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I'm in a bit of a dilemma. At one point near the end of my story, I intentionally pulled a huge Deus Ex Machina that has no previous explanation, hint or even justification. In fact, I could (and may or may not) completely remove that plot point and the story would remain the same. This plot point is some problem that is suddenly introduced, and almost immediately resolved. However, it does have a purpose. Two, actually:

  1. Create a tense and shocking twist at the end of a chapter, and;
  2. Hint at a larger plot/universe.

The second point is the main reason why I'm keeping it currently. The reader doesn't know there is a larger universe/set of linked stories, but the Ex Machina explains a few major events in other stories, such that it no longer is an Ex Machina. That only happens after this current story is wrapped up and finished, though. For someone reading this story, and this story alone, this plot line doesn't have anything to hold on to.

In order to not make this primarily opinion-based, let's assume I follow through with keeping this plot line:

How would an intentional Deus Ex Machina influence the quality/credibility of my story?

Additionally, an insight into what the reader might think of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere Ex Machina, would be appreciated. I had a read at this related question, which was the closest to my question I could find. From what I've gathered, an Ex Machina is more easily forgiven if there is merit in it. I believe the plot point merits the Ex Machina (without its consequences, the story would have a rather unsatisfactory conclusion. Without it altogether, the story would be much the same, save an intense moment).

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    Is the DEM currently part of an epilogue? Could it be? That's a great place to put a "teaser" for a sequel. In this case, since the DEM is not foreshadowed or explained, it will raise lots of questions in the minds of the readers that they will want answered. – Todd Wilcox Mar 14 '18 at 19:26
  • @Secespitus Thanks for the tag! I meant to check if it existed but I completely zoned out. – HugoBDesigner Mar 14 '18 at 19:27
  • @ToddWilcox It happens some time before the ending of the story, so I can't make it into an epilogue unfortunately. – HugoBDesigner Mar 14 '18 at 19:28
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    If it must happen before the climax, then that affects how well you can get away with doing it without leaving readers unsatisfied because of it. If you ever watched Lost, you know what unresolved and unexplained DEMs feel like. It's probably a major aspect of why so many hated that show. – Todd Wilcox Mar 14 '18 at 19:30
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    this reminds me of an answer someone gave on another question siting the wizard of Oz. It is ok for the good witch to ex machina Dorthy's problem because she had earned her win, and the balloon leaving without her was a post climax challenge – Andrey Mar 15 '18 at 20:34
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If you could remove that plot point and the story would remain the same, then it is not a deux ex machina. It is only deus ex machina if the entire resolution of the plot depends on an intervention of some force entirely outside of everything that has happened in the story before. In other words, it refers to a story in which the hero does not merit the outcome of their quest.

A Deus Ex Machina is about the overall resolution of the whole story. A plot point that is suddenly introduced out of nowhere and almost immediately resolved is a distraction. There is a progress to stories and elements that are not part of that progress are like being stuck in a traffic jam. Suddenly the reader is not making progress anymore. So much of the craft of storytelling comes down to this: keeping the story moving. Whatever else it is you want to get in, it has to also function to move the story forward. It must up the ante. This is what makes storytelling hard.

So what you actually have is something from outside the story crashing the party toward the end but not influencing the outcome of the story. That is not DXM, but it is almost certainly not going to work either. Stories work within a set of rules about what is physically and morally possible. These rules don't have to have a lot to do with what is physically and morally possible in the real world, but they have to be consistent in the story world or the reader won't know what is really a stake.

If you want to suggest that the story that the reader has just read in fact took place in a terrarium on the desk of a superbeing and that in the next book the heroes will have to escape from the terrarium and battle the god, that is fine, but it comes after the denouement, so that the story world remain intact until its moral and emotional arc is complete.

  • Thanks for the answer, very insightful points those you raised! I have a question, though: would you consider it an Ex Machina if the plot point is some problem that is suddenly introduced, and almost immediately resolved? – HugoBDesigner Mar 14 '18 at 19:57
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    No. Deus ex machina is about the overall resolution of the whole story. A plot point that is suddenly introduced out of nowhere and almost immediately resolved is a distraction. There is a progress to stories and elements that are not part of that progress are like being stuck in a traffic jam. Suddenly the reader is not making progress anymore. So much of the craft of storytelling comes down to this: keeping the story moving. Whatever else it is you want to get in, it has to also function to move the story forward. It must up the ante. This is what makes storytelling hard. – user16226 Mar 14 '18 at 20:02
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    The definitions I've seen for DEM (other than its classical Greek usage which is what I think you're applying) is any event, character, ability, etc introduced purely to get the writer out of a corner (s)he has written the characters into. For example the characters are all trapped with a ticking timebomb that can't be disarmed. If a character suddenly develops the ability to block the explosion with no hints that he had that ability before hand then it would be DEM, if it was a character who was already shown to be very tough turning out to be tough enough to survive then it's not DEM – GordonM Mar 15 '18 at 12:48
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    @GordonM There is an undoubted tendency to expand the use of terms to cover more and more trivial cases, sometimes for propaganda purposes, sometimes out of simply wanting to show off that you know the word. But while I am very much of the camp that says that language is a democracy and that words mean what people use them to mean, there is also a very real necessity in professional discourse to restrict words to a more technical meaning because that is essential for clear professional discourse. Here, at least, it will profit us to use literary terms like DXM in their strictest sense. – user16226 Mar 15 '18 at 13:01
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    I'd also point out that Aristotle's dictum on the use of DXM was essentially a critique of its use in Greek theatre at the time. Saying, don't do X, is not a definition of X. At the time the DXM was a piece of stagecraft that could be use for good or ill effect. Aristotle was not redefining the term. He was indicating its appropriate use. As it applies to literature today, however, it means the use he was criticising: the use of a god to resolve a story. My definition does not contradict Aristotle's. We are saying the same thing. – user16226 Mar 15 '18 at 14:08

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