Deus ex machina: "a plot device that usually involves a last minute appearance by a character who saves the day, or a sudden event that conveniently resolves the plot." The phrase comes from ancient Greek theater, where seemingly insolvable situations were conveniently solved by 'dropping a god' on to the stage--often literally dropping the actor by way of an elaborate crane. Hence the meaning, "god from the machine."
My deus ex machina was a key that seemed to drop from the sky on a recent day when we got locked out of the house. How convenient, huh? Hubby and I had started out on a walk together, a Saturday morning tradition. Usually, since we part ways at a point and I return home while he goes a longer route, he makes sure I have the key. But this time neither of us thought to make the exchange--and he took off with said key in his pocket.
Good thing the day was warm. Once I realized the oversight, I also realized I might have a long wait. So, after checking to see if any door had been mistakenly left unlocked--no such luck--I decided to make the best of the situation. So I sat on my garden bench for a bit, enjoying just being outside. I did deep-breathing exercises. I tried to make myself useful by moving flower pots that need to be stored inside for the winter closer to the house.
Time crawled, so I strolled through the backyard. I peeked through broken windows in the neighbor's old barn next door, a barn that fell into disrepair years ago. I picked stickers off my pant legs that had hitched a ride. I headed back to the bench. That's when I looked down and...found a key, right smackdab in the flower bed, one I had never seen before. Now where did that come from? But then the thought hit me, do you suppose...? I hurried to the door to see if the key would get me in the house.
Of course it didn't. But if it had, it would have been a perfect example of a deus ex machina, an easy resolution to my problem--and obviously an example of what we don't want to do in our stories. Where's the action in a resolution so easy, the conflict, the character's need to resolve his problem?
Some examples of this unwelcome plot device, according to Bright Hub, include:
- A character waking up and realizing it was "all a dream"
- A hero turning up just in time to save everyone
- A sudden discovery of a super power or magical ability that solves all the plot problems
- A sudden dramatic natural even, such as an earthquake or fire
- A character who magically returns from the dead.
A key and a bit of Latin illuminated a story problem for me. How about you--any helps lately from Latin? Or any deus ex machinas that you've stumbled upon?