Sin #3: Writer cop out!
Even if you don’t know what the term deus ex machina means, I can still guarantee you’ve come across this technique in a book or film many times in your lifetime.
Deus ex machina translates literally as god from the machine and refers to a plot device in which a god would pop up at the end of a complicated play and resolve everything in one convenient swish of his god wand…or whatever gods use nowadays to get the job done.
It’s a way of pissing all over the reader by building the tension and excitement in a story due to many complications, having the reader on the edge of their seat screaming “how is he going to get out this!!?” and then having a magical eagle pop in and save the day – or something equally as stupid.
I use the eagle example only to highlight the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy that had me cringing and laughing simultaneously. I am of course referring to the films, having never read the books I can’t say for sure this is any less cheesy in the novels. If you haven’t seen or read LOTR (then well done you!!) the massively long trilogy revolves around the central plot of destroying a magic ring. Basically if the bad guy gets his hands on it…bye bye world. Now the story is full of twists and turns, excitement and tension, a billion subplots, yadda yadda yadda…BUT at the end of the trilogy (800 hours out of your life you’ll never get back) they chuck the ring into a volcano (the only thing powerful enough to destroy it) and the volcano goes kerblooey! Tension, tension, oh noes! MC going to die…THEN or to use another writing trope…SUDDENLY giant eagles fly in and have the MC back to his homeland in a few shakes of a tail feather. The same homeland it took him 800 hours to travel from.
DEUS. EX. MACHINA.
Apart from the fact it’s a bit of a cop out, why didn’t the feckin’ eagles just fly them there in the first place??
Ok, ok, this is probably a bad example to use because I can almost guarantee five minutes after posting this someone will pop up and say “actually, I think you’ll find that in the books *snort*…”
But either way you get the idea, deus ex machina, while not technically cheating is just plain lazy! And completely unfair to your reader who has invested so much time reading the rest of your book. A proper ending goes hand in hand with Sin#2: No conflict!, if a fairy godmother pops up at the end and says “hang on a jiffy, I’ll sort out all this shizzle for you, you go chill out and have a fish finger sandwich”, then there is no conflict!!
Which is bad.
This quote from ‘How NOT to Write a Novel’ by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman sums up my thoughts on using a deus ex machina:
“This particular blunder is known as deus ex machina, which is French for ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’”
I seem to have painted myself in a corner in regards to ending this post…now where’s that magical elf that I haven’t referred to anywhere in the post? I bet he can pull a suitable ending out of his magical bottom!