The Wrestling Connoisseur: The Wrestling Match As Story
All parts of a story are important. Novels hang on the initial hook on the opening page. If the reader isn’t hooked they’re lible to chuck the book across the room. Characters need to be interesting. Plots need to be compelling. The wrestling story is similar. The initial aspect of a story or feud must grab viewer attention at the risk of a station change. If the promos aren’t on point-click. If the build isn’t good-click. And once you’ve clicked away, well, what are the chances you’ll click back?
Despite bad build hardcore fans will tune in, whether it’s after surfing the channels or the next week or at the pay-per-view. The big pay off of all the build; the promos, the quirky screw overs, and the weekly soap opera, is the final match. Usually this match happens at a pay-per-view. And this pay-off match is a story unto itself.
The players in this match are typically the face as the protagonist and the heel as the antagonist. There are often supporting characters that have been present throughout the build; authority figures, managers, friends, and/or family. Sometimes the supporting characters play a role within the final match by performing interference, cheer leading, or evening the playing field. In some cases a supporting character takes over a major aspect of the build like Paul Heyman being Brock Lesnar’s mouth piece. Supporting characters help build drama, interjecting when the face has seemingly won. But they aren’t always needed. The face’s role is to connect with crowd and viewership. The heel’s role is to support that connection. Not only does the heel need the fans to hate him or her, but must help build fan’s sympathy toward the face.
Many authors are quoted with saying kill your darlings. This doesn’t mean you have to go all red wedding and George R.R. Martin your characters. For one, in wrestling, killing off characters isn’t ideal, although Vince McMahon was blown up once. What they mean by kill your darlings is two fold-what is usually meant is to cut out what isn’t needed, if one word will do instead of two, cut the extra word. Hulk Hogan talked about dropping multiple elbows, but then realized that by looking out to the crowd and teasing the one elbow drop got the same reaction. Indie wrestlers are often criticized for doing more than necessary. In my opinion kill your darlings also means stacking the odds against your protagonist. To build sympathy and drama the protagonist has to come oh-so-close but never winning initially.
In writing, the protagonist needs to struggle. Whenever it looks like they’re close to figuring things out, something happens that turns everything upside down. In wrestling matches, this happens all the time. It’s what I like to call dynamics of a wrestling match. There are a few carny style terms used; shine, heat, and comeback. Most matches follow a pattern, just like any novel. A match often starts with the initial shine. The face shows up the heel on every turn. The face blocks and counters every punch. The face out wrestles the heel. The face is a better wrestler than the heel in every way. This doesn’t last too long. The heel cheats in some fashion and the heat is on. The heel uses the upper hand to wear down the face, cheating the entire time to keep on top. After gaining sympathy from the fans the face makes a comeback and once again shows that he or she is the better wrestler and leads into the match’s finish. The shine, heat, comeback format is easily seen in short televised matches. especially mismatched opponents. For the longer, bigger feuds the shine and heat goes back and forth. There are fake comebacks and false finishes to build sympathy and drama. And then finally the finish comes.
The finish is a beautiful thing. The entire match is built to a crescendo and, like a novel, if everything was crafted just right the pieces fall together. The aptly called finisher-a wrestler’s final devastating move to end the match, is the punctuation to the finish’s sentence. Most finishers have set up moves, such as Hulk Hogan’s big boot before the Atomic Leg Drop or the Stinger Splash before the Scorpion Deathlock. Sometimes a finisher’s set up is a cascade of moves that signal the end is nigh. The match’s finish involves a fast paced series of high stakes moves and, in big time matches, close calls. The false finish follows the same pattern except it isn’t the end of the match. The drama builds as the match continues and the wrestlers themselves are in “awe”. This is actually something I don’t think writing can get away with. It works in movies, Lethal Weapon comes to mind; Martin Riggs defeats Joshua in a fight, but when officers take Joshua away he secures an officer’s gun until Riggs and Murtaugh both shoot him. I can only relate a false finish to the ongoing challenges a protagonist has to face.
The ending of the story, the finish itself and the three count that ends the match depends on the story being told. If the story is a happy ending all around the hero walks away on top with a huge victory. If the story is tragic it can continue the feud or be used to build the character. In writing a character should always change by the end, or at least have a reason why they haven’t. This should happen in every wrestling feud and unfortunately most of the time it isn’t.
At the end of every writing there’s a period that settles down after the climax. The denouement resolves the plot and action. In Sherlock Holmes stories the Detective explains to Watson how he figured it out in the last scene. In Romeo and Juliet the Montigues and Capulets are all at the tomb after the two lovers have died. In wrestling the denouement is after the match itself. Sometimes its the wrestler heading to the back to the fans cheers or a celebration in the ring. Steve Austin has a beer party and ascends all four corners as he chugs to the crowd. Heel Jericho berates the crowd on his way back whether he wins or loses. Sometimes other heels jump the face, instigating an ongoing or new feud.
Fans play a large part throughout the match, but especially the denouement. They may chant a variety of things at the end of a great match thanking the wrestlers. In a few cases fans have littered the ring with trash to show their disdain for the heel winning. The wrestling fan and viewer is ultimately a consumer, like their reader counterpart, who will decide whether or not the stories are worthwhile and entertaining enough to suspend belief. If they feel cheated they might not return for more. Wrestling fans are a little more forgiving in that most promotions offer a free product in televised shows. But those shows are like the free previous book offer from authors. It’s an attempt to get the consumer to buy their product. For an author it’s their new book, for a wrestling promotion it is to buy their pay-per-views, their t-shirts, their video games, their action figures. It is detrimental if the consumer is ejected from any part of the product. Wrestling companies are beginning to see this to some degree. Televised matches are longer than they once were allowing wrestlers to tell the story in the ring. And every match is a story unto itself, no matter where it comes in the lineup of the feud or program.