Keep that god machine out of your novel!




What crazy talk from a Christian writer! Am I saying we shouldn’t write about God? Absolutely not, but you can’t lower Him from a winch in Chapter 15 for the last scene. Allow me to explain.

Back in the days of Greek and Roman theater, it was common for a deity of some sort to be delivered onto the stage via some machinery to intervene at a crucial moment. Heroes were saved, the world set to rights by the arrival of this deity. It’s known as the deus ex machina. Writers continued to use this nifty technique, using either a character or circumstance to improbably resolve a situation. Personally, I would love to employ the deus ex machina too! What a great way to tie up all those nagging plot points and free my hero from the corner I’ve painted him into! The problem is…I can’t.

Modern readers will not accept such a overly contrived solution. I was recently reading Adrift in New York, written by Horatio Alger Junior in 1904. Our brave hero Dodger(actually an heir though he doesn’t know it) is unable to sail home to save his imperiled Florence because he lacks the $300 for the price of a passage. He is exiting his rooms just in time to save a wealthy man from a ruffian. His reward? Yep, $300 dollars. Readers in 1904 didn’t mind that kind of thing. Modern readers do.

So there can be no dropping gods out of the sky to magically fix up our messy plots. We’ll just have to do it the hard way, through lots of heroic striving, spiritual strength and good old fashioned struggle.

Did you ever encounter an improbable event or character in a fiction book that fixed things up in a way that felt contrived? Giving away a Barnes and Noble gift card this month!

2 responses to this post.

  1. Yes, I’ve had that “wanting to toss the book” moments, too! Glad in inspired your own writing, Shanda!



  2. Posted by Shanda on May 2, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    I enjoy it in satire, like with Pratchett, but some romance novels make me roll my eyes. I just read one that made me so irritated, from its improbable plotline to the very ridiculous solution. What? I have passed it along to friends simply to justify my outrage and disappointment. It was one of those “I can do better” moments that ended up making me feel a tiny bit more optimistic about my own writing. 🙂 That’s not very nice of me, but there it is.



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