The Other Question Pro Wrestling Taught Me To Ask About Every Writing Preject

Death Before Death Before Reborn Survival WorldSo yesterday I talked about where is the money? – the big question I’ve learned to ask of every writing project, courtesy of a shoot interview with former WCW booker Kevin Sullivan. It’s a simple question, and it’s remarkably useful for cutting through to the heart of what needs to happen in your story, novel, or blog post.

Today I’m going to talk about the other big question I learned from paying attention to wrestling bookers, although this one comes from a bloke whose insights into wrestling have already taught me an awful lot about writing – the inimitable Al Snow.

The question he taught me to ask is this:


In wrestling, “making” a wrestler means figuring out what you want the audience to believe and convincing them to buy into it. You can’t just send two guys out there and have them fight if everyone knows the ending is pre-determined – there’s no drama in it. And wrestling leans heavily on drama to make money.

So what do you do when a fresh, unknown face debuts on your show? To borrow words from Al Snow:

If you’re a new talent, we’ve got to make you. Make the audience believe in you, that you are competitive, that you’re a heel for these reasons, that you’re a face for these reason. Acquaint the audience with who or what you are, before we do anything else.

At its core: what do we need to make the audience believe about this wrestler, before we can even think about making money from him?

The belief is important, because…well, lets get this out of the way: pro-wrestling isn’t real. Somehow, people who don’t watch pro-wrestling seem to think that this is an important point to hammer home, as if it’s going to come as some kind of goddamn surprise.

It doesn’t.

Of course pro-wrestling isn’t real. There are wrestlers who have won matches with invisible hand grenades and their mystic ability to put their opponents into slow-motion. There are wrestlers who have won matches by stuffing dirty socks into an opponents mouth. There are wrestlers whose most effective attack involves break-dancing before dropping a fist on an opponent, because break-dancing makes things hurt more.

The carny roots of pro-wrestling, where the goal was conning people out of their money through a facade of legitimacy, are now long gone. But then, the days when people will mistake film footage of a train arriving at the station for an actual train are gone, and we have some pretty clear ideas about the difference between fiction and non-fiction writing.

Really, these days, wrestling asks you to suspend your disbelief much like any other form of entertainment, and you’re either willing to go with that or your’e not.

Personally, I am, ’cause pro-wrestling is fricken’ awesome. 

And because, every time a new wrestler debuts in a promotion and they start figuring out how to make him or her, you’re simultaneously watching a process of character building and world building at the same time. You watch who they are and how they fight, get a taste for the things that are meant to lead to victory (or defeat).

Wrestling is a narrative form that come down to manipulating the beliefs of an audience, which is pretty much the same goal as writing fiction. Wrestlers user a different toolkit to generate the suspension of disbelief, but they are just as reliant on it, and when you hit the point invisible hand-grenades are a viable finishing move, it’s obvious that realism is no longer part of the toolkit.

For a person who writes decidedly non-realist stories, paying attention to how wrestling makes stories out of some patently absurd things is enormously valuable. And even in the promotions that rely heavily on the feeling that things are a legitimate athletic contest, it’s worth paying attention to see how they make each new competitor.

What do you need to make a reader believe about your character? How do you make them believe that?

Combine these two questions with WHERE IS THE MONEY? and I think everything in writing gets just a little bit easier.



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