Have you ever read a novel you couldn’t put down, invested hours reading the story because you wanted to know how it ended, to see how the characters wiggled out of their mess, or ended up together? You anticipated the ending and tried to figure out “who done it” and how the author would tie up all the loose ends.
But after reading the ending you discover that the author had someone drop from the sky and fix everything. The characters didn’t resolve any of their OWN problems. You’re so disappointed you throw the book across the room. What a waste of time!
Have you ever read a book with this kind of ending? Didn’t you feel cheated?
Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:
The term deus ex machina is used to refer to a narrative ending in which an improbable event is used to resolve all problematic situations and bring the story to a (generally happy) conclusion.
The Latin phrase “deus ex machina” has its origins in the conventions of Greek tragedy, and refers to situations in which a mechane (crane) was used to lower actors playing a god or gods onto the stage at the end of a play.
The Greek tragedian Euripides is notorious for using this plot device as a means to resolve a hopeless situation. For example, in Euripides’ play Alcestis, the eponymous heroine agrees to give up her own life to Death in exchange for sparing the life of her husband, Admetus. In doing so, however, she imposes upon him a series of extreme promises. Admetus is torn between choosing death or choosing to obey these unreasonable restrictions. In the end, though, Heracles shows up and seizes Alcestis from Death, restoring her to life and freeing Admetus from the promises. The first person known to have criticized the device was Aristotle in his Poetics, where he argued that the resolution of a plot must arise internally, following from previous action of the play.
Dr. Hensley said using this device shows weak writing. Don’t use it. Readers want to see your characters resolve their own conflict. They don’t want to invest their time and have your character’s “mommy” come and rescue them. Let readers experience your character’s growth, and let them feel empathy for your character and the obstacles they face. Strong heroes overcome their own obstacles.