Deus Ex Machina: The Hilariously Unexpected Savior in Storytelling

Lord of the rings and Deus ex Machina
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“Deus Ex Machina” – three simple words, one unexpected ending. You’re engrossed in a story, and bam! An unexpected, logic-defying solution descends from the heavens. You pause, confused, then burst out laughing because hey, it’s a miracle, right? It’s so absurd, it’s hilarious! The ‘god from the machine’ makes an entrance and the problems evaporate. It’s the ultimate “because I said so” of storytelling.

Let’s face it, we’ve all experienced those puzzling literary devices at some point. You’re deeply engrossed in a book or a movie, the tension is building, the hero is in a tough spot, and then BAM! Out of nowhere, a solution presents itself. Welcome to the world of ‘Deus Ex Machina’!

Deus ex machina is bad writing, as you can see from the definition:

a person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.Merriam-Webster

What’s more amusing is that we’ve all fallen for it! In stories, we’re detectives, turning pages, hunting clues. So, when the solution comes served on a silver platter, we’re left with our jaws on the floor. It’s like solving a complicated riddle and the answer turns out to be “because it is”. But isn’t the unexpected a part of the fun?

Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” In the world of fiction, authors don’t always stick to possibilities. Sometimes, they spring a ‘Deus Ex Machina’ on us, and we’re left rolling with laughter at the audacity!

What is Deus Ex Machina — The "God From the Machine" Plot Device Explained


The Grand Entrance of ‘Deus Ex Machina’

Deus Ex Machina The Hilariously Unexpected Savior in StorytellingThe term ‘Deus Ex Machina‘ isn’t a modern writing technique. It has a rather fancy ring to it, doesn’t it? Imagine sitting in a dusty old theater in ancient Greece, watching a play where the hero is in a pickle. Suddenly, a god (yes, an actual god!) is lowered onto the stage via a crane, or ‘machina’ in Latin, to resolve all problems, and the crowd goes wild. You’d have to admit, it’s got a certain amount of comedic gold to it!

Imagine a janitor with a mop, only the mop is an unexpected plot twist, and the janitor, a god. Picture yourself puzzling over a Rubik’s cube and a friend suddenly swoops in and fixes it. You blink in disbelief as they say, “Oh, this old trick?” That, dear readers, is what it feels like when the ‘Deus Ex Machina’ graces us with its presence.

‘Deus Ex Machina’ is like that friend who comes late to the party but makes the grandest entrance. One moment, you’re deep in a mess, and the next, an unanticipated savior appears. It’s that moment of surprise, the “wait, what just happened?” that gets the laughs. If you think about it, it’s also a reflection of life’s absurdities, a reminder that not everything follows a neat, logical pattern.

Think about it this way. We’re Sherlock Holmes, analyzing every clue, every possible outcome. Then, suddenly, the writer becomes the trickster god Loki, throwing us off with a solution so ludicrous, we can’t help but chuckle. Stephen King said, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” Well, ‘Deus Ex Machina’ is that hilarious, unexpected punchline hidden in our narrative truth.

When ‘Deus Ex Machina’ Drops the Mic

Fast-forward to contemporary narrative structure, and the term has adopted a slightly less literal meaning. When we talk about ‘Deus Ex Machina’ now, we’re not expecting a god to swoop in to save the day (although, that could be fun!). Instead, it refers to any sudden or unexpected resolution to a seemingly unsolvable problem.

You’ll find ‘Deus Ex Machina’ lurking in many of your favorite stories, playing a bit of literary peekaboo. One moment, Frodo and Sam are surrounded by lava in “Lord of the Rings”, and the next, they’re saved by giant eagles. It’s a bit like inviting a superhero to a normal picnic and expecting no one to notice!

‘Deus Ex Machina’ can take any form – from Gandalf’s rescuing eagles in Middle Earth to time-traveling wizards. One moment, you’re biting your nails, worried about the protagonist. The next, you’re shaking your head and laughing because who expected that? In ‘The Lord of The Rings’, for example, Gandalf summons an eagle to escape from Isengard. It’s unexpected, it’s comical, and it gets the job done.

‘Deus Ex Machina’ is like the ultimate wild card. Just when you think all hope is lost, it pops up and says, “Hold my beer.” It’s that ridiculous solution that saves the day, the magic trick pulled from the hat at the last moment. Just when Sam and Frodo are in a hot spot in Mount Doom, in swoop the eagles, turning a grim situation into a moment of hilarity. After all, how often do you see giant birds rescuing folks from a volcanic eruption?

While some argue that ‘Deus Ex Machina’ is a lazy writing tool, it can also be seen as an element of surprise that breaks the monotony. As Agatha Christie once said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” So, let’s start by embracing the absurdity of ‘Deus Ex Machina’ and the laughter it brings along!

The ‘Deus Ex Machina’ device can, sometimes, result in readers questioning the plot. It’s like getting an unexpected pie in the face; it might be amusing, but it can also leave you wondering, “Where did that pie even come from?”

War of the Worlds: The Deus Ex Machina Twist

Now, you may be starting to think of ‘Deus Ex Machina’ as the villain of the narrative structure, the one thing that must be avoided at all costs. But hold your horses! While some may consider it a sign of weak storytelling, ‘Deus Ex Machina’ can be creatively employed in writing when handled with finesse and a dash of audacity. It’s somewhat like inviting a polka band to a solemn state function. Sure, it’s unexpected and could possibly lead to some raised eyebrows, but the sheer audacity can bring about an amusing twist that infuses life into a staid situation.

Let’s not forget our alien friends in the classic H.G. Wells novel, “War of the Worlds.” Now, there’s a ‘Deus Ex Machina’ moment that will surely have you chuckling in disbelief. It’s like having the whole football team down with the flu, and suddenly, the water boy steps up and scores the winning goal. Now, how’s that for an unexpected twist?

Picture this: Invincible Martians have landed on Earth. They’re destroying everything in sight with their mighty tripods, zapping humans left and right, and basically making a mess of things. Humanity tries everything, from guns to bombs, but these aliens just won’t budge. It’s a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat kind of situation, right?

And then, just as you’re ready to abandon all hope, our heroes, the microscopic germs, enter the scene. The aliens, it turns out, have no immunity to Earth’s bacteria. One by one, they drop like flies, finally leaving the panic-stricken humans in peace. Talk about a plot twist! It’s as if a superhero swooped in, not with a cape and fancy gadgets, but armed with a squirt gun filled with chicken soup to fend off the flu!

Even H.G. Wells couldn’t resist a ‘Deus Ex Machina’ in his story. The resulting comedic effect? Priceless. As humorist Dave Barry once put it, “People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.” Similarly, the Martians wanted to share their destructive power with Earthlings, but definitely did not sign up for our earthly germs!

Ultimately, the goal of any narrative is to engage and stimulate the reader or viewer. While ‘Deus Ex Machina’ can be seen as a narrative shortcut, it’s not without its advantages. It can inject a story with a dose of levity, offer a fresh perspective, or provide an unexpected plot twist that leaves audiences gasping. After all, who doesn’t love a good plot twist, even if it comes out of left field? As Shakespeare quipped, “All’s well that ends well!” Now isn’t that a ‘Deus Ex Machina’ of a quote to round up this section?

Riding on the Coattails of ‘Deus Ex Machina’

‘Deus Ex Machina’ is like that surprise guest who shows up at the party and steals the show with their flamboyant charm. As a narrative device, it’s a game changer. Just when the protagonist is staring at certain doom, along comes an unexpected savior. It’s the magical fairy godmother of storytelling, and who doesn’t love a good surprise?

Let’s have a scenario here. Imagine being locked in a room with a bomb ticking away. You’re sweating buckets, searching desperately for a way out. Suddenly, a mouse scurries in, carrying the key to the door. A mouse, out of all creatures! Now that’s an unexpected twist, right? That’s ‘Deus Ex Machina’ for you, the narrative version of a Houdini escape trick. Oscar Wilde said it best: “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.” And ‘Deus Ex Machina’ certainly makes sure that our stories don’t take themselves too seriously!

Perhaps the best thing about ‘Deus Ex Machina’ is its unpredictability. It could be a person, a thing, an event – anything that drops in from nowhere to save the day. It’s like the narrative’s magic lamp – rub it, and your problems disappear. As Alice in Wonderland quipped, “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” The same goes for ‘Deus Ex Machina’. Once it’s entered the story, there’s no going back!

The Beauty and Absurdity of ‘Deus Ex Machina’

‘Deus Ex Machina’, in all its absurd glory, adds a pinch of unexpected humor to the plot, making us chuckle and roll our eyes in amusement. We might groan at its impracticality, but hey, who doesn’t love a good, unexpected plot twist that lightens the mood?

The beauty of ‘Deus Ex Machina’ is its outrageousness. It’s like being in a maze with no exit and suddenly a door appears right before your eyes. Is it logical? Not at all. Is it hilarious? Absolutely! As the great Charlie Chaplin said, “a day without laughter is a day wasted.” And ‘Deus Ex Machina’, with its hilarious outcomes, ensures that our reading experience is never wasted.

‘Deus Ex Machina’ is a testament to the limitless power of imagination in storytelling. It’s the wild joker in the pack, the mysterious benefactor who swoops in to help the hero when all seems lost. It adds a touch of whimsy, a dash of the unexpected, a sprinkle of humor, and voila, you’ve got a plot twist that’s as amusing as it is baffling. After all, in the words of Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Happily, Ever After, Thanks to ‘Deus Ex Machina’

‘Deus Ex Machina’ is the fairy godmother we all secretly wish for, and it’s the cheeky trickster that injects an element of surprise into our stories. It turns a tragic situation into a comedy, leaving us snickering at the absurdity.

In the fairy tales we grew up with, ‘Deus Ex Machina’ was the magical transformation that turned Cinderella from a maid into a princess, or the kiss that woke Snow White from her eternal slumber. Yes, it’s unrealistic, but that’s the point! It’s this absurdity that makes us shake our heads in disbelief, chuckle, and say, “Well, that escalated quickly!”

Just remember, the next time you’re reading a book or watching a movie and the protagonist is saved in the most ridiculous way possible, that’s ‘Deus Ex Machina’ waving hello from the pages or screen. As the famous British author Terry Pratchett once said, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.” So, let’s lift a toast to ‘Deus Ex Machina’, the ultimate cure for a writer’s block!

Avoiding ‘Deus Ex Machina’ – A Challenge for the Modern Writer

But enough of the fun stuff! Let’s put on our serious, writerly glasses and talk about the ‘Deus Ex Machina’ predicament for writers. It’s an irrefutable fact that this narrative device can be a double-edged sword. It’s like driving a vehicle at high-speed; it can get you to your destination faster, but there’s a high chance you might crash. You see, using ‘Deus Ex Machina’ is like playing a high stakes game of poker. When it works, it’s a royal flush; when it doesn’t, it’s a hand full of mismatched cards. And trust me, readers aren’t shy about calling a writer’s bluff!

What’s the issue, you ask? Well, a resolution dropped into a story without any proper groundwork can leave readers feeling cheated, as if the rug has been pulled out from under them. You know that feeling when you’re playing a video game, and you’re so close to winning, but suddenly the power goes off, and your younger sibling announces they’ve won because, well, you’re no longer playing? That’s how it feels, and it’s as frustrating as that sounds!

The key to avoiding the ‘Deus Ex Machina’ trap is planning and careful foreshadowing. Leave breadcrumbs for your readers, so when the big reveal comes, they can look back and say, “Oh, that was a clever twist!” rather than “Wait, where did that come from?” Remember, the joy of any narrative journey is the voyage itself, not just the destination. If you’re reaching for ‘Deus Ex Machina’, remember the old adage: “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” It’s sage advice, indeed!


Love it or hate it, ‘Deus Ex Machina’ has a knack for making us laugh. Whether it’s a sudden lightning bolt that conveniently strikes the antagonist or a magical potion that saves the day, ‘Deus Ex Machina’ is there to stir the pot and make us chuckle. So, the next time you encounter an unexpected twist in a story, take a moment to appreciate the humor in it.

The beauty of ‘Deus Ex Machina’ lies in its unpredictability. It’s the narrative wildcard that keeps us on our toes. So, let’s raise our glasses to the delightful absurdity of ‘Deus Ex Machina’. As Dr. Seuss once said, “I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”

And, as always, we’d love to hear from you. Got any ‘Deus Ex Machina’ moments that tickled your funny bone? Share them in the comments below!

Richard Lowe is a celebrated author and ghostwriter who has carved a niche in a diverse range of literary genres, from science fiction and fantasy to young adult literature. With his flair for crafting immersive and compelling narratives, Lowe has a robust portfolio of books to his name, engaging readers with every page. Notably, he is also well known for his invaluable contributions to the field of writing instruction.

His seminal works like ‘Fantasy Book Empire‘, ‘Science Fiction Book Empire‘, ‘Romance Book Empire‘, ‘Mystery Book Empire‘, and ‘Show and Tell‘ serve as comprehensive guides for budding writers. These books, with their insightful and practical advice, underline Richard Lowe’s deep understanding of storytelling mechanics and his commitment to fostering new talent in the literary world. Through his distinctive body of work, Lowe continues to be an influential figure in modern literature.

Richard Lowe
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Jonathan Williams

Well done. I couldn’t agree more with your thesis and examples. I have no nits to pick re: LOR or Star Trek, both sacred cows of the fantasy and sci-fi genres, respectively (hence the reactions you’ve gotten so far). I have, however, PM’d you about a couple other nits I have to pick with your post, so be on the lookout for my message.

Richard Finney

Mr. Lowe, with all due respect, I’m not sure your definition of DEXMachia, and the way you define it to support your article is the way that the term is classically understood regarding the art and craft of storytelling.
For example, your LOR summary doesn’t feel consistent at all with the generally accepted understanding of the DEXMachina term. You may not like the climax of how Gandalf, Frodo, and Sam escape death, but the means that lead to their survival is totally set up in the context of the script story, and which is also depicted on screen. This reason alone means it is not a valid example of a violation of DEXMachina.
To wit, if a character is not directly involved with the means leading to their survival or salvation, it should not be interpreted as a story craft violation/ i.e. DEXMachina.
Regarding the “Comics” example you cite — I don’t believe it’s fair to take a swipe at a whole genre without citing specific story/plot points of a specific storyline to support your point. And specific story points are what is required to support your point because DEXMachina is very much about poor plot/story construction, and not necessarily protagonists that live to fight another day because of outside or third party help.
Seriously, take another look at how DEXMahchine is defined beyond the basic dictionary entry you include in your article. I think your interpretation is off in a significant way that means your words will not be very helpful to the fledging writer.

Stuart Herring

I have an idea to offer, and a nit to pick.
(1) idea: Remember that the Eagles were employed for rescue in _The Hobbit_, based on their existing friendship with Gandalf. (And their great size was of course mentioned too.) True, this is not a setup for people who had not read the earlier work before experiencing LotR in book or film form, but I suspect that such people are fairly few.

(2) nitpick: Please be even more careful with your punctuation, good sir. Plurals (such as ‘Ents’) are not formed with apostrophes; neither is the possessive form of ‘it’ (its, not it’s). These are small errors, true, but they can jar the attentive reader out of the intended flow of the narrative.

Thank y’all for your attention…. 🙂