I am seeking a word, should it indeed exist, that describes a dramatic or literary device found when a new character is introduced into a story which disrupts the natural equilibrium, driving the story.

For example, in J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls, there is a natural equilibrium at the Birlings' home. This exists, however, until the Inspector arrives - disrupting the natural order, it seems, and goes on to defining the narrative.


There is the opposite of deus ex machina: diabolus ex machina

Diabolus ex Machina (Demon from the Machine) is the Evil Counterpart of Deus ex Machina: the introduction of an unexpected new event, character, ability, or object designed to ensure that things suddenly get much worse for the protagonists, much better for the villains, or both.

Though it is not a well-established term like deus ex machina. These kind of events can be interpreted as "plot twist" as well.

A plot twist is a radical change in the expected direction or outcome of the plot of a novel, film, television series, comic, video game, or other work of narrative.

  • It doesn't have much currency outside of tvtropes, but here's diabolus ex machina defined as Arbitrary, unjustifified obstacle for the protagonist. Which doesn't really quite seem to fit the bill in OP's context, where the protagonist (the Inspector) actually is the "disruptive plot twist" (without which presumably there would be no story to tell). – FumbleFingers Mar 23 '14 at 17:18

In the world of Literary Criticism, the standard term is...

deus ex machina (literally, "the god in the machine")
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.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.