To liven things up in February, I’ve decided to do a series: What I’ve Learned about Writing Through Movies. In each post, I’ll feature a different movie and discuss the effectiveness of its story elements as well as what can be learned from the film as a whole. This week, I decided to focus on the The Matrix, since I watched it recently with new eyes, dissecting how different story aspects were introduced. Coupled with some recent feedback from a critique partner, it did wonders for my revisions.

Why The Matrix works as a story:

World-building elements are explained gradually and succinctly (fantasy and sci-fi writers, take note).

Instead of hitting the viewer over the head with every single aspect of the post-apocalyptic “desert of the real”, story elements are introduced bit by bit. Not only does this avoid the over-explaining that sometimes occurs with sci-fi, but it also mutes the story’s sci-fi tropes, therefore highlighting the unique elements of the world and making them more clearly visible.

Some examples, through dialogue:

“The answers are coming, Neo.”
“Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.”

“The body cannot live without the mind.”

What The Matrix teaches writers:

1. Follow the white rabbit. 

A writer’s path can often take unexpected twists and turns. The book you were hoping to publish doesn’t, but the second one you wrote does. Or, that screenplay you wrote fizzled, but that novel you had in waiting just found the right agent. The journey isn’t without pitfalls, and often, things don’t turn out as planned. But the journey is still necessary, and important–especially when it takes you to unexpected places.

2. I’ve shown you the door, but only you can walk through it.

I used to think that a career in writing was dependent on getting to know mentors, authors, and agents so that they could help us newbies avoid pitfalls along the path. But I’ve since realized I have to blaze my own trail, and that no one else will pull me along to where I need to go. I have my own two feet, and I need to trust them. Everyone’s journey is different–yours is unique, and you need to make it your own.

3. There is no spoon.

The page is where you get to say what you want. Stop writing to appeal to others–your friends, a publisher, even an agent. Stop restricting yourself.

Because that’s when the magic happens. When I’ve let go of my own constraints (and believe me, there are many), that’s when the writing pops off the page. That’s when I final in contests. That’s when I get partial requests.

4. Don’t worry about the vase.

One thing I’ve learned is that if I over-worry about one thing, a much bigger problem falls by the wayside. When I first started as a writer, I was very concerned about line-edits–if the words fit together on the page or not. I later realized, with a lot more writing and reading, that concentrating on the words made me neglect more key, important, big-picture things. Character development. Plot. Theme. Believability. Don’t hyper-focus on just one thing–make sure you are aware of a novel’s bigger picture flaws too–because ultimately, those will have to be fixed before any line-edits can be touched.

5. Knowing the path is different than walking the path.

Similar to #2.  (Addendum: Also applies to knowing that you need an effective inciting event, good character development, and an intriguing plot. But actually exceuting these things can be a lot harder than it seems.) I know my goals as a writer. But obtaining them will not be as simple as mapping them out in my brain. I will plan as much as I can, but ultimately, things will turn out the way they’re meant to. And that may mean having to readjust my original expectations. Not to sacrifice my dreams–but to ensure I make the most of my potential.

I now pass along the proffered red pill–what has The Matrix taught you?

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