A Good Story Can't Avoid Truth

Isaac Morehouse

11 months ago by isaacmorehouse

My wife and I are rewatching the Matrix trilogy in preparation for the new movie.

The weird thing about it is that the story is so compelling despite constant efforts by the creators to make it suck.

They tap into the structures and patterns that make for a great, epic, heroic story. They’ve got that thing that a story needs to be great. But it feels like every time those elements become undeniable – when they story implies hierarchy, objective truth, clear morality – the writers freak out and try to undermine it.

It succeeds for a brief period. They subvert the very patterns that make the story so compelling in effort to run from the implications. Yet they seem still to want to tell a compelling story, and even after a reset, the story starts to show the same patterns again. So they try to subvert it again. Yet in trying to tell a good story it comes back. Over and over.

The trilogy would be better if they weren’t trying to run from what makes it great. But a good story emerges, with its structure, in spite of the efforts to avoid them.

I don’t think it’s possible to tell a good story without also conveying fundamental truths about reality.

Truths like the fact that people are not equal in talent, skill, ability, or potential (for good or evil). Truths like the fact that there is good and there is evil, and everything is not just a matter of perspective. Truths like the fact that there is purpose, that the individual is more important than the collective, that something outside of the individual is greater still. Truths like the fact that there are worse things than death. Sacrifice is real and necessary for goodness to succeed. Each individual is responsible for his or her choices. Small choices create big outcomes. Etc.

Some writers try to keep these things out of their stories. To the extent they succeed, they write bad stories. To the extent they write good stories, these elements keep emerging.

The very concept of a story is inexorably intertwined with these structures and patterns.

(I just remembered I wrote about the concept of Truth in art years ago in more depth.)