Deus ex post facto: plot twists and other dilemmas …
* * * *
In classical drama, the term deus ex machina refers to a plot device wherein a plot problem is suddenly solved by the arrival of a previously unannounced character who supplies the answer or solution. “But don’t you know? That’s your brother!” would be a line delivered by a deus ex machina character, thus helping our hero avert or defeat a troublesome situation.
When a playwright or a novelist needs to fix an intractable plot puzzle, he or she might resort to the tool, which is Latin for “god from the machine,” or “you couldn’t figure it out for yourself with the characters you’d created, so you punted,” but audiences since ancient times have tended to see through the fix. “Where did HE come from?” More often than not nowadays, it is used ironically, but when you find yourself reading a book and seeing lines delivered by a character that you do not remember being introduced to, your inattentive reading is not to blame. That character really was not there 20 pages earlier.