Deus ex machina, according to the Encarta dictionary, is a noun that means:
|1. unconvincing character who resolves plot: an improbable character or unconvincing event used to resolve a plot|
|2. god who resolves plot: in ancient Greek and Roman theater, a god introduced to resolve a complicated plot|
As writers, we must try to come up with believable endings for our stories. That doesn’t mean we can’t have something extraordinary happen. What we must avoid doing is bringing in someone or something that wasn’t previously involved with the story simply to fix whatever problem the characters face.
During the climax, if our characters are not able to solve their own problems it’s tempting to resort to a supernatural event or outside interference to save them. That’s fine if it fits with other events, has been foreshadowed, or can be explained within the context of the story. If it’s a clumsy, contrived intervention, the readers may feel like we’ve cheated—and that makes it a “deus ex machina.”
The falling action after the climax leads to the resolution (denouement) of the conflict, and if the reasons for what happened seem believable, readers will accept the ending even if they don’t like it.
Do you feel cheated when the ending of a story uses a deus ex machina? Can you think of stories or situations where using one might work effectively?