Things to Avoid in your Writing #1: Deus Ex Machina

Okay, so who here knows what Deus ex Machina means?  Literally from Latin it means “God in the Machine”.  In the literary sense it means something much worse.

Deus ex Machina: an unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.

Don’t.  Ever.  Do.  This.

That’s right, this is one literary element that should be studied and understood for the sole reason of avoiding it at all costs.  This will not make your writing look good.

It’s become the sign of a lazy writer who has written their story into a corner and they couldn’t find the way out within the confines of their story’s logic.

Now, that doesn’t mean by any means don’t have the God or a god intervene.  Hell if that’s what your stories about, then put it in there.

The key here is that it has to follow the intrinsic logic of the story!

Look at movies/books involving Greek gods.  The Greek gods are infamous for their meddling in human affairs, (and bedrooms for that matter).  So when a god comes down and offers help in your story, that’s not Deus ex Machina, only because that’s what the Greek gods do.  If you set it up that this is possible in the rules of the story, then it’s good to go.

On the other hand, if you’re writing a story about a hard-boiled detective, you better not unveil the detective’s love interest to be Persephone on her six month holiday from Hades.  Trust me… just don’t do it.

How do you make sure you’re not breaking the laws of the story you’ve created?  Well that’s where good planning comes in.

You need to have a clear understanding of the world/story you’re crafting.  This is done by making crafting the environment of the story, your characters and plot progression clearly in your mind.  From there, it won’t be very hard for you to keep in mind what is and is not possible.

Now, this doesn’t always have to be a type of interference from an outside source either.  Say you’re writing a fantasy novel, and your hero’s about to die.  If there’s no mention of him being able to use anything except a bow and arrow for self-defense, you better not have him throw the villain across the room with his mind, or blast him with a ball of magic either.

Whatever you write just has to follow the internal logic of your story and characters.

Another issue is, sometimes the best ending for your story comes with a Deus ex Machina component in there and you just can’t shake it.

In that case, you better go back and change your story around so that it is feasible within it’s limits.  Besides, this is the best outcome you could possibly have for you story because why wouldn’t you want your story to aim toward the best ending it could possibly be?

In my opinion, at the point you’re getting a jump on editing and you should be happy to have one massive part out of the way.

So remember the moral of this story everyone.


If you don’t, you’re going to end up with your protagonist looking up to the sky and seeing this:

Deus ex Machina

So what do you think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Think I’m nuts?  Whatever you think, please leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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Featured Image: God the Father by Cima de Conegliano in Public Domain.  Modified by adding text.

One response to “Things to Avoid in your Writing #1: Deus Ex Machina

  1. Pingback: 4 Keys to Crafting an Excellent Plot Twist pt. 1 | Vincent Alcaras -- Author·

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