Avoiding the ‘Matrix Syndrome’
The ‘Matrix’ trilogy of movies follow a particular pattern that is best to avoid at all costs. Namely: fantastic beginning, not-so-good middle, terrible ending. The first Matrix movie set up the possibility for brilliant sequels, but the following two just didn’t hold up to the same level of quality. Which is a shame considering how great the beginning was. So how can you avoid doing this in your writing?
Once you set up a killer beginning, it can be rather difficult to keep up the same expectations of yourself throughout the rest of the storyline, whether it be in the same novel or in later sequels. Here I’ll share some advice on how you can meet the expectations set by your beginning, and maybe even exceed them.
Keep the same tone throughout the manuscript. If you start off with a dark battlefield covered in dead, decaying bodies, you probably don’t want to follow it up with a warm-and-happy tale of butterflies and bunny rabbits. The same goes for the opposite. If you don’t think you can maintain the same tone, then either alter it to something more manageable, or put the novel down until you think you have the right skill level for the piece.
Keep the ending in mind as you write.The main purpose of this is to improve the middle. I know a lot of people have different opinions on when you should decide on an ending. The ending is the culmination of the main character’s goal, and thus, your goal. Having a suiting ending in mind when you begin writing will more clearly define the path you must take, and leave less room for filler and rambling in the pages in between. The ending will likely change as you develop more of the story, but having a goal will help erase a hum-drum middle.
Fine tune your ending.The beginning will get someone interested in reading your book. The ending, however, is what they will remember. Developing a great ending is a new topic in itself, but it’s one of the best steps you can take to avoid the ‘Matrix Syndrome.’ Make sure there is a definitive answer to your main character’s goal/question. Does she achieve it? Does he die trying? Must he sacrifice something to get what he wants?
Maintain pacing and speed.Pacing and speed are involved topics in themselves, but remember that you cannot have your reader remain excited throughout the novel. Pace the story so your character has time to relax in between high-excitement scenes, but don’t let the story drag on. Slow down the exciting parts so your reader doesn’t get confused, but keep paragraphs short to give the impressive of high-speed action. Speed up the boring parts without losing the much-needed descriptions, explanations, and break in action. This will greatly help the overall flow of your piece.
Get input from others.I suggest having a few willing friends and mentors assess your work. Input from a casual reader will give you the point of view of most people who will likely read your novel. At the same time, input from a published author is invaluable, for obvious reasons. You may also want to get an expert in a relevant field to read through your work. If you have a character who is a mathematician, for example, and you are not the best at math yourself, try to find someone who is a math expert to verify the authenticity of what you claim through that character.
And most important of all: Hang the rules.When you are first writing out your novel, don’t concern yourself too much with quality. Yes, you do want to write a good-quality novel, no doubt about that, but the main point is to get it written. As you write, your character will take new and interesting turns you didn’t expect before, and your ending will likely change from the intended. This is good, let your characters grow and plot twist. Worry about quality after, when you’re revising and editing for your second, third, and eventually final drafts.
Follow this advice, and you shouldn’t have a problem avoiding the ever-disappointing ‘Matrix Syndrome.’ Don’t force yourself to follow the same path you laid out in your beginning, but rather, the same level of quality and display of skill. And if you actually exceed the expectations set by your beginning and continuously raise the quality of your writing throughout your novel, then great job! You have improved as a writer over the course of a single manuscript, so pat yourself on the back and treat yourself to a drink. Or a nap. Or even both! You can always go back and try to improve your beginning to match the raised quality of your middle and end, or you can leave it as is if you’re satisfied with your hook.