failsafe plot

fantasyflights  asked:

How do you write a Divine Intervention without it seeming like a Deus ex Machina? What are some things to avoid and some things to be sure I do? Also, any help on writing a Near Death Experience?

Because I am fond of semantics, let’s define these literary terms (by way of TvTropes).

 Deus ex Machina is the term for when a new person or thing suddenly shows up in the plot and provides a solution to an unsolvable problem. Divine Intervention is the term for a deity’s direct, personal involvement in the real world (or plot), sometimes by way of miracle. The two can coincide, but they can also be different.

Deus ex Machina can be seen as contrived, because of how gods-be-damned specific it is. In order for an occurrence to qualify as a Deus ex Machina, it must fit some criteria.

  • Deus ex machina are solutions.
  • Deus ex machina are sudden or unexpected.
  • Deus ex machina are used to solve seemingly unsolvable problems.

You may notice the absence of actual gods in the Deus ex machina criteria. Deus ex machina, while it means “god from the machine,” does not actually have to be deity-related. Deus ex machina can come in the form of a new ability, a new character, some sort of MacGuffin thing, or it can come from an actual god. The things that make Deus ex machina what they are, are the above criteria.

Deus ex Machina often come off as contrived due to their use as failsafe plot devices. They show up out of nowhere, solve a thing, and then frequently vanish from the story, never to be heard from again.

The only criterion for Divine Intervention is this.

  • A deity gets directly involved with something.

Divine Intervention is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin.

Some differences between these two things:

  • Deus ex Machina solves things, without fail. Divine Intervention can fix things, but does not have to.
  • Moreover, Divine Intervention can fix this indirectly, where Deus ex Machina can fix things directly. (Perhaps Divine Intervention can stop Disaster Dominoes.)
  • Divine Intervention includes gods, where Deus ex Machina do not have to.
  • We will never see Deus ex Machina coming. Divine Intervention can be foreshadowed or even outright expected.
  • Deus ex Machina solves an insurmountable problem. Divine Intervention can solve any problem, trivial or otherwise.

As far as Near Death Experiences go, there are innumerable ways to write them, and just as many things to consider with them. What specifically are you needing help with?

-Headless