There are also narrative techniques that can help storytellers avoid poor storytelling. These are techniques that may be used effectively on rare occasions but are usually hallmarks of weak plot points and amateur storytelling. Deus ex machina is a narrative technique in which characters are saved from a hopeless situation by a surprise character or unlikely event. Deus ex machina often pulls from the supernatural, such as when a god or magical creature saves a character, especially when this supernatural being has never been mentioned before in the story. In The Lord of the Rings , a Great Eagle conveniently shows up and rescues Frodo when he’s trapped on Mount Doom. In the Harry Potter series, a phoenix rescues Harry by bringing him a sword that was conveniently hidden in a hat. Both of these are examples of deus ex machina: the characters are trapped with no way out, and a surprising, somewhat unbelievable, and often super-powered entity shows up out of the blue to save the day. Because deus ex machina often feels too convenient and lacks believability, it’s best avoided if possible.
Any writer, no matter how skilled, can benefit from getting a second opinion, because by definition one is always too close to one’s own work. Given that any writing is ultimately intended for other people’s consumption, it only makes sense to find out how other people perceive it. The individual whose opinion you seek need not be a better writer than you, since the goal is not necessarily to have this person correct or revise what you have done. Rather, it is to provide you with feedback on how your points and your tone are coming across. If your critic doesn’t get your jokes, or finds a character you meant to be funny and sympathetic merely irritating, or can’t follow some instruction because you left out a step you thought would be perfectly obvious to anybody—at least consider the possibility of making changes (and do your best to remain on speaking terms afterward). A professional editor is ideal, but if this is not practical or affordable, select someone whose opinion you respect and who represents your intended readership as nearly as possible.