This is a guest post by Kristen Clark, a speaker and writer, and contributing editor for the online His Witness Ministries and New Beginnings Marriage Ministry. Her articles have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, while her inspirational stories have been published by Chicken Soup for the Soul. She lives in Texas with her husband, Lawrence.
Readers are not usually forgiving of what my husband calls “cheesy easy” endings, meaning readers want resolutions that are compelling as well as logical and realistic. This is especially true for readers of inspirational stories; they long for plausible solutions that leave them feeling uplifted, encouraged, and inspired. One way to deliver those emotions is to avoid “deus ex machina.”
An old technique found in ancient Greek and Roman drama, “dues ex machina” involves the introduction of a God-like character into a storyline in order to resolve the plot entanglements. The most famous example is in Homer’s The Odyssey. After Odysseus and Telemachus slaughter the suitors, the suitor’s families appear at the farm of Laertess in search of vengeance. As a battle is about to ensue, the goddess, Athena, shows up to save the day by telling everyone to stop their fighting. Surprisingly, everyone complies, resulting in an ending that is inconsistent with the story characters and plot thread.
“Dues ex machina” involves the introduction of an unexpected character that has no real merit, but participates in the solution. That character’s presence is suspicious to the reader, but convenient for the writer who chooses to wrap up the story quickly with a unique resource required for saving the day.
In modern stories, this unexpected resolution is the character who suddenly speaks the foreign language in which the secret documents are written, the distant half-brother who shows up just in time to invest the needed one million dollars, or the white unicorn that miraculously shows up after a nuclear war in a futuristic New York City. A disconnect between the resolution and story line is obvious.
If you write inspirational stories, make it a practice to write a solution that is clear and reasonable within the context of your story. Readers should walk away with a sense of confidence because the ending is believable, and not a feeling of disappointment or discouragement because the ending was a real stretch; there’s no inspiration in the latter.
Protect your story’s element of hope and encouragement by avoiding the “cheesy easy” ending, and focus on writing inspiring outcomes that fit naturally within your plot. Your readers will thank you for it.
Can you think of another example of a “cheesy easy ending” or “dues ex machina”?
- Four Ways to Engage Fiction Readers (wordservewatercooler.com)
- Debut Novelist Prunes her Rosebush (darcypattison.com)
- Deus Ex Machina (micahredding.com)