Gods Of Egypt And Deus Ex Machina

By on October 1, 2016

I watched Gods Of Egypt ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2404233/ ) on Friday. This visually beautiful movie is a clear example of Deus ex machina gone wild.

What is Deus ex machina? According to Wikipedia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_ex_machina ), it is “a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the inspired and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object.”

The literal translation is God from the Machine. I’ve heard it referred to as ‘the hand of God’ because it resembles a supreme being swooping down with his/her big hand to save the day.

In Gods Of Egypt, this happens again and again. For example, Horus regains his wings during a to-his-death plummet just in time to save himself. Why then? We’re not quite sure. In another scene, they’re stranded in the middle of nowhere and his heroine sends a chariot propelled by birds to transport them. Did we know she had a chariot propelled by birds? Nope. There are many more scenes in which the heroes are magically saved.

It was wearying and frustrating for me, the viewer. Why? The biggest reason is because there’s no logic to the story. Random shit happens. Yes, random shit happens in real life but we usually don’t like that. Some of us absolutely hate it. And we usually don’t want to see this in our entertainment. We want our entertainment to make sense.

I say usually because, as with any so-called writing rule, there ARE times when Deus ex machina works for a story. Maybe the theme of the story is chance. Maybe, as with Lord Of The Flies, it is used to save the reader from the otherwise inevitable grim-as-fuck ending (that even more terrible things happen to the boys). Even the writer, William Golding, called that a gimmick, however. He knew he was being tricksy.

The use of Deus ex machina is sometimes seen as lazy writing. Often a little foreshadowing can eliminate it entirely. If Horus in Gods Of Egypt had experienced short instances of being able to regain his wings before the plummet, I would have happily embraced that solution. If his heroine had used the chariot a couple of times in previous scenes, I would have believed she’d send this magical taxi for Horus. I normally like to hint at the upcoming solution at least twice before it happens (the power of three is not to be underestimated – grins).

But-but-but I want to surprise/shock/thrill the reader, you say. The I-See-Dead-People Sixth Sense movie ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0167404/ ) had perhaps one of the best twists I’ve ever experienced. Yet when I re-watched the movie, I realized all of the hints were there. I SHOULD have seen the twist. I didn’t. THIS is what makes this movie brilliant- viewers could have predicted the ending but almost all of us didn’t.

We’re romance writers. We know we have this power. Heck, we tell our readers flat out “This story is a romance. It will have a romantic happy ever after or happy for now” and then, if we do our jobs correctly, we convince readers at some time during our story that our couple (or more) won’t end up together.

What other genre does this-tells readers the ending of the stories and then convinces them that ending won’t happen? None. We have skills, folks. Believe in our skills. Use them to thrill and amaze our readers.

Note: You will ALWAYS have at least one reader/reviewer who guesses the twist. We have some of the most intelligent people on the planet reading our novels. One of them will guess correctly.

As a writer, you want this. You want a nice mix between readers knowing the twist and readers not seeing it coming. That’s when you know you’ve hit the sweet spot, the spot that will have readers re-reading your story to find all of the clues.

What are some of your tips to eliminate Deus ex machina?


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One response to “Gods Of Egypt And Deus Ex Machina”

  1. Cara Bristol says:

    My goal is always to surprise the reader, but then have them look back, thump their head, and say, “I should have known, the clues were there.”

    It’s a tightrope walk. If you don’t give enough clues, the end will come across as deus ex machina, and the reader feels cheated. But give too many clues, and they figure it out and then they feel the story is predictable.

    It’s a hard job being an author.

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