Friday, May 21, 2010

Contest Winners & Double Espresso Deus Ex Machina

Congrats to the winners of my 150 Follower Contest! I used to pick the lucky numbers...

Winner of Barnes and Noble Gift card: DL Hammons

Winner of the book, A Northern Light: Laura B. Diamond

Winner of the Starbucks card: Renae

Please email me your addresses at LydiaKang (at) yahoo (dot) com and I'll send you your gifties soon. Thanks again to all for joining in!

Today I wanted to talk about the plot device called deus ex machina. Pronounced DAY-us Ex MAK-in-ah.

And I checked. It is NOT a double espresso maker from Europe. But it should be.

It means "God in the machine" (okay, for all the caffeine junkies out there, maybe God is in espresso makers) and refers to many Greek tragedies in which a seemingly horrible ending is avoided by intervention of the gods. A more modern take is when a tragic ending is resolved by "a contrived and unexpected invention of a new character, ability, or object." Quoting Wiki, here.

A few examples:
- 1st, 2nd and 4th Harry Potter books (Harry's mom's love saving him from Quirrell, Fawkes showing up out of nowhere, and the priori incantantem spell saving him from Voldemort)
-The Stand by Stephen King
-Lord of the Rings trilogy (the giant eagles miraculously rescuing Frodo and Sam).

This type of plot device can be unsatisfying for many. A perfect ending that comes out of nowhere? You can imagine the reader may feel tricked, since nothing substantial in the plot set this ending up.

On the other hand, it does make for a juicy, surprise ending! And a kick-ass cappuccino, to boot.

It occurs to me that some of the examples here are more a Chekhov's Gun type technique rather than Deus Ex. Please see my other post on Chekhov's Gun!


JE said...

Hmmm...interesting. I'll be keeping that plot device in mind, I might have a use for it in the near future!

Congrats to the winners!


Avo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DL Hammons said...


What a way to start to the weekend. Thank you so much Lydia! I'll make sure to put it to good use. :)

And about that plot device...I'm one of those that consider it unsatisfying. A writers cheat. I require some foundation first. That's just me, though.

Thanks again!

Unknown said...

Interesting post. I hope my ending isn't considered that. Hmmm...I don't think so because the plot device is in place the whole story.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

P.S. on your debut author had better try this plot device!! It won't fly!

About Me said...

I liked this device in the Harry Potter books. But Karen's right, newies beware.

Melissa Sarno said...

You're bringing my back to my high school days by discussing this plot device. I wonder if there's a way to use this device less literally in literary fiction (I don't write fantasy) Thanks for getting me thinking :-)

Lydia Kang said...

Duuude! Thanks Alesa!!!!
I fixed it. Stupid French lessons from my past coming back to ruin my horrible sense of Latin.

Avo said...

It happens to the best. : j

Mayowa said...

Congratulations on an awesome contest and congrats to the winners!

I knew deus ex machinas were bad from english class, but i rather enjoyed all those books you mentioned that use them.

This calls for some mulling over.

Janet Johnson said...

Congrats to the winners!

Interesting study. I agree with Mayowa. I enjoyed those books, which tells me that Deus ex machina can be used to good ends if it's done right. In most of those, there was a prior reference setting up the possibility. Particularly the eagle rescue. Good post.

Jackee said...

Congrats to the winners! :o)

That was interesting, the examples Wiki gives. I think deus ex machina certainly has its place and can be tasteful in some situations because oh how I love plot twists!

Bidisha said...

Lucky, lucky winner! I'm so J right now :P

Interesting post.. I agree, readers can have mixed reactions to strange plot devices that appear out of nowhere to tie up everything neatly in the end. Depending really on how the story goes.

Candyland said...

Some books it works for, others I'm dissatisfied. Great post and congrats to winners!!!

Elana Johnson said...

Congrats to the winners! And I agree with the others here. I didn't feel dissatisfied in Harry Potter, even when Fawkes showed up. So yeah. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Congrats to the lucky ducks! I loved the surprise endings you mentioned, but there have certainly been times I didn't.

Have a great weekend! :-)

Lindsay said...

Congrats to the winners.
I sometimes think the whole suprise can work if it's done well. If not, like you said, it's unsatisfying.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I have a pretty contrived character show up at the end of my ms. My editor has given me hints about how to fix him, and I'm dying see!

Thank goodness for other, wiser eyes.

Munk said...

Entre Deus Ex Machina Lydia Blogadoo... You are blogdom's very own.

Susan Fields said...

Congrats to the winners!

I'm pretty sure we do have God to thank for coffee (and espresso)!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to the winners! :)

I never thought about the HP endings being deus ex machina, but now, thinking about it, they really are. I think, as long as the DEX isn't entirely obvious and has never been alluded to before, I don't mind it so much.

Creepy Query Girl said...

Congrats to the winners. iiiinteresting about the plot device with the weird name that I'm not going to attempt spelling. I know what you mean and agree- sometimes it's like 'what?' but if done in just the right way it can make for a kickass scene or ending.

Corey Schwartz said...

Great post! Love the graphic!

Shannon said...

Congrats to the winners.

Funny that you should bring up this topic today. Last night Michael and I were talking about this device during dinner. I can't remember how we got on the subject, but we pulled apart a lot of books and movies that use it.

Timely post. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Endings out of nowhere sure can be frustrating - it's more satisfying if the characters create the solutions themselves.

Unknown said...

Yeah, I thought the arrival of Fawkes was a little too convenient.

Congrats to the winners. I always love it when bloggers I know win. :)

Diane said...

Sometimes I do feel cheated by an out of the blue ending. Depends on the rest of the story. :O) Good analysis.

Aubrie said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog!

I know exactly what you mean about Harry Potter, I've wondered about it myself but had no idea there's a name for it.

It does bother me.

Jamie Grey said...

Congrats to the winners!

I recently realized that one of my first drafts had this problem! *blushes* I didn't even realize I was doing it. But needless to say I've fixed it now! It's easy to let someone else sweep in and save the day, but very unsatisfying to the reader (and the writer!)

Tana said...

Congrats to the winners! I agree that plot ending does seem to come out of left field and sometimes leave me saying huh? I wonder if those authors paint themselves in a corner and need to find a creative way to get themselves out?

Theresa Milstein said...

Congratulations to the winners!

A couple of years ago when my husband and I visited France, our friends had a machine like that. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Congrats to the winners, and may I have a latte, please. :D
I have left you an award or two on my blog in appreciation of all your fine blogging.

Vicki Rocho said...

I love your illustrations! They add such a nice bit of charm.

I was TOTALLY pronouncing that wrong...and that's AFTER we talked about it in Philosophy class so I should've known better!

Congrats to all the winners!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Deus ex Machina is poor ploting unless God has been a background character all along.

Hey, are you going to participate in Bryan's Logline Blogfest? You get to write 5 one sentence loglines describing your novel.

I would like to see what you would write. Roland

Jo Schaffer said...

Nice to meet you, girl! (=

kanishk said...

Congrats to the winners.
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kathrynjankowski said...

Congrats to the winners!
Yes, I was annoyed by the endings of the first and fourth Harry Potter books, but not the second because Fawkes came after Harry declared his loyalty to Dumbledore.
As for LOTR, my understanding is that Gandalf sent the eagles; they didn't appear out of nowhere.

Anonymous said...

Woo-hoo! Thanks, Lydia! Lookin' forward to reading that book!

By the way, my espresso machine--er, I mean, deus ex machina--is on back order. Go figure. ;)-

storyqueen said...

Great post, Lydia.

And thank you for following my blog!

I kind of liked those twists in Harry Potter...especially the priori incantantem.

I suppose that when I am reading a book with magic, I expect there to be magical things that happen..


Zoe C. Courtman said...

Congrats to the winners! What a fun contest :D And I LOVE that you included the deus ex machina in this post. Cuz, truly, I HATE it when it shows up in something I'm reading. Terrific post, dude!

Eeleen Lee said...

Deus Ex Machina aka 'The Cavalry Coming Over the Hill'

I actually want to write a ghost story about the ghost in the machine and how maligned he/she has been through the ages

Kelly Polark said...

I have never heard that term before. I honestly did not feel unsatisfied with that type of ending in the Harry Potter books you mentioned.
I could see how it could be though in certain stories. But then again, sometimes the unexpected indeed does happen!

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