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?