terrifying events that occur around her due to the condition.

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There are many stories in which there are rare or even unique events or objects that only affect or are relevant to the main protagonist. The only thing you mustn't do is have these unique events save the protagonist out of the blue.

Frodo didn't know how to destroy the Ring when he set out on his quest. The fact that Frodo only learned of the "cure" (destroying the Ring) against the "illness" (Sauron) at around one third of the story doesn't make it appear random or ex machina at all, because that plot device wasn't an easy solution to a corner the writer had written himself into and in fact made the quest so much more difficult for the protagonist.


As for twin mages being rare in your world, that isn't problematic at all, either. It is unrealistic, sure, and the idea of a "chosen one" has come to be considered as a bit of a cliché, but it is old as time – Arthur was the only one who could draw the sword from the stone – and still all-prevalent and doesn't seem to faze readers one bit. For example, much criticism has been directed at The Wheel of Time, but the fact that the Dragon Reborn was the only one of his kind hasn't, to my knowledge, been a part of it.

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You can add gravity to the rarity of twin mages to explain it. In the womb, if one or both twins have dark souls, they fight each other, killing one or both by miscarriage and often the mother as well. Thus midwives are consulted; if they detect a malignant twinning, they do something to rob them of their magical abilities before they get too strong, such as administer a potion or perform a ritual. By this logic, the great majority of twins that do possess strong magic are rendered impotent.

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The existence of twin mages and a cure for a rare vital energy disease doesn't strike me as particularly contrived. After all, this is a fantasy world.

As a reader, seeing a remedy being foreshadowed early, you expect the story to veer towards some kind of quest for that cure, though. I don't know how much that fits your intent as an author as opposed to the moral dilemma of children keeping their bond or facing the inevitable tragedy of their dying parent for instance.

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