While everyone else in the blogosphere is writing about New Year’s Resolutions, I’m trotting out my latest, greatest embarrassment: In April of 2012, I got hooked on watching professional wrestling.
Disclaimer: This is all my husband’s fault. 110%.
Yes, I know it’s all scripted. I used to tease my hubby for watching a testosterone-driven soap-opera, and now I’m totally into it. I still occasionally turn to him while we’re watching and say, “I blame you for this.”
Nonetheless, as I’ve watched WWE storylines unfold — some I’ve enjoyed, others not so much — they’ve taught me lessons, or perhaps reinforced what I’ve learned elsewhere, about the craft of writing fiction.
Characters must be larger than life.
The danger in basing characters on real life people is that most of us are pretty lame, with few distinguishing characteristics. We fill our conversations with talk about people or events that escaped the boring haze of normalcy. Likewise, the best characters in the WWE are larger than life, and I’m not talking about their amazing musculature, either.
I’m talking about Damien Sandow, “The Self-Proclaimed Intellectual Savior of the Masses,” whose I.Q. is matched by his arrogance AND his vicious ring style, and Vickie Guerrero, who is not even a wrestler but never fails to draw a reaction from the crowd by screeching her catch phrase, “Excuse me!” Their carriage, their words, even their outfits demand viewers take notice. On the canvas of their characters, you’ll find no wasted space. As The Rock explained in his biography, “The Rock was Dwayne Johnson … with the volume … turned … WAY … UP!” (The Rock Says…, 161).
Takeaway: Memorable characters need traits in combinations that take them over the top. A certain look, a special ability, maybe a tragic flaw. Who your characters really are will drive how they react to any conflict.
The basic Good vs. Evil narrative endures because it works.
My favorite match of the year, one that didn’t make any top-ten lists or highlight reels, was Tyson Kidd vs. Tensai on July 2.
Tyson Kidd doesn’t get much TV time, but he’s great fun to watch. Tensai, on the other hand, got a huge push earlier in the year, but everything about him (his look, fighting style, etc.) is very unappealing. Plus he’s a bad guy. PLUS he’s almost twice the size of Tyson Kidd.
And Kidd beat him. Tensai made a mistake, and Kidd rolled him up for the win. In a match less than 30 seconds long, what started as filler suddenly became a David and Goliath story. Who doesn’t love an upset victory?
Takeaway: People want someone to boo and someone to cheer. A protagonist needs an antagonist who presents a real challenge. The bad guy has power that the good guy can’t (or won’t) access. It’s intriguing when those lines are blurred or even crossed, but they should never be erased.
Something important should be at stake.
Sure, champions defend their titles frequently but honestly, if that’s all that’s on the line, who cares? For example, wrestlers Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio feuded for months, with Del Rio chasing Sheamus’ World Heavyweight Championship belt. Sheamus fought the good fight while Del Rio brought lots of dirty tricks without ever capturing the title. That’s it. For months.
Contrast that with one of the most popular storylines of the year: AJ Lee, a wrestler with a “crazy chick” persona, accepted a marriage proposal from her arrogant on-screen ex-boyfriend Daniel Bryan. He was shown speaking to orderlies before the ceremony, drawing suspicion that he was up to no good. However, AJ surprised him — during the vows — by announcing she had accepted a proposal from another man. In fact, from Vince McMahon, Chairman and CEO of WWE. A proposal to become the show’s General Manager. Suddenly, she wasn’t the crazy chick. She was the boss. Instead of some championship, the stakes were universals. Love. Betrayal. Power.
It was fantastic.
Takeaway: For readers to invest emotions in the characters, both protagonist and antagonist must grab for something that matters. It can be the same thing (respect) or conflicting things (love vs. power), but someone must win. And someone must lose.
Quasi-embarrassing New Year’s confessions? Unlikely lessons in writing and life? I want to hear it in the comments!