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Be A Better Writer--THE MAGIC ENDING

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.

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Be A Better Writer--THE MAGIC ENDING

Postby glorybee » Sat Mar 15, 2014 7:58 pm

The literary term that is the topic of this lesson is deus ex machina, and it literally means “god from the machine,” but although it references ‘god,’ it is not a faith-related term, nor is it a sacrilegious one. You can look up its origins online—I’m more interested in its meaning for fiction writers. Don't worry about the Latin, though--you can just use the phrase "magic ending" while you're reading through this (thanks for the idea, Jo).

Deus ex machina occurs when a writer introduces a character, object, or event near the end of the story that conveniently solves the problem that is facing the main character, without any foreshadowing. This is generally thought of as a bad thing. It is a cop-out—a way to tie everything up in a neat little bundle that doesn’t allow the character to work through his or her own solution. Readers then feel let down—a little bit cheated out of a satisfactory struggle and resolution.

It is sometimes tempting to use a deus ex machina when we’ve written ourselves into a corner, with the 750th word just around the bend and an ending desperately needed.

I mentioned in my previous lesson (on “good endings”) that you should avoid the “it was only a dream” scenario. This is a sort of deus ex machina. Similar endings that Christian writers are particularly prone to write include the introduction of a mysterious angelic visitor, or some other miraculous intervention.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m writing this from a literary point of view, not a theological one. I believe in both angels and miracles, and have experienced both personally. In fact, sometimes a story with an angel or a miracle simply needs to be written. If that is the case with you, certainly write one. Be aware, though, that—for example, if you have a person with a spinal cord injury who is miraculously cured—people who have been in the same circumstances but have not experienced their own miracle may feel saddened or (as has sometimes happened, unfortunately) judged.

Stepping down off that particular soapbox—I’ll reiterate now that good writers don’t take shortcuts. If you’ve written a story in which Sharon is in utter poverty and about to be put out on the street unless she gets the rent money, don’t have a lawyer call her in the last paragraph with an inheritance from Uncle Jack’s will. At the very least, introduce Uncle Jack earlier in the story, and give him a plausible reason to be there.

As you can imagine, there’s a balancing point between “I don’t want to have a deus ex machina” and “I want to have a twist ending.” The key is to provide the reader with a little bit of foreshadowing. If Gloria’s orange scarf is going to be the one thing that reunites her with her long-lost mother, be sure to have her choose that scarf in an early paragraph. There were many times when I was writing for the challenge when I’d go back to an early paragraph and insert a person or an object that would become significant later. You don’t have to go overboard (see the SCARF? She’s wearing THAT SCARF now. Now she’s draping it on a chair, and now someone’s giving her a random compliment about THAT SCARF…). Just drop the hint, and move on.

Here’s your exercise. Here’s a link to an old challenge entry of mine. Read all but the last two paragraphs—stop when you read “No, sweetie. Mama’s not mad.” Then come back here and read this new ending, one that contains a deus ex machina.

Just then, Jim walks into Maggie’s room, an unreadable look in his eyes and the phone in his hand. He sits beside me and rests his head on my shoulder.

“Jim? What is it?”

He looks at the phone as if it is totally unfamiliar to him. “It’s Dr. Conrad’s office. They mixed up your test results with another woman’s.” He stops, and a sob chokes his next words. “You’re pregnant.”


Got that? Now go back and read the “real” ending.

Now certainly there will be some people who prefer the “happier” ending, but from a literary point of view, it’s a cheat. Too convenient, too neat. Life isn’t generally like that.

Easy homework this week:

HOMEWORK:

Post a comment or a question about this week’s lesson.

OR Find a story of yours that used a deus ex machina and link to it. Tell what a different ending could have been.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be A Better Writer--Deus ex machina

Postby lish1936 » Sat Mar 15, 2014 8:25 pm

Jan, I plan to do this lesson, but was I too late for the "beginnings"? I left my homework, but I didn't see a response to my questions.

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Re: Be A Better Writer--Deus ex machina

Postby glorybee » Sat Mar 15, 2014 8:42 pm

Lillian, I just went back to the "Beginnings" lesson, and I don't see a post by you there.

I click the box so that I get a notification for every post of every lesson, so it's never too late. But I think this might be a case of you perhaps not hitting "submit?"
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Deus ex machina

Postby lish1936 » Sat Mar 15, 2014 10:16 pm

I don't know the end from the beginning. :lol: I meant to say I posted for the " Great Endings" lesson.

:sorry

Lillian
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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be A Better Writer--Deus ex machina

Postby glorybee » Sun Mar 16, 2014 5:07 pm

bump.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Deus ex machina

Postby itsjoanne » Sun Mar 16, 2014 5:36 pm

Just need to say the "original" is so very much better. I am DEFINITELY not fond of the "magic ending" (which is much easier to remember how to spell LOL!).

I couldn't think of a challenge piece where I used this (really - NOT in the mood to try to spell it) - but MAYBE this one - a little?

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=16592

It didn't exactly "get fixed" in the end - but the lesson I think would have been better had I not finished it as I had.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Deus ex machina

Postby glorybee » Sun Mar 16, 2014 5:58 pm

Jo, the story would definitely have been stronger if Jenna had actually died. I'm not sure it's actually a deus ex machina--but if it's not, it's pretty close.

Still, it's a very good story.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Deus ex machina

Postby RachelM » Mon Mar 17, 2014 1:39 am

I love the original story! The second ending does leave me feeling cheated. Thank you for this lesson and for pointing out how we can use foreshadowing to give the reader a hint.
Last edited by RachelM on Mon Mar 17, 2014 10:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Deus ex machina

Postby glorybee » Mon Mar 17, 2014 10:23 am

*bump*. Just trying to keep this lesson at the top of the forum, so people don't miss it.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Deus ex machina

Postby itsjoanne » Mon Mar 17, 2014 12:00 pm

glorybee wrote:Jo, the story would definitely have been stronger if Jenna had actually died. I'm not sure it's actually a deus ex machina--but if it's not, it's pretty close.

Still, it's a very good story.


I agree, Jan. On both counts. May have to rewrite that some time with the less "warm fuzzy" ending. :)

(Wondering if folks are staying away from your post cuz of the scary Latin or French? Not sure which in the title.)

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Re: Be A Better Writer--Deus ex machina

Postby glorybee » Mon Mar 17, 2014 12:03 pm

It's Latin, and that's a good point. I'll go tweak it, using a phrase that I'm totally stealing from you.
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Re: Be A Better Writer--Deus ex machina

Postby itsjoanne » Mon Mar 17, 2014 12:16 pm

glorybee wrote:It's Latin, and that's a good point. I'll go tweak it, using a phrase that I'm totally stealing from you.


Hehe - glad to help. And here I came to the same post, thinking it was a different one :). Hope my suggestion helps.

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Re: Be A Better Writer--THE MAGIC ENDING

Postby lish1936 » Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:05 pm

Jan, can I use this week's entry as your assignment in reverse...tell why I don't think it has a Deus ex machine ending based on the definition and example?

Lillian
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I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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Re: Be A Better Writer--THE MAGIC ENDING

Postby glorybee » Mon Mar 17, 2014 5:14 pm

lish1936 wrote:Jan, can I use this week's entry as your assignment in reverse...tell why I don't think it has a Deus ex machine ending based on the definition and example?

Lillian


Sure!
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Re: Be A Better Writer--THE MAGIC ENDING

Postby lish1936 » Mon Mar 17, 2014 9:30 pm

Jan, I'm doing the assignment in reverse with this week's challenge. Here are my reasons why I do not think the article has a Deux ex Machina ending. Here's the link to the story: http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=48133

I introduced the MC's problem early in the story, and I think I hinted ("foreshadowed") in the middle of the story what the ultimate solution would be. I think there were several references to the MC's conflict throughout the story with the MC's thoughts and biblical references. As the story progressed, the "Peter moment" summarized the conflict, and my experience with the little boy and his father brought the story to it's climax with the MC's conflict solved before the story ended. I'm not sure if that's a good thing because the last part of the story may be anti-climatic and one of those neatly wrapped summaries.

Although the reference to not "sinking" does enhance the resolution, I think. :D

I'm not sure if I analyzed this correctly, but I don't think this was a "magic ending" story.

Thanks for any helps/suggestions.
Lillian
E-Book - Retirement Lane - How to Celebrate Life After 60

Fortunate 500


I write even when I think I can't, because I must. :-)

I love to write. Nothing escapes the crush I have on the written word. I'm hooked on words!!

"Let words bewitch you. Scrutinze them, mull them, savor them, and in combination, until you see their subtle differences and the ways they tint each other." Francis Flaherty

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