Dirigible ex machina

Another writer I knew didn't know how to end his story. It involved a self-styled prophet who convinced his followers to sell all their belongings and meet him on a certain hill on the night he promised them the world was going to end. Good build-up. But the writer couldn't decide how to resolve things. So he dropped a dirigible on them, killing the lot.

Dramatic? Yes. Credible? Not even a little.

The author's problem was that he imposed a giant piece of melodramatic improbability on his story without any preparation at all. It ended the story, all right: killed it dead in its tracks.

That kind of weird ending that comes, as it were, out of the blue for no particular reason except that the author wants to set tle things, is called a deus ex machina. The Greeks, as translated by the Romans, coined the term to describe the practice of cranking gods out over the stage to settle otherwise insoluble tangles of human affairs. The whole idea creaks.

Take your ending from within the story itself. Make sure it grows from the characters and the nature of the conflict as it's been presented up to that point.

Whether it's a dirigible descending or convenient lightning striking the villain dead (as happens at the end of the movie version of The Bad Seed), the reader isn't going to buy it for a minute. Of course, as with any bit of real unlikeliness, you can prepare beforehand in some of the ways I suggested in Chapter 7.

Keep any major improbabilities to the opening and the middle: keep them out of the ending, except to the degree that they're a reasonable development of premises you've already established. If you've got a vampire, a beam of sunlight can legitimately wither it into a pile of ugly dust; but not if you've got an otherwise realistic (if unsavory) little girl who's been known to murder another child to steal a school spelling prize. No lightning. No dirigibles, please.

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