Mary Sue was walking through the park when she happened to meet Algobog. She was scared of him.
And then he said “Don’t be scared of me, I want to be your friend.”
And then they were friends, but Algobog had a secret. He did not really like Mary Sue because she lacked character depth.
And then he ate her.
“And then this happened”, etc. until the story finishes. This is an extreme example, but it illustrates a point.
This view may be personal to me, but there is no such thing as “good fiction” and “bad fiction”. Instead, all stories fall somewhere on a broad spectrum of “And then this happened.”
At its worst this is flat, sequential and predictable. At its best, well… it’s a great story.
One example which springs to mind is The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. It’s a fun read and a TV series I would happily recommend. However, it does not grip me.
The Last Kingdom has very engaging characters and plot. The setting is excellent. But it suffers from mild “And then this happened.”
You may think this is another way of describing deus ex machina (where something is concocted to get your character out of an impossible situation). But it is really a way of explaining why some fiction is “better” or “worse”, of which deus ex machina is one part.
For example: Mary Sue is in an impossible situation, And then this happened, she lived happily ever after. The reader has an issue with neither an impossible situation nor happily ever after. It is the And then this happened which makes deus ex machina an irritating writing device.
It is plot minus motivation. Things just happen. Events and dialogue roll along regardless of what the characters are thinking or feeling. People say and do things, but the reader never falls into a state of suspended disbelief.
Ask yourself why they do and say X. Even the seemingly most random acts in our lives have a cause or purpose. Every tiny action you perform says something about who you are.
The same is true of fictional characters.
Mary Sue was walking through the park, searching for that special someone. She knew it was a fantasy. Outside of movies nobody found true love strolling through a park. But still… She hoped.
That was when she saw Algobog. It was not his green skin or huge canines which frightened her, but the thought that he just might be “the one”.
“Don’t be scared,” Algobog said, hiding his glee at having found an unwitting victim. “I want to be your friend.”
She did not want to believe him, but how could she not? This was the moment she had been hoping, no, longing for. Sometimes, you just had to dive in and leave your misgivings behind.
Algobog ate her. Of course he did. He was hungry. But for a brief moment, a passing whisper in time that was their lives, Mary Sue found love. If she had lived, she would have re-played that meeting a thousand times in her mind.
If you are concerned or afraid, don’t be. Algobog’s feeding frenzy is over and it is now safe for you to leave your homes.