Saturday, September 1, 2012

Saturday So What: Avoiding Deus Ex Machina

So What am I up to this holiday weekend? Touching up the end of my latest novel. In particular, I am making sure it doesn't fall prey to the dreaded, Deus Ex Machina. If you are a writer, you've probably seen or heard the words floated around. Here's how Wikipedia defines it:

Latin: "god from the machine"; plural: dei ex machina) is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.

Lord of the Flies is one of the most famous examples. Someone from outside the island has to swoop in and save them all. 

So, basically it means you cheated in the end. Your character is stuck, she's screwed. Death is certain. But right before the blade hits, some white knight comes to her rescue. One problem, we've never met him before and it's the end of the book. Your character should be smart enough and well equipped enough to get out of a jam. It's ok for the side kicks to help, but a strong main character needs to have the main role. (Harry Potter walked a really thin line on that one)

So how do you protect against the hand of God saving the day and make a killer ending that's actually believable? 

Just a personal opinion mind you, but before you finish writing the first chapter, you should know how your book ends. None of this "We'll see what happens" stuff.  You need to know where your character starts and where they end. Let me tell you why. If you know how they're supposed to end up - both as a change in personal growth as well as what they need in their skill set to overcome the 'Big Bad' - then you can make sure they get what they need along the journey. That way you are not just throwing in at the last second "Oh, by the way, Katya used to fence as a child." An expert plot crafter will throw in seemingly ordinary bits of info, hints, or items throughout the story. Then when the ending comes the reader remembers and says, "That's why in Chapter ... she found that, Or went here." It makes the experience richer and more layered for a reader. But you can't hint if you don't know the end. I'm not going to throw in spoilers, but Dark Knight Rises does this to near perfection. You want to see the movie again just to catch the little hints.

So do yourself a favor, fix your beginning and your end points. Let the middle flow organically and go along the journey with your character if you want. Make sure your MC has the tools they need to outlast, outwit, or out kick butt. Before the last chapter.

Last call for contest entries this week guys. No more 'saving hands' from us.  :)


  1. I've never heard of this term, and I don't read latin, but I understand about not having fixes suddenly appear out of nowhere that can't be explained in any other way than a coincidence. I need things to make sense. Logic runs deep in my soul. If it isn't logical, then I make it that way.

    We went to a movie last night, The Bourne something-or-another, and besides being able to watch the main character without his shirt now and then, nothing was logical or even close to being reality. Indonesia's street cameras (if they happen to have any at all) are not connected to Washington DC's as if the world is on one huge closed circuit. And they had police at every corner where a woman living in a shanty can shout "police" on the step of her non-exsistant doorway and two seconds later he shows up and rescues her. Ridiculous! So as we need to get our stories logical, Hollywood keeps rolling out those deus ex machina movies. Sad.



Related Posts with Thumbnails