The Dangers of "The Matrix Zone"

All right, I’m probably going to rile some people with this one, but it must be said. There is no faster way to make me stop reading and throw your book across the room screaming than by falling into what I like to call The Matrix Zone.

What is this horrific author faux-pas, you ask?

An ending (or scene) that destroys your story so completely it makes all the wonderful, brilliant stuff that came before it absolutely meaningless.

I really liked the first two Matrix movies…and that’s where my love stops. The trilogy ends – literally – with the hero dead, blind and being dragged off unceremoniously by enemy robots. This isn’t some genius twist or the set-up for a big come-back — that’s really how it ends. Oh, and they compromise with the evil bad guys.

Please, friends, do NOT do this in your novels. Here’s why:

1. Readers want to see the main character get knocked down. A lot. This is what makes a story great. But only because readers believe the MC will get back up in the end. It’s about overcoming obstacles – if the MC doesn’t do that, more often than not, readers are disappointed. In multiple MC stories, you have a few more options, but the basic principle applies.

2. We like it when the good guys win. It’s really that simple. Imagine the reaction if, after 7 books, Voldemort beat Harry. Waaa? Readers have an innate sense that this is NOT how things are supposed to work. There are, of course, some books with very gray good vs. bad, where this might not apply as directly. And the good guys don’t need an absolute victory. Actually, they probably shouldn’t have one. However, I urge you to look VERY carefully at your novel before deciding you can break this rule.

3. The Matrix Zone makes everything that came before feel irrelevant. If readers get to the end of your book or series and suddenly feel like they’ve wasted their time (and money)…that’s a bad thing. For me, this is the exact feeling I have at the end of the third Matrix movie. I have similar issues with Mockingjay.

Why did I travel through all these highs and lows with Neo (or Katniss) just to have him (or Prim) killed at the end? Why should I watch the first two movies now? I know how it ends and all the struggle in between sort of seems pointless. Maybe Neo would have been better choosing the other pill. Again, these are NOT questions you want readers to have about your books!

Some people will say “But he saved Zion. That’s what really matters.” True, but here’s another writing lesson for you. See, I didn’t really care about Zion to begin with. If you’re planning to sacrifice an MC, you better have the rest of your cast fleshed out enough that your reader accepts it as a worthy sacrifice to save friends.

So, there you have it. My take on one of the biggest mistakes I think writers can make. What say you?


  1. absolutely. I wanted to gouge out my own eyes at the end of Matrix 3.

    While were on the "zone" lists, lets add the "Potter Zone" of having too many McGuffins to poke a stick at. There was a time when you just needed one magic sword or ring to search for, Harry Potter introduced us to 7 horcruxes, a sword, a time machine (that was only used once) a magic flying ball that needed kissing, a vial of tears and some basin thing to see memories, and three deathly hallows. There were many more devices I'm sure, but I only watched the last film so am no expert. Point is that I didn't care a hoot about any of them. There was more dramatic tension and suspense in whether Indiana Jones retrieves his hat than whether Harry Potter and co. manage to find the trinket of bla bla bla.


  2. What you said: "If you’re planning to sacrifice an MC, you better have the rest of your cast fleshed out enough that your reader accepts it as a worthy sacrifice to save friends."

    Perfectly said!

  3. Hi there, Hope you are well :-) If I've already introduced myself I apologise. I can't keep up with who I've said Hi to and who I haven't. I am in your Fantasy Group. I'm just trying to catch up with everybody slowly but surely :-).
    Fab blog.
    Eve x

  4. Though I wasn't crazy about the third Matrix film, I had a totally different interpretation of the ending, seeing a lot of "hero's journey" Arthurian symbolism in the ending.

  5. I agree 110%. I'm all for killing a MC if it makes me feel like his/her sacrifice somehow helped save/protect someone or some place that I actually give a damn about. I absolutely agree with the Mockingjay example as well. I was actually kind of let down when I finished that series.

  6. T.B. - Ha, The Potter Zone! Love it! I adore that series, but you definitely have a point. :)

    Jen - Thanks!

    Eve - Hi again.

    Margo - I do think that symbolism is there, I just didn't buy it. There's no "rexque futurum" element for me.

    TL - Mockingjay...oy! I really, really wanted to like the book, but I had exactly the same reaction you did. If you want details, check out my Goodreads review link.

  7. I agree about Mockingjay -- it didn't ruin how much I enjoyed the first two books, but it really was a let down.

    (In a totally different genre but a similar vein, I refused to read the sequels to The Silence of the Lambs once I heard some spoiler-ish stuff about where they went.)

    Oh, and now I know that I never got around to seeing the 3rd Matrix movie. I seriously couldn't remember, but that ending you described doesn't sound at all familiar. Guess I didn't miss much! ;-)