Pro wrestling, if nothing else, is a distillation of fiction: two characters confined to one setting, each highly motivated, meet in pure conflict. But even beyond that, pro-wrestling has created a partnership with its fandom that can help show how great storytelling satisfies readers. It may be scoffed at by circles of readers interested in literature, but wrestling is art. Some may think otherwise, but I truly believe my favorite wrestlers CM Punk and Santino Marella are just as good storytellers as my favorite authors NK Jemisin and Kurt Vonnegut
Being a wrestling fan for decades, I’ve been surprised by how much my experience in that fandom has affected my writing. I don’t write about wrestlers (so far), but the mechanics of matches and feuds have helped me so much as I throw characters into conflict on the page. I’m not claiming all wrestling programs and storylines have literary qualities, and I know the squared circle isn’t for everyone, but I know my writing is better because I’ve spent hours watching and enjoying pro wrestling.
This has strengthened the cast of people in my books, heightened my action sequences, and taught me to build tension toward climactic payoffs. All of that and more can be found on any good episode of a pro wrestling program or better yet, (as public spaces get safer) seeing it live! Larger-life-characters, often a good guy babyface against a villain heel, usually lead up to their match with a war of words, or even tense moments that lead to blows. This anticipation escalates, increasing tension and building to a match, a simulated fight in which a simple conflict is expressed through physical means.
The match itself is a story being told. It has characters, setting, conflict, a beginning, a middle, and an end. There are identifiable fiction tropes, too; moments such as when the babyface is at their weakest, when enormously courageous acts that inflict pain on both competitors, and always at least one moment when an ending nears, but one wrestler kicks out of a pin at the last second. Wrestlers themselves even pride themselves in ring psychology, portraying attacks in such a way that the audience understands the tactics and follows the emotional highs and lows. They themselves recognize they are storytellers above all else.
In my opinion, any great story contains so many of the same touchstones of good pro wrestling. First and foremost, an understanding with the audience. Wrestling has maybe the best example of a “contract with the reader”– everyone attending pretends it’s real: They chant, they grunt and flinch along with especially painful-looking holds and spot. The expectation is that the wrestlers make it look real (or at least difficult and/or interesting), and the audience plays along like they’re watching any other live sport. And it makes all of the big emotional moments pay off more.
Opening a book, a reader understands they’re going to get a story with a beginning, middle end, characters, setting, and conflict. What happens as the story starts then lets the reader know what kind of story. Similarly, wrestling matches has announcers who tell the audience the wrestlers involved and match stipulations. And just like in any good stories, there are promises made along the way. Just as an author can point out a cool piece of tech or a latent ability of a character, a wrestler will often spend time retrieving and assembling a table. And just like a novel’s tech or superpower, if that table is set up, before the end of the story, it will get used.
As a writer, I strive for a contract with my audience. In the very first chapter of my debut novel, Chase: The Boy Who Hid, the main character does a couple things:
● He hides (it’s a big part of the series, in case that wasn’t obvious).
● He attempts and fails at his own invention.
● He is introduced to amazing technology lightyears ahead of anything he’s seen.
If a reader reads this and agrees to go on this journey with this character, accepting these expectations, then the reader should experience an emotional payoff when Chase’s decision to hide or not determines the fate of futuristic tech of his own invention.
So a wrestling match is a microcosm of fiction and wrestling fans would make the best genre readers in the world . But even beyond those examples, there’s too much I’ve learned from pro wrestling about drama, tension, and character to put in just one blog post. Honestly, the best way I know to explain it to you is to show it to you in Chase: The Boy Who Hid, available for order on Amazon.com, Kobo, Google Play, and at your local bookstore.
Chase even gets a pep talk quoting the Ultimate Warrior.
Chase: The Boy Who Hid is free the first week of June, 2021. Pick up your copy today!
I want to thank Z. Jeffries for stopping by Every Read Thing today to discuss his new novel.
One thought on “Writing and Wrestling – Or Everything I Know About Storytelling I Learned From Pro Wrestling”
There’s not much wrestling fiction out there, I wonder if there’s no demand or no supply