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Quick Screenwriting Tip: Deus Ex Machina = Bad Aug 24

Quick Screenwriting Tip

Avoid a deus ex machina ending to your story.

What is deus ex machina? According to Wikipedia:

A deus ex machina (Latin for “god out of the machine”) is a plot device whereby a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new character, ability, or object.

I feel the need to bring up this writing tip after reading Dean Koontz’ recent novel, Relentless. The ending was so contrived, so preposterous, I had to check the spelling of the author’s name twice to make sure it was indeed that Dean Koontz.

The novel was a good reminder of why it’s important to properly establish the rules of your world in the beginning of the story.

For example: If your story’s a western, with no sci-fi components, then it shouldn’t end with the hero saving the day after discovering an alien laser gun hidden inside a spittoon.

Can you think of any movies that use deus ex machina successfully?


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5 Responses
  1. Iain Coleman says:

    Time Bandits? God does literally turn up at the end to save the day and sort everything out.

  2. Trevor Mayes says:

    Good call! Although establishing the fantastical rules and dark humor of the film early on certainly helped to sell the ending.

  3. Scott Michael says:

    Raiders. Boo-yah! 😉

  4. John Bradt says:

    Well I wouldn’t consider it done successfully, but the end of Stephen King’s “The Stand” tries to get away with it by using the hand of God to save the day.
    Thanks
    John B

  5. Trevor Mayes says:

    Scott – Raiders! LOL. Fortunately Raiders had the Ark throughout the movie presaging its otherworldly powers.

    John – Good one! I haven’t read The Stand. Did it come out of nowhere, or were there religious themes woven into the story?

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