The Matrix, and Plot vs. Story: Tuesday, May 5th

“The Matrix” with Keanu Reeves. Do you remember the Matrix?

The opening scene is Trinity – one of the good guys – running over rooftops away from the Agents. She runs into a phone booth. The Agents drive a truck at the phone booth. Trinity picks up the receiver and disappears right before the truck smashes the booth to pieces.

Next scene is Thomas Anderson (Keanu), working on his computer in his office. He receives a mysterious message, leading him to a meeting with Trinity, which later leads to a meeting with Morpheus. And the choice between the red and blue pills.

Why did the movie begin with these particular scenes? Why wasn’t the opening scene the birth of Thomas Anderson? He’s the main character right? Maybe we should see Neo’s first baby steps, what his parents were like, or how he became interested in computer programming.

But the truth is nobody cares about Neo’s childhood.

The “story” begins when something unusual happens, when someone gets fired, discovers a lost city, when a building explodes. The core of every story is conflict. The good ones begin “in media res,” in the midst of things.

Everyday events are not particularly interesting. They don’t sell seats at the box office.

We don’t care about Neo’s childhood. Also we don’t care about Neo anymore after he defeats all of the Agents and learns to fly and kisses Trinity and saves the world. Sure, events will continue to happen… Neo will live happily ever after. He’ll be a good father. He’ll go for leisurely flights on sundays.

But we aren’t interested anymore. The “story” part is over. The wild chain of events that began with the choice between the red and blue pills has played itself out.

The reader trusts the writer with his precious time and money. The writer’s job is to pick the most relevant events and bring them to the surface, to arrange them in an interesting way, and to play the fiddle in the background while the puppets dance.

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