There are plenty of crusty ways to get a writer out of a corner he has written himself into. Some of these are blatant cheats of the reader, some of them are flat-out laziness on part of the writer and some are acts of desperation.
And some are just part of the story.
The phrase, which translates from Latin into “god from the machine”, is most often assigned its origins to plays written in ancient Greece. The plots were often ended with a miraculous “save”, be it a character or action that seemed to “come out of nowhere”. Often times referred to as a plot contrivance, the Deus ex machine has been employed in many media by many individuals and not always because the solution was unsolvable.
For example (and tying into today’s image), in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there is a scene where Arthur and his Knights are being chased by a deadly many-eyed beast. They are all surely doomed when “suddenly, the animator suffered a fatal heart attack”, accompanied by a shot of Terry Gilliam “dying” at his drawing board. The insertion of that bit is an obvious Deus ex machina and just as obviously done simply for laughs as opposed to an irreconcilable plot point.
As I write and re-write the ending to my trilogy, I struggle to avoid an obvious Deus ex machina as I bring the dramatic finish to a close. It’s a tricky bit of tip-toeing. What might be viewed as a clever use of ingenuity could also be looked at as a “cheap out” of an impossible plot point.
I think I’ve figured out how to avoid the dreaded Deus ex machina, but even if some people do feel obliged to slap on the label, I am happy with the ending (which is somewhat different from a happy ending, though we’ll leave that discussion for tomorrow’s post).