Using Professional Wrestling to help your young writers become better storytellers (Part 1: Character Development)
I am unabashed in my love for professional wrestling. From the over-the-top antics, to the mix of gladiator bouts with super hero characteristics, I have enjoyed the art form of professional wrestling ever since I was a young child, and my passion for it has only grown. What I enjoy about it now in my later years has always been what has drawn me to it from the very beginning, but now that I am older I am able to understand and appreciate it for what it is.
I love professional wrestling because it is an amazing celebration of the creative process and storytelling, all with the backdrop of an athletic competition. It allows any and all ideas to be able to be explored, and while the competition within the wrestling ring is important in telling the story, the match itself is rarely the most important part of what is taking place.
Because of this, I believe that if one of the children in your household is interested in writing or storytelling, introducing them to professional wrestling would be a great way to foster their creativity. It will help them learn about character development, how to tell a story with conflict and resolution, and how to connect with the audience.
I want to visit various ways in which to use professional wrestling as an exercise in the creative process, with this article being the first avenue: Analyzing a wrestling program to see how various character motivations and development can be developed to tell a comprehensive story. I’m going to use a recent independent wrestling program that I attended, ACW Wisconsin’s Summer Showcase, to help illustrate how this exercise can be done. ACW Wisconsin is an independent wrestling promotion that I have become very invested in, so I have seen the evolution of the characters during a prolong period of time, but I want to focus specifically on this one show, as if this was the first time I had ever attended an ACW Wisconsin program, and see whether they were successful in telling a compelling and well-constructed story, or if too many loose ends caused it to miss the mark.
The show begins with the ACW Water City Champion The Raging Dead Nathan Gust coming to the ring unannounced to issue an open challenge to anyone who wishes to take the title away from him. He mentions someone by the name of Young Money Colin Brooks, the person he won the title from, to see if he would answer his call, but he tells the audience that despite his numerous attempts to see if he would answer his challenge, he fails to do so. Within the first two minutes of the show we, the audience, are introduced to a character that seems to not be afraid to take on any challengers, and others are intimidated by.
After Gust calls out to see if anyone is willing to take him up on his challenge, along walks in a bright eyed newcomer who wishes to make a name for himself. His grit and determination is quickly vanquished, as Gust defeats the newcomer with relative ease. Again, we see Gust being a dominant force to be reckoned with.
Not too long after Gust picks up the victory, the music for the Heavyweight Champion, Sadist, is played, and he enters the ring and wishes to challenge Gust for his title. Gust thinks for a moment, then meekly says, “no,” and tries to escape the ring. Sadist challenges Gust’s integrity of being a title holder, and also mentions how he won his Heavyweight title almost one year ago to the day. With that, Sadist puts his title on the line if Gust wishes to accept his challenge. Enticed by the offer (and also by the chants from the crowd), Gust agrees, and the two of them will fight in the main event. In this sequence, we are given a new character that is not only a title holder like Gust, but we the audience are to assume is a stronger champion, not only because of the title that the holds but by the reaction of Gust.
The next fight on the card is between TW3 and Logan Lynch TW3 is an energetic and charismatic wrestler that has an instant connection with the crowd, while Logan Lynch, who is billed as “Weapon Next”, is filled with a great level of self-confidence and belief in his abilities. Throughout the match, Lynch receives several heckles from the crowd, and while he says that he doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him, it clearly affects the way that he is competing in the match. While TW3 and Lynch put on an incredible match, it is Lynch who is victorious, and he makes sure that all who were heckling him know how wrong they were for doubting him. With this match, with the introduction of Lynch’s character, we are shown someone who has a great deal of skill within the ring, but his pride may be his Achilles heel.
The next match is between Seth Gambino, whose introduction from the ring announcer makes it quite evident that he is the local hero to many in the crowd, and "Pornstache" Peter Schwanz, who comes out with a trophy. Schwanz takes the microphone and not only tells the crowd that he has been victorious time after time throughout 2018, but the trophy he holds allows him to make a Heavyweight Championship match for himself whenever he likes, and that his time to cash it in is soon approaching. Schwanz is victorious in his match against Gambino, and leaves with a great deal of confidence that his time to become Heavyweight Champion is coming nearer and nearer. With this match, we are introduced to another character in Schwanz who also aspires to be the best within the promotion, and thanks to not only his victories in the ring but with his trophy that allows him to challenge for the title whenever he wants, his wish may soon be granted.
After two tag team matches (both very good, but have nothing to do with the story previously being told), the main event between Gust and Sadist takes place. Sadist, the more physically imposing opponent, dominates the fight early on, but Gust scratches his way back into contention, desperate to hold onto his Water City Championship. Gust is able to knock Sadist down momentarily, but in the process knocks himself out as well. With both competitors on the canvas, Schwanz enters the ring, hands his trophy to the referee, and demands his title shot. Before the referee is able to make the bout happen, Sadist emerges and attacks Schwanz, causing Schwanz to retreat.
The fight between Gust and Sadist continues, and with Sadist about to win the match, Logan Lynch appears and assists Gust by attacking Sadist, causing the match to end in a disqualification. While Sadist is named the victor, Gust’s title is not allowed to be given to Sadist due to the rules of the match. Both Gust and Lynch attack Sadist, but Sadist is able to remove Gust from the ring and confront Lynch head on.
Sadist attacks Lynch, and while Lynch is in the corner of the ring recovering from the attack, Sadist grabs the microphone from the ring announcer and with great fury emotes his frustrations with Lynch. He tells the crowd how throughout the year Lynch has interfered with every match that has had any importance to him, especially a match a few months ago which he described as the most important match of his career. He tells Lynch that every time he has interfered in his matches, Sadist has always put him in his place. The entire time Sadist is talking (well, yelling, at this point), Lynch smirks back at him, knowing that he is getting to the champ.
Sadist ends by saying that if Lynch truly wants to take his title away from him, he can try by challenging him for the title at the next event, but he believes that Lynch will be exposed as a fraud in the process. Lynch accepts the offer and leaves the ring, and while Sadist celebrates with the crowd, Lynch looks on satisfied in knowing his interfering had paid off.
Within this last match, we are given closure to character arcs with Gust and Schwanz (at least for now), while given strong motivations for Sadist and Lynch’s story to culminate in the next chapter. Each character has been given depth by showing their strengths, their weaknesses, and obstacles in which they all wish to overcome.
Professional wrestling, more times than not, is dismissed for being silly or childish because of it being staged fights between two (or more) muscle-bound costumed characters pretending to fight one another, but I think it’s an art form that, when done correctly, can be as captivating as any Broadway play or epic theatrical film. Professional wrestling is never actually about wrestling, but rather the conflicts between the characters and the motivations that they have for competing. The fact that multiple characters are thrown together at random times throughout an event adds extra depth to the storytelling, and when properly done can be woven together in a single narrative. Being able to take multiple parts that are perceived to be separate from one another and finding a way to connect them together is quite an achievement, and professional wresting programs tend to do this on a regular basis.
Because of all of this, I think that introducing your children to professional wrestling, if they are struggling to develop motivations for characters in their stories that they are writing, would be an excellent tool. Watch the programs with them and discuss how the characters develop over time, whether it’s within one program or multiple shows. Discuss when the character development has been successful and what steps took place in order for it to be successful. Also look at instances in which a character seemed lacking, whether it was because of unclear motivations or leaps in logic for the actions of the character. Shows that fail to execute strong storytelling can be just as useful, because when its compared to those that are, the gaps become more apparent and the mistakes can be used to learn from.
In part two of my exploration of how professional wrestling can help the creative process, I will be discussing the joys of “fantasy booking,” or when one predicts how a storyline between various characters will pan out. I look forward to talking more with you about my love of the squared circle again real soon!
Originally Published on July 23, 2018