Deus ex Machina. Maybe you’ve heard the expression before, especially if you’ve been looking into literature or movies. If you don’t quite know what it is, keep reading.
Deus ex Machina is Latin for “god from the machine”. Its origin is antique theatre, where a god used to be put on stage using a machine who then intervenes with the story line to solve a conflict.
Today it has a rather negative reputation and is used whenever a conflict is solved through coincidence. This can happen through the sudden appearance of a person or through some beneficial incident. Note that it is not the protagonist who solves the problem, but a lucky chance the author created.
Deus ex Machina is an easy method to move the plot in a desired direction and to save characters from desperate situations. Which is the reason authors are being criticized for being unimaginative and unable to solve those conflicts in another way.
To give you a demonstration, we will take a look at the movie ‘The Life of Brian’, because it uses this method in an extremely exaggerated manner. Have you seen the movie? There was this one scene where Brian is chased by the Romans and falls off a tower. Instead of dying he is rescued by an UFO… (if you want to watch the scene, here it is).
Luckily most uses of Deus ex Machina are way more subtle, but they do lose a lot of potential. Stories depend on conflict. That’s what stories are made of. It would be a shame if you won’t give the protagonist the chance to deal with his own problems. The audience would love you for it.
This doesn’t mean that there can’t be any coincidences in your story, they do exist in the real world as well after all, but you would be better off to use them to get the story rolling or to actually create more conflict instead of solving it.
If your protagonist gets trapped in a cave by accident, then this is a coincidence that creates conflict. If she finds some dynamite inside the cave to easily get out again, then this dynamite is Deus ex Machina.
I hope you got the idea behind all this. Do you have any questions? Or additions? Let us know, because we love to hear from you!
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