“God did it”: the Problem with Deus Ex Machina

You may or may not have heard this term thrown around a lot when you’re writing and reading. It’s actually a massive problem in a lot of stories, published or otherwise, and can leave a reader feeling frustrated, unfulfilled and lost when it comes to tying up the loose ends of your story. Deus ex machina takes away the ability of the reader to immerse in the action, while simultaneously making you seem like a lazy and unskilled writer. But what exactly is this weird Latin term and how can you avoid it?

In Latin, ‘deus ex machina’ means something along the lines of ‘God from a machine’. It refers, in short, to when Greek plays would have a God character suspend from the stage on a crane and swiftly solve all of the remaining problems at the end. No mess, no fuss. God did it. No questions asked. Now it’s come to mean any character that pops out of nowhere to solve a problem (or all the problems) without any prior warning or mention. It can be quite a tempting tool, frankly: when you’re stuck with writer’s block and don’t know how to conclude this elaborate tale you’ve concocted, what better way to solve the glaring plot holes than to plaster them up with a new, unknown character?

Well, I say no. Euripides may have been a fan of that style of writing, and it may have worked for him, but does no one else remember that “what the hell” reaction when a seemingly impossible (and therefore massively intriguing) problem is solved with the wave of some random person’s wand? It’s lazy and useless most of the time. You’re cutting corners and robbing your readers of a genuinely good ending.

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Writer’s Block

I’ve got writer’s block.

It’s probably one of the most frustrating feelings for a budding writer: you’re the only thing preventing you from churning out award-winning stories at factory speed and ‘winning at life’. There’s no quick fix and no one to blame but yourself.

It can be pretty easy to give up right now. There have been times when I’ve felt the sudden urge to throw my laptop across the room and rip my hair out in an exasperated sigh, vowing to never type a fantastical sentence again. The only thing that really prevents me from throwing in the towel is asking myself a few questions: what good would it do? Who would win if I gave up? No one. Absolutely no one. I don’t even think the people who dislike me in real life know I’m writing amateur stories online, so I actually don’t have anyone who’s out to see me fail. It would be the most useless thing in the world to quit.

 

Artwork by Chaotic Deluge

 

So what do you do when you’re going through a creativity drought? How exactly do you remedy sitting in front of a blank word document, writing and rewriting the same sentence for hours on end? I don’t know how to answer that question other than to tell you to wait it out. Preoccupy yourself with other activities. After all, you can’t make the creativity-rain fall on command.

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