Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ring Psychology #3 "In Which We Reach the Point"

So...What's the real reason I've been talking about professional wrestling?  Because for the last twenty years, I've been using it as a writing exercise.

When I say fantasy wrestling, I don't mean what people mean by "fantasy football" or "fantasy books" (actually, that one's just a joke, but for the record I've never really gotten into them).  And I don't mean that I always wondered what would happen if "Classy" Freddie Blassie met Ric Flair in a match (it would be a bloodbath, and awesome).

I mean that for the past two decades I've been coming up with fictional wrestlers in entire leagues of wrestling promotions.  There are no matches.  My imagination isn't nearly strong enough to deal with the tedium of scripting entire matches.  (Which reminds me, one of my great Internet Misadventures, of which there have been many, was almost participating in a Star Trek fan fiction where you had to describe everything your character did.  Maybe it's because I never played Dungeons & Dragons?  But I loved that one episode of Community.  No, scratch that.  I love every episode of Community.)

No, it's entirely a thought exercise.  Coming up with one wrestling personality and then coming up with another wrestling personality.  Figuring out what success looks like for these guys.  When you're juggling upwards to a hundred of them across several fake promotions...But it's fun, it really is.  The whole idea is to push myself beyond the limits of ordinary storytelling.  The idea is, it's to see what the story looks like outside of a strict narrative.  Sometimes it seems writers are a little too obsessed with the arc of a story.  They have to plan every single moment, from what the character is wearing to what they're eating to what they thought of that raised eyebrow to what their ear was doing when they reacted to the news of a puppy being saved from certain doom.

Wrestling is a means of storytelling that takes away most of the fine points.  This is not the same as saying it's not sophisticated.  The actual wrestling, no matter if it's "fake" or not, is among the most sophisticated things a human has ever accomplished, nothing so simple as learning to react in creative ways in direct relation to someone else.  It takes an incredible amount of imagination to pull it off.  The best way to tell if someone has what it takes to actually be a professional wrestler is to see how creative they are.  So it's not surprising when someone like Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) somehow ends up becoming a legitimate movie star, or like Chris Jericho (a version of) a bloody rock god, or like Mick Foley an engaging writer.

Some wrestlers are less inspired than others.  When I'm doing my fake wrestling, I sometimes have to work at a character to make them interesting.  I thought they were interesting, but they turned out to be pretty limited.  I know, this probably makes absolutely no sense to you.  I have this thing, and none of it is real, and I'm not even engaging in the basic functions of what it's supposed to be.

But again, thought exercise.  Sometimes I'll play directly off of something actual wrestling like WWE has done.  Sometimes (hopefully) it's totally original.  I've managed to keep it interesting for myself across twenty years.  As far as I'm concerned, I'm doing something right.

One of the best things about engaging in this exercise is the constant need to come up with interesting names.  Like race car drivers (what's up with that? do they accept or reject your application to drive based on how awesome your name is?), professional wrestlers tend to have, or be given, memorable names.  If you're Phil Brooks, you become even more awesome as CM Punk.  If you're Terry Bollea, you become Hulk Hogan.  If you're Michael Hickenbottom, you're a thousand times better as Shawn Michaels.  If your name is Ted DiBiase, you're worth your weight in diamond-encrusted gold.  At least one of the names I've come up with over the years I actually borrowed for another story entirely (an actual story), I liked it so much, and it's iconic (to me) in two completely different contexts.  (Character names are incredibly important to me.)

When you're forced to keep all the reality of a fictional creation in your own head, basically, which is what most writers do anyway, it forces you to keep thinking about it.  Writers are supposed to actually write, but the best part of this job is in thinking about your story.  Sure, the perks of having millions (and millions) of fans and being paid to write cannot be argued with, but if you're a writer who doesn't love the idea of thinking about your story, then as far as I'm concerned, you have no business writing.

And so one of the longest and best things I've done as a writer has not been about writing at all.  That's the real point.  And the point of watching wrestling.  Or enjoying anything, really.  A writer doesn't have downtime.  Literally everything a writer experiences is also known as source material.  Don't trust a writer who believes otherwise.  Never trust them.  No, seriously, they are not really a writer.

And that's why I keep writing about professional wrestling.


  1. That's a lot of work even for an exercise.
    And yes, if your name isn't Southern enough, you aren't allowed into Nascar.
    Never played D&D? Really? Now a whole world of D&D characters I could imagine.

    1. I was also thinking the Indy circuit, where there has always been a lot of awesome names. The closest I came to D&D was Warhammer on basically one occasion.

  2. Geez...that's a lot of thinking going on.

    But we do go around playing out scenes and characters in our minds, though. It helps pass the time, especially if we're in line at the DMV.

    1. The thing is, it really doesn't take much time. Once you've conceived of a character (or in this case a wrestler), it's becomes much easier to plug them into stories (or in this case matches) month to month. How long they stick around is the true strength of the character.


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