Using professional wrestling to help your young writers become better storytellers (Part 2: Story Progression)

McIntyre and Lesnar at Royal Rumble 2020

Using professional wrestling to help your young writers become better storytellers (Part 2: Story Progression)

It has been well over a year since the last time I discussed how the construct of professional wrestling is an excellent tool to help the children in your life that may be interested in creative writing to become better storytellers.  I feel this way because it is a form of entertainment that tries hard to be accessible both to the casual follower and also to the avid fan.  Because of this, they need to be able to tell stories that those who may be attending their first show can fully understand while at the same time those that follow the storylines religiously will also feel rewarded.

The largest professional wrestling promotion in the world is the WWE, a promotion that has multiple weekly programs and an incredibly robust roster of talents, with new ones being added on a regular basis.  While there are multiple hours of new content being produced on a weekly basis, it has been a tradition for the promotion to hold four major events every year, with WrestleMania being the grandest of them all.  The major event that happens a few months prior to WrestleMania, the Royal Rumble, has been used recently to be the starting point on when major story arcs will begin, while at the same time relying on elements from stories that were already in development.

This past Sunday, the most recent installment of the Royal Rumble took place, and the main event, a 30 participant “royal rumble” match (two wrestlers begin, with a new wrestler added every 2 minutes, wrestlers are eliminated from the match by being thrown over the top rope and falling to the ground outside of the ring, and the last remaining wrestler is declared the winner) was a fantastic example on effective storytelling.

For casual viewers of the program that aren’t as familiar with current events with the programming, they witnessed multiple stories being told with a distinct beginning, middle and ending.  For those who are weekly diehards to the WWE product, they were presented with strong story progression and tantalizing cliffhangers for what lies ahead.

While the men’s rumble match had multiple storylines created or addressed during its hour run, I want to focus on the first half of the match, which was dedicated to one specific storyline involving the promotion’s current champion, Brock Lesnar.  His involvement in the match has a contained story arc with its own three act structure, while at the same time being able to be a chapter in the ongoing story for the ongoing narrative in the WWE.  I will break down this portion of the match by explaining how both the casual and avid viewer of WWE would perceive the action, and then conclude by explaining how this match is a great way to help the young writer in your life be a more effective storyteller.

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The match begins with the current champion, Brock Lesnar, walking to the ring with his advocate, Paul Heyman.  Brock Lesnar is a mountain of a man, and Heyman is carrying his championship title, proudly displaying it to the crowd.  The announcing team tells the audience that Lesnar chose to be the first entrant in this event, a position that statistically and historically has proven to be the most difficult for someone to win a royal rumble match, and since he is already the champion, putting himself in such a predicament seems at first to be rather unusual.  With the level of confidence both Lesnar and Heyman have as they head to the ring, however, the casual audience knows that he has chosen to do this to prove that he is the most dominant man in all of WWE, and the seasoned viewer will know that since Lesnar has accomplished just about everything that there is to do in his career, and with him looking to conquer all 29 opponents in the rumble he is asserting his dominance over everyone in the locker room.  His motivation is driven purely by ego and confidence in his abilities, and he is ready to prove once again that he is the most dominant force in sports entertainment.

The second opponent comes down to the ring, a musician named Elias.  While still larger and more muscular than the average person (especially in comparison to other career musicians), he still pales in comparison in size to Lesnar. Strumming an acoustic guitar, Elias sings a song about how the fans in the crowd are supporting him and calls Lesnar and Heyman names.  This character reminds me a lot of the follies that take place at the beginning of many Shakespearian plays in which, prior to the drama and more serious beats in the performance taking place, some farce more light-hearted affairs would take place to appease the groundlings.  Lesnar takes quick exception to Elias’s snark and quickly dispatches him from the match.

The next entrant is Erick Rowen, another large individual who comes down with a mysterious covered cage.  To the casual fan, he is a menacing looking opponent, but to the regular viewer, they know that Rowen will be a pawn to show Lesnar’s dominance.  Indeed, Rowen is quickly eliminated, along with the next two combatants.

Next to the ring is Kofi Kingston.  Considerably slender than any of the previous opponents, he is a competitor with very flamboyant ring gear, yet his facial expressions don’t match his festive attire.  He looks determined and angry, and the announcers explain why he is bitter (he was the previous champion, and Brock Lesnar defeated him in mere seconds to take the title away from him).  He stands his ground so that he is the first competitor to last against Lesnar to have a third participant in the ring at the same time.  The next entrant is Rey Mysterio, an even smaller wrestler with colorful luchador attire, but much like Kingston, he is laser focused on defeating Lesnar.  The announcers make mention of the past issues Mysterio has had with Lesnar (Lesnar attacked his adult-aged son a few months prior).  While Kingston and Mysterio attacked Lesnar in tandem together, they seem to be no match for Lesnar.  They had not been eliminated yet, but things looked dire for the duo.

The next entrant into the match comes forth, and it is Kingston’s friend and tag team partner, Big E.  Big E is similar size to Lesnar and shares similar skills to Lesnar, but he is a much more jovial giant.  At this time, however, when he sees his friend in the ring being demolished, he uses his excessive energy to rally Kingston and Mysterio to give all they can to thwart Lesnar.  For a moment, it looks as though they will be successful, as Kingston, Mysterio, and Big E are able to execute their finishing moves on Lesnar, but it ends up being for not, as Lesnar soon eliminates all of them in rapid succession.

Failure would continue for any new challengers, as five additional wrestlers come to face Lesnar, all to fail in which fashion.  Lesnar is starting to become quite cocky, as he is starting to strut around the ring as he waits for new opponents to quickly destroy.  At this point he has eliminated eleven opponents.  The announcers mention how the record for eliminations in a single rumble match is 13, and the way Lesnar was approaching this record is unprecedented.  For the casual fan, this was a great showcase on how brutal of a beast Lesnar was.  Avid fans felt their blood boil at this point, for one element that I have yet to discuss is how Lesnar works a much more limited schedule than any of the other competitors, and all too often he would be booked to destroy everyone while talents that put in the work week in and week out see their stock plummet because of it.  There were also rumors that plans for a rematch between Lesnar and former mixed martial arts athlete Cain Velasquez was all but certain to headline the upcoming WrestleMania event, and as the match went along, the fear of that predictable outcome was starting to become stronger.

The next two entrants in the match were Keith Lee and Braun Strowman.  Both men matched Lesnar in size, and their personas were synonymous with dominance.  Lee had won a title in an event the night prior, and Strowman was the current record holder for number of eliminations from a single rumble event.  Both would prove to be formidable opponents for Lesnar, but when the two of them took their focus off of Lesnar and started to fight against one another, Lesnar took advantage and eliminated both with a sneak attack.  Lesnar was once again alone in the ring, now having tied Strowman’s Royal Rumble record, and potentially having eliminated his greatest threat to the match.

The next participant to enter the match is Riccochet.  While an incredibly gifted and athletic wrestler, he looks as if he is a fourth of the size of Lesnar, and while he is determined to do his best, his facial expressions show that he is not nearly as confident in his upcoming performance as the previous thirteen men were.  The announcer mentions how a week prior, when Riccochet announced that he would be in the Royal Rumble match, Lesnar attacked him and threw him around the ring like a rag doll.  Riccochet had already experienced the wrath of the champion, and fully realizes the uphill battle he is facing.  His speed allows him to evade Lesnar until the next entrant walks to the ring, who is Drew McIntyre. McIntyre, who is a couple inches taller than Lesnar and is nearly as muscular, walks to his ring with his eyes focused solely on the champion.  Unflinching, he steps into the ring and demands that Lesnar fight him.  Lesnar’s arrogance disappears as the challenge from McIntyre enrages him.  Lesnar, up this point, has been wearing padded mixed martial arts gloves, but as both men have their eyes fixated on one another, he removes them and throws them out of the ring.  Lesnar no longer just wants to defeat McIntyre, but more importantly he wants to hurt him.

With all of Lesnar’s focus on McIntyre, he had completely forgotten about Riccochet, which allowed Riccochet to sneak up from behind and critically wound Lesnar.  Weakened, Lesnar stumbles close to the ropes.  McIntyre takes this opportunity to charge at Lesnar and kick him over the ropes, causing the champion to stumble to the ground below.  Lesnar is eliminated from the match, and in complete shock with what had just transpired.  Riccochet tries to eliminate McIntyre, but McIntyre quickly throws him out of the ring.  McIntyre’s eyes have yet to lose focus on Lesnar, even after new opponents enter the ring.  Lesnar gets up, with shame expressed on his face, but as soon as he sees McIntyre, his rage returns.  With him being eliminated from the match, the chant starts to sing “Na na, hey hey, goodbye.”  Humiliated, Lesnar leaves the arena, but not without glaring at McIntyre.  McIntyre’s focus remains on Lesnar until he exits, for both men know that while the battle of the day is over, the war between them will continue.

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The remainder of the match have equally fascinating storylines, and it would be very easy for me to ramble on about the rest of the match, but I think the story arc with Brock Lesnar is a fascinating one to dissect.  If we look at Lesnar’s journey within the confines of this one match, we are given a tale in which our villainous protagonist, Brock Lesnar, sets off on his quest to be the most dominate competitor in the WWE, and although he is met with various challenges from foes with various motivations to defeat him, he is able to thwart them all.  It is only when he loses his focus and allows his arrogance to take over is he defeated in part by the most unlikely of foes.  If we treat the Rumble match as a chapter in an ongoing story and how it relates to the expectations of the avid viewer, using the animosity that the avid viewer has over their predictions will come to fruition as the match progresses, only to have an entirely different outcome that is not merely satisfying on its own but is made greater because of how bitter they were made to feel about Lesnar’s presence in the match.

If you have young people in your life that enjoy writing stories, but they have a problem in structuring the stories that they wish to tell, use this match and its anatomy to help them to work on their own writings.  First, have them focus on Brock Lesnar as a character, even before the story begins (the story, in this case, is the Royal Rumble match).  Who is he?  What is his personality like?  What are his strengths and weaknesses?  What makes him different from other characters in the story?  Then, take a look at what the objective of the main character is for the story.  What other characters will he encounter along this journey.  Take a look at his relationships with the other characters (wrestlers), and discuss how their past interactions may impact their relationship in context with the current story.  Finally talk about the resolution to the story.  Does he achieve his main objective?  Why or why not?  How has he changed along the journey?  What takeaways can the audience member take from his journey?

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As I have stated several times before, professional wrestling is all too often dismissed as being silly or childish, but it is a form of entertainment that subscribe to many of the same elements as traditional storytelling.  When it is at its best, it is not because of the theatrics or athleticism that is the strongest element, but the story that brings all of the characters together.  Whatever elements you enjoy most in entertainment, make sure to give it a shot, and you may end up being surprised on how much you enjoy professional wrestling!

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Originally published on January 28, 2020