Hello there, reasonably-stressed writerly friend~ ♥︎
I totally understand where you are coming from. This is actually hand-in-hand with a few questions I got about writing Mystery novels. After all, how do you keep the twist a secret without making it come out of nowhere, and without foreshadowing it to all hell?
Before we begin, though— I don’t want to be the Word Czar, but I have to clarify your use of the term ‘Deus Ex Machina' (I totally got what you meant, but I want to make this clear so that you and any writerly friends reading this understand what it means before using this term c:).
Deus Ex Machina is latin for: “God from The Machine.” It is a plot device in which a problem (or situation) that seemed unsolvable is abruptly solved via the introduction of a character, item, or element. This is considered a negative plot device because it makes the story feel as though the writer ran out of ideas to get their characters out of trouble. The origin of this term comes from Greek Plays, in which Gods would be dropped into the climax of a story to suddenly solve all the problems and bring about the happy ending.
A modern example of this would be the ‘battle of wits’ scene from The Princess Bride, in which Westley gambles for the princess via making Vizzini choose one of two cups (one of which presumably has poison in it), meaning that one of the two men will die based on the choice. Of course, Westley has poisoned both cups, and Vizzini dies regardless of his choice— except Westley reveals that he had an immunity he NEVER been mentioned, to a poison that had only been introduced MINUTES prior.
Let me clarify that I love The Princess Bride, it’s one of my favorite movies. I love it. I really do. And I get that the twist was kind of the point of that scene.
But still. How convenient that a problem that seemed impossible to overcome was solved by something we could not have EVER seen coming :p…
So, now that the daily writing language lesson is out of the way… let’s tackle your question~ ♥︎
How do I make sure the twist in my story is effective? How do I make sure it’s not absolutely unexpected, without telegraphing my intentions?
The secret to a great twist is not in writing the story…
It’s in the revision.
Seriously. Do you honestly think that writers come up with the perfect plot twist on the first draft? Of course not! This is especially true for Mystery novels, in which (more often than not) the writer themselves does not know who the culprit is until the very end.
The trick here is to first write the story. Get it out on the page. Then let it sit for a while, and when you come back to it revise it, revise it, revise it, and the revise it some more. I can tell you from personal experience that once you have completed a book, and stepped aside for a few weeks, when you come back you will be able to look at the story as a whole. You will be able to spot the threads where you made mistakes— and you will be able to find the perfect places to sprinkle a few clues here and there.
In your situation, try not to worry about how it ‘sounds’ right now. Just get it on the page. You have the entire revision process to iron out the details, to add elements that show this character as a mole and to leave hints for your reader!
In case you are wondering, of course I have advice for revision. I actually have a post about my Top 5 Tips for Revision. I think they will be perfect for when you’re ready to start polishing up this story.
I hope this helps! I know that not everyone likes to be told to ‘keep writing and fix it later’ but that is seriously the way to go here. You can’t write a plot twist (or a mystery novel) you have to revise them~ ♥︎
If you (or any of the writerly friends reading this) have any more questions, make sure to send them my way!