What makes pro wrestling storytelling truly compelling?

Storylines are enormously imperative components in professional wrestling. They make a wrestling show develop; they provide viewers reasons on why they should continue watching, and they persuade people to buy Pay-Per-Views. They additionally can elevate a wrestler's popularity to a monumental, larger-than-life level. Although everyone wants to watch compelling storylines, few people know what exactly makes one; so, hopefully, this column will help elucidate what truly makes a storyline compelling.

Aside from never having an off-season or a true culmination - wrestling is not that different from a TV series. Breaking Bad, Sopranos and the Wire are more analogous to wrestling than the NFL, NHL, NBA, or even UFC is. Wrestling is ultimately art imitating life. It is a fictional and choreographed saga of conflicts, customarily between a protagonist and antagonist. However, in contrast to traditional TV shows, wrestling shows are performed in front of a live audience, where the actors perform their own stunts. Except for it being ironically more physical and realistic, it is similar to a live play.

The most important part of narrating a story is the characters, because for people to care about the story, they have to care about the characters first. In one way or another, a character has to be likeable or dislikeable. If they are neither, nobody will care about the story. Have you ever seen a good match but just could not get into it? It was likely because you lacked emotional investment to the characters.

Traits play major role in making a character likeable or dislikable. As mentioned before, wrestling is art imitating life - which means characters' origins come from everyday lives: celebrities, friends, associates, coworkers, family members, etc. So, what are traits good quality people possess? Honest, thoughtful, reasonable, enchanting, and impartial are traits that come to mind. And, what are traits that make people unlikeable? Heartless, egocentric, deceitful, and merciless are traits that come to mind for a villain.

Wrestling, especially these days, can become complex because so many fans are smart to the business. Thus, clichéd protagonist and antagonist characters can receive the wrong reaction due to its laziness and triteness. People are especially worn-out from the Superman-esque characters and rightfully so. After all, a character's imperfections are more compelling than their perfections, as humanized characters are more relatable than the cartoonish ones. Moreover, sometimes a white-meat protagonist can come across as so good that they seem sanctimonious and self-righteous.

Accordingly, a babyface does not have to do the right thing. They just have to do a justifiable thing. Their actions have to be reasonable in terms of the context. Assaulting someone is a crime, but is it a justifiable crime if someone assaulted your daughter or son? In fact, sometimes doing the most ethical thing is sometimes not relatable and thus a turnoff for a character.

For instance, in the movie Misery, how unsatisfying would it have been if the Paul Sheldon character made the utmost ethical decision? Instead of killing Annie Wilks, he helped her with her problems and turned her into a better person. It would have been terrible because the movie circled around her tormenting and abusing him for hours on end, building up to the moment where he gives her the comeuppance she deserves.

For a protagonist to be likable, they have to be sympathetic in some way, as sympathy is the ultimate way to make fans care about a character. Regardless how much money Hogan - who was still a sympathetic character in his own way - generated, fans eventually grew tired of his Superman persona. Conversely, though, fans never turn on Ricky Steamboat. By virtue of booking and impeccable face-in-peril selling abilities, he was nearly impossible to dislike. Daniel Bryan and Sami Zayn would be modern examples of virtually impossible to dislike characters - as they are two wrestlers that, by means of determination, resilience and diligence, overcome their imperfections and prove their doubters wrong.

Even the antihero, Stone Cold Steve Austin was a sympathetic figure. Vince McMahon discriminated against Austin all because of the way he carried himself. The McMahon vs. Austin story is very relatable to everyday life. McMahon did not want Austin to become champion because he did not fit the mold of champion, whereas people in the everyday world are constantly declined opportunities and freedoms because of who they are or what they look like.

As mentioned above, there are certain traits that make an antagonist dislikable. However, someone can easily simplified by just saying antagonists are characters that do malicious things to the protagonists. Neither the protagonist nor antagonist is more important than the other is. They are equally important in terms of generating a compelling story. If one has to carry the other, the story will not reach its ultimate potential. For instance, Brock Lesnar could do the same exact sadistic things to Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns and receive completely different reactions because the fans portray the Bryan and Reigns characters much differently.

There must be a conflict for a story to be effective. There are commonly three different conflicts in wrestling. The first one is man vs. man - which is an external conflict between two or more people, and usually in wrestling, a direct opposition. This is the most traditional feud in wrestling, too, as most feuds are conflicts over something involving a protagonist or antagonist. Man against society is the next one. This is when a man goes against an institution. Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority would be an archetypal example of this one.

The last one is man vs. himself - which is an internal conflict with oneself, such as a man finding himself in a crossroad where he has to decide which path he wants to take: the good or evil one. For John Cena has found himself in several of inner-conflicts, having to choose to be good or evil. Sami Zayn vs. Neville, however, was a more well-done recent example, as Zayn had to decide if he wanted to take a shortcut or if he trusted his ability enough to remain an ultra-fair and morally good competitor and person.

Thus, the main character has to evolve, struggle or make choices to arc and development. It is irrelevant if they succeed, but if the character is not evolving, the story is not progressing; and without some sort of conflict, there really is not a story being told - never mind a compelling one.

Both a conflict and story need structure and continuity. Otherwise, they are just a series of random events. First, there is an exposition, which is introduction to the conflict. It answers the basic questions, such as "who are the characters (what is their personality like, do they have likeable or dislikable characteristics) and what do they stand for (justice, greed, fairness, deceitfulness)?" Then, there is an inciting incident, which is something that arises the conflict. It answers questions like, "why are they feuding and why should people care?" Then, there is the rising action, which when the story's tension keeps building and becomes more exciting. It is normally when the antagonist does something to the protagonist that puts him or her in an unfair or ugly situation.

Thereafter, there is the climax, which is the most exciting part of the story, and it is typically the ultimate showdown and usually when the wrestlers settle their problems inside the ring. Later, the falling action happens - which is normally when the protagonist overcomes the antagonist and makes them receive their comeuppance for all their transgressions.

Lastly, there is the resolution. This is simply the solution of the conflict (what happens afterwards). The blueprint of a well-structured story sounds easier than it is though. There is an amount of things that can mar or detriment the story. It is vital for a story to have proper timing and progression to keep the story interesting. A writer needs to know how short or long a story should be; otherwise, the stories might become long-winded bores or never reached their potential.

Both long-term visions and improvising on cue are equally important. Despite what you may hear, long-term booking can be as damaging as it is helpful. Sometimes, a writer needs to make certain tweaks to a story or needs to end it faster if it is losing steam. Moreover, on-the-fly-booking without long-term visions normally make stories become convoluted and confusing because (1) nothing seems to have a destination, (2) things are changing too much and (3) there are too many plot holes within the story. Writing is all about timing - doing the proper things at the right time - opposed to too early or late.

Stories must have an organic feel to them. They must happen naturally, as contrived stories will insult and turn off an audience, due to their unrealistic and not believable nature. A story must make sense from beginning, middle, to end, or the story will suffer from plot-holes and nonsensical gaps. How something is being told is also far more important than what is being told, which means an unoriginal story told properly is far better than an original one told poorly.

Originality, as mentioned before, in addition to unpredictability, do not automatically make a story compelling. Yes, a novel concept will have a greater chance of feeling fresh opposed to a recycled and overdone one, and a series of twists and turns that keep the audience on the edge of their seats will likely create more tension, drama, and cliffhangers that will keep people wanting more. However, original ideas can still be ill-advised ideas and unpredictability can mar with needed satisfying conclusions. Sometimes, the reason something is predictable is due to it being the most logical and proactive step for the story. If Undertaker's outcomes at WrestleMania were unpredictable, there would have been no streak.

The passion and emotion behind the circumstance and the stakes involved are what hold a viewer's attention. Some stories do necessitate plot intricacy, although overloading or complicating the story will become detrimental and counterproductive to the story. Look at Vince Russo's WCW and TNA writing for an example.

Stories are ultimately compelling when they connect people to their principles and values, develop people's moral sense, reverberate with people's history, or challenge our intelligence. In simpler terms, compelling stories find a way to relate with people - in some way or another. And while there are so many things that can make a story compelling, interesting characters, well-defined characters, developments to the characters, conflict, realism, creativeness, story building, timing, pacing, and story structure are the definitely groundwork of making a story compelling. Without them, a story cannot even be one - never mind be a compelling one.

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