BASICS OF A GOOD STORY
In the world of professional wrestling, there are multiple stories and storylines going on at the same time. Whether these are stories that have gone on for weeks or months, or just the story being told in the ring at the moment you’re watching, the world of professional wrestling is filled with them.
Being a fan from the 1980’s to the present day, while also being a screenwriter, I often analyze the stories being told/shown to me and wonder why some stories work and some stories do not. Why does one story fizzle out relatively quickly? Why does one story seem to take on a life of its own?
What makes a good story good? What makes a bad story terrible? What makes a story “must see tv?” What makes a story…meh?
When you write a screenplay or, pretty much, any story – the story falls into three categories: First Act, Second Act, Third Act. Before I get in the weeds, this can also simply be looked at as Beginning, Middle and End. Each act has certain elements that must be included. The First and Third acts are, relative to the second act, short while the second or middle is the slog.
What is included in the first act? Introduction of the hero and their statement of desire or want and need. After you’re introduced to the hero and their want/desire/need – they then need to go on a journey to find their want/desire/need. The villain is also introduced in the first act and their main job is to stop the hero in their quest, while possibly achieving the same goal.
The second act is the meat of the story, where the conflict is borne out. This is where the action is. This is where the lulls are. This is where the hero is brought to his knees in what is often called “all is lost” moment. Then the hero finds within himself (or herself) the desire to continue and fights back.
The third act is the climax, the big finish, the attack on the Death Star. The getting the broomstick from the Wicked Witch of the West. The point of no return. The fight in Rocky (and Rocky II, III, IV, etc.). The Hero either wins…or they lose.
It’s all relatively simple when broken down into certain pieces or scenes but getting those scenes to work as a cohesive whole so the story adds up into something that is satisfying can be quite difficult.
How do you get them all to work together? Simply with one word: Logic.
The Hero (or villain’s) journey must be, in some ways, logical. It must make some sort of sense or the audience will not fully buy into it. If the story is illogical or doesn’t make sense, the audience will watch from a distance or won’t become as engaged in the outcome. If the hero’s goal is not clearly defined, if the villain is not strong enough, powerful enough to overcome, the payoff may seem less than. If the hero is not one that people can relate to, they may enjoy the visuals and the storytelling to a point, but may sit on their hands and shrug their shoulders. The WWE is asking you, the paying audience, or the middle-aged bald guy at home to invest time in these athletes. Why? What story are you telling me? Why should I give a rat’s ass?
The biggest issue that the WWE has when it comes to storytelling is the issue of logic.
Too often the stories feel forced or pushed in a way that doesn’t make sense. We don’t know who to root for or why. All the elements are there that have been used countless times before – why do they not add up?
There are two recent storylines that I want to focus on. One logical and one illogical. One pays off better than the other (though you may disagree with me).
Logical storyline: Chris Jericho v. Kevin Owens
This is a storyline built over months and months. You have a semi-hero/sometimes villain Chris Jericho and anti-hero/villain Kevin Owens. Both of these wrestlers are good on the mic, great performers and come off very logically. Chris is the mentor, Kevin is the student. Anyone with half an ounce of brains knew that from day one of their “best friendship” they would eventually come to blows and, thus, the build-up over the months worked logically on many points. Chris helped here, Kevin helped there, Kevin owed Chris, Chris owed Kevin. Plus, there’s a title involved so that adds weight to the rivalry/story. Again, just like knowing that Luke Skywalker would be the one to destroy the Death Star (certainly not Porkins) the moment we see him on Tattooine, we know that this is going to come to some logical conclusion. And we enjoy the ride.
Illogical Storyline: Randy Orton v. Bray Wyatt
This, too, is a storyline built over months and months. You have the semi-hero/face of Randy Orton v. villain/heel Bray Wyatt. But…is Bray the villain or not? I mean, Randy torches his house, right? And…what are they fighting for? (Note: I did not follow this story as thoroughly as I would have liked as I predominately watch “Raw” so please correct me if I’m wrong.) Suddenly I don’t know who the hero is and who the villain is. This can work, certainly, if you’ve got twists and turns and swerves, etc. but not knowing who to root for ends up with the audience just watching and not really participating. I mean who cares, right?
Also, logically, Randy Orton would be in jail for arson…but I digress.
Then this culminates at Wrestlemania where there’s projections of larva and bugs like we’re watching a segment from ‘Who’s Line is it Anyway?’ and they’re doing the “green screen” bit.
And then, as if to try and squeeze a bit more blood from this stone they have the “House of Horrors” at the “Payback” PPV and, logically, we’re supposed to believe that this house is within a half-hour driving distance from the arena and this fight is going on “live” with all the special effects and cuts and camera angles, etc. Please.
At some point, you go from entertaining an audience to boring an audience to insulting an audience. This isn’t anything against Randy or Bray or the talent on the screen. It’s all done very professionally (and, again, you may have loved it all), but it was just lacking…logic.
(Note: This subject of logic is going to come up more and more as this thread continues.)