These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.
I've been away so long. Your site was one of my first revisits.
Deus ex Machina-I'd love to know how to pronounce that correctly- has me betwixt and between. So much so I metaphorically rushed for a pillow to place on the fence as I seem to be spending a lot of time there- just thinking about it.
Are you saying that if the author wants a 'happy ending' -even as I write it is dawning on me that 'happy' can be qualified. Perhaps I should have said if the author wishes to give the MC's 'most desired outcome' as an ending, it is an integral part of good writing that it be foreshadowed.
Leave a clue? Then be aware that there are many who will not like the story. That it will not be as poignant.
I can recall lots of deus ex Machina that were just plain corny but to be honest my salvation is totally based on God's direct and surprising intervention isn't it.
Sooo -oh I know- the Old Testament foreshadowed His cross.
Anyway I love detective stories that 'get their man', and thrive on stories that motivate and encourage optimism, so I guess I'd better get busy learning how to foreshadow.
I could only review my old stories through a crack in my fingers--what was I thinking? LOL
Rushing off to read your lesson on 'Beginnings'.
Much appreciate your gift of teaching,
Philippa, welcome back!
I'm pretty sure that the Latin phrase is pronounced "DAY-oose ex MOK-hin-a." I could easily be wrong about that.
This concept is proving to be hard to get across.
Not every surprise ending is a "magic ending" (I'll use that term, as it seems to be easier). And not every happy ending is undesirable, either. And not everything has to be foreshadowed. So you may keep your romantic endings and you may give your characters the desires of their hearts. If you're writing a mystery, however, you really do have to use some foreshadowing, and I may devote a whole lesson to that at some point.
The "magic ending," however, has these characteristics:
1. It is sudden
2. It totally resolves the conflict of the main character
3. It is a person, event, or item that is in the story solely for the purpose of "fixing" things in a quick and easy manner
4. It could not have been predicted by the previous events or characters' behaviors
5. It is often absurd or "overly convenient"
Surprise endings and twist endings are fine. Absurdly convenient, rescue-swooping-from-the-sky endings are not. Finding the balance is the key.
Good one-thanks Jan.
I did get that understanding from your introduction; just wanted to clarify my thoughts. I've been busy swotting over the 'Good Beginnings' and can feel the love of creating with words rising up.
Lots of material for me to go over and learn from. I think I've just ended that last sentence badly.
A preposition methinks?
I am definitely guilty of the "magic ending," and more than once.
Here's one where not only do I have a magic ending, but the villain is also a very flat character. It's definitely not my best writing. I suppose I was going for something different and darker, but couldn't bring myself to be completely dark.
And Jan, as I look at the comments, you were extremely gracious with yours.
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=22557
Isaiah 40:30-31 (NIV)
Well, that was six years ago. I've learned a lot since then...
In your defense, the ending is a "magic ending," but your character isn't totally flat. Just totally despicable!
I realize that the majority would rather have a "deus ex machina" or a more traditional ending when reading a book or even watching a movie (Not necessarily a predictable ending, but one that is neatly tied together). If the villain got away, the MC's goal was not achieved, or the super hero dies, then there's a sense of disappointment. An "Awe man, I wish there was a better ending" kind of response. I'm guilty at times
But my question is: What should be the aim of a good ending? I know that good stories have conflicts, but like yours and so many others, the conflict does not have to be resolve at the end. So what should a good ending do for the story it's concluding? What is the purpose or what should the ending accomplish? (Hope my question is clear )
My writing is a passion, not a hobby!
Well, before I get to the very excellent question in your second paragraph, I need to address something here. A deus ex machina ending is BAD, but not every "neatly tied together" ending is bad, nor does it necessarily contain a deus ex machina. If the ending is neatly tied together by the improbable and sudden intervention of someone or something that only appears for the purpose of tying things together--that's what we're trying to avoid. But neatly tying things together is FINE. In fact, one of the best YA books I've ever read--Holes, by Louis Sachar--does a spectacular job of tying multiple threads together by the end of a book with numerous plots and subplots across several different settings of time and place. If you haven't read it, I heartily recommend it.
The ending of a story (whether it's a micro-fiction story as in the Writing Challenge, or a full-length novel) should leave the reader satisfied. That may sound like a cop-out, but I can't think of a better way to say it. The thing is, there's no one way to satisfy the reader.
An open ending may be perfectly satisfying, if the the reader feels as if she "knows" what's going to happen next. Conversely, some readers despise an open ending; they want to know how every strand is tucked into the final tapestry.
So--is the key to write a tidy ending, with every conflict fully resolved? Maybe. Particularly in some genres (romance, mystery), that's the desired outcome. But that's also the easiest way to fall into the temptation to write a "magic" ending. And some genres (contemporary literary fiction, for one) are often better without complete resolution.
A happy ending, then--surely that's the best, most satisfying way to end the narrative, whatever the genre. Well, not necessarily. There are times when a happy ending isn't realistic or satisfying, and a tragic ending is the only thing that will work.
This may be frustrating you, if you wanted a pat answer. The only thing that all of those possible types of endings has in common is the writer's craft. A good writer will make any kind of ending satisfying; a poor writer may not.
I see your point Jan. I understand what your saying. There is no one way to write a good ending, the bottom line is to ensure that it satisfies. So the aim is not necessarily to solve every conflict, or to allow the reader to draw their own conclusion, or to provide a happy closing. The aim is to leave the readers satisfied through whatever medium chosen by the author.
Jan, can you help me with this story (It's a past challenge entry). It does not have a deus ex machina ending.... Yet, it is an entry that does not satisfy the need for a happy ending; neither does it tidy up loose ends....But I'm not quite sure it's open-ended either! it's just presented in a "Matter-of-fact" kind of way. Probably I'm missing something...any suggestions on how I can make the ending more satisfying will be greatly appreciated.
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=47815
My writing is a passion, not a hobby!
Also, keep in mind that sometimes "magic endings" actually do happen in real life. Take Apollo 13, one of my favorite movies as an example. If someone came into that movie not knowing it was based on a true story, they would likely write off the ending as "too predicable" and "too easy" and that none of that would have actually come together like that in real life. But here's the thing... It really DID all come together, and the ending was certainly NOT predicable when it was happening. Which makes for perfect movie fodder. A nice "neat" ending, improbably as it may seem, that actually happened.
On an unrelated note, I can pretty much quote that movie, have the soundtrack, and know exactly when they find out everyone's safe based on the soundtrack alone. I STILL get goosebumps during the re-entry scene every time I watch that movie. Maybe it's just because I'm a NASA geek, but to me, that is the sign of a great story. One that can be repeated over and over again and still bring those same feelings.
Isaiah 40:30-31 (NIV)
Sorry to post twice in a row, but I came up with an alternate ending for the story I posted above, and want to see if you think it works better.
Jackie huddled in the corner, covering Molly and whispering a desperate prayer. Through clenched teeth she seethed, "I don't even know you, Gary. You've lost your mind. I don't care if you won't pay child support; but to threaten to kill a child to get out of paying? Well, that's just lower than low."
"Oh, this is getting fun, now, Jackie. Were you praying? Do you think your God is going to save you?" He stepped closer to Jackie and Molly. "Do you?" He took another step. "Do you?" Another step. "Do you?"
Jackie tentatively reached her hand back towards her back pocket and quietly slipped her phone out, while keeping an eye on Gary. She continued to beg him for her life and make bargains with him, hoping that his intent was to torment her as long as possible.
She opened her old flip-phone keeping it behind her back, and fumbled for the numbers 9-1-1, hoping Gary didn't notice. She couldn't talk directly to them, but she hoped enough of the conversation was picked up to send help.
"Oh, Gary, please don't. What do you want from me? I'll do anything."
It seemed like an eternity, but she finally heard sirens in the distance. She could only hope it wasn't too late.
Okay. Perhaps not entirely plausible, as I don't think Gary was in a "negotiating" mood, and it would have been hard for her to get the phone out without him noticing, but I think it gets rid of the blatant "magic ending" at least. What do you think?
Isaiah 40:30-31 (NIV)
Amelia, I think your ending fit the mood of the rest of the story, and I don't think I would change it. A happy ending would not be in keeping with the tone of the narration, and a "magic ending" (for example, he wakes from a nightmare) would cheapen the man's story. You did well.
Allison, you know the movie better than I do--I've seen it twice, both times many years ago. But isn't their landing a result of the work of many people both in the capsule and at NASA working very hard to come up with solutions? That doesn't seem like a "magic ending" to me...but perhaps there's one crazy stroke of luck that I'm not remembering.
Works for me!
True. I guess I can just see some people thinking it still all came together "too well" or "too quickly" if they didn't know it was based on a true story. In fact, I saw a comment on a movie site that was something to the effect of "Well, of COURSE they came back alive. Too predicable!" as though they didn't realize it was based on a true story, where they, well, you know, actually DID make it back alive. That's what made me think of it. I definitely don't see it as a magic ending. Maybe improbable would be better. But improbable isn't always "magic" I suppose.
Isaiah 40:30-31 (NIV)
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