Most Crime/Thriller Novels usually have a sudden, unexpected plot twist that puts the main character in a really hopeless situation.

One way to resolve this is by using a "Deus Ex Machina", that is a character that suddenly appears out of nowhere and has the solution. It could be that FBI Agent who is part of secret government project, the secretary of your enemy that gives you access to some codes, a long lost friend/relative who was believed to be dead, or the wife/child of the enemy.

I see the appeal of DXM resolutions as they don't require much preparation and are seemingly surprising, but nowadays I just find them annoying. But on the other hand, they do offer to introduce a completely new scenario for the rest of the story. That FBI Agent allows us to show a whole secret government facility, the lost relative has a hiding place somewhere, and the secretary/wife/child gives us an entry into the facilities of the enemy. Also it allows to bring in a ton of new people easily.

If on the other hand we introduce the saviour early in the story and have him/her resolve the hopeless situation, it feels a bit boring. It is hard to introduce new people and places if they have to be attached to the early-introduced sidekick, which leads to a reaction like "If you had an Uncle that can do that, why didn't you already go to him 150 pages ago when you first encountered that problem?". Also it then feels a bit like a journey, constantly watching 2 or 3 characters - a bit like the Sherlock Holmes novels that only had these two.

There is nothing wrong with Sherlock Holmes of course (Especially since it was written in the 1880's), but I'm trying to understand how people like Ken Follet manage to avoid this effect mostly.

So, what are ways to avoid a Deus Ex Machina resolution without throwing away the opportunity to introduce a new scenario for the rest of the story, and without being boring?

3 Answers 3


DXM is often a sign that the author has written himself into a corner. How to avoid it?

If your scene requires DXM solutions, maybe the scene doesn't belong into the story in the first place? If you like the scene so much, put it in your archive, maybe it will fit into another story. Otherwise, delete it.

If you can't find a different way out because a lot of your story plot would need to change, then you must revisit the plot. Maybe you can change it a bit to fix the problem. If that doesn't work, start to spread clues.

In one scene, I needed an inside man. Instead of suddenly introducing him, I added a scene at the start where he discovers the plot and starts thinking "I can't do this alone; I need help." At this time, I'm not revealing the plot, the reader finds the inside man stunned by his findings. "What do I do now?"

So when the character appears on the radar, the inside man tracks him like he tracks the antagonists. There will be little incidents. Say a group of thugs is sent out but the inside man switches the address. Or the inside man really wants to help the hero but he fears to be exposed. So I suddenly have a new conflict that I can use: There is just one inside man but there might be another hero eventually. So how much risk is the inside man willing to take?

You see, DXMs are red flags. They point you towards weaknesses in your current story. At the same time, they offer you ways to improve it.

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    By having the two converging story lines of the main character and the "Inside Man" you are able to provide context for the DXM resolution. Alternating between the two story lines is also great for cliffhangers. Commented Nov 22, 2010 at 19:04

Having a series of 'clues' that come about throughout the course of the novel can help avoid the one big solution coming out of nowhere. They don't have to be the typical detective style clues, just random pieces of the plot that the main character can put together towards the end of the novel.


There is a say I heard ages ago that I think applies here. Paraphrased it's something along the lines of "If you're ending isn't working, fix the middle."

A Deus Ex Machina is something that happens when you find yourself stuck in a corner with your story and you're have a problem bringing it to a close. Usually this isn't something you plan for so you have to go back and fix the problem. In this case I would go back and look over your plot to see how your plot-line got into the place it is and see how to adjust it to fix the problem.

Fixing it can be as simple as setting up something minor in the middle of the story so you can use it at the end, or it could result in a major rewrite of the last third of your story. Don't be afraid to do either one of them, which ever one works best for your story.

On the whole you can get away with a small amount of foreshadowing to set up and end so the reader doesn't feel cheated. One of the best examples of this is "The Hunt for Red October", both the book and movie. Something is set up early in the story and then it's allowed to follow to the side. When it pays off at the end of the story it feels like it's both a surprise and a natural part of the plot, and it ramps up the stakes in the climax.

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    Agreed. I don't think there's anything wrong with a Deus Ex Machina in the first draft if you get stuck and its a really inventive way to get the characters out of a bind. So long as the writer goes back and fixes it later on, so that it's not longer a DXM by the final revision. The reader should always be left with the feeling that this was being led up to from the very start. Commented Dec 5, 2010 at 9:10

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