Monday, August 21, 2017

Writing Your Story: A Lesson From Professional Wrestling

In the world of professional wrestling, there is a term: "match psychology". Summarized, it means the use of physical action as a means of showing character so that the two men in the ring need not rely on verbal exchanges to push the narrative forward as their match progresses towards its conclusion. The audience can tell who is the Babyface (Hero) and who is the Heel (Villain) purely by appearance and action, and it works so well that the deaf have no issue following along. (How do I know that? One of my grandmothers was deaf, and she loved wrestling for this reason.)
Following Daddy Warpig's excellent post today at the Castalia House blog, which you should read, I'm going to talk about how you can--and should--use your expansive vocabulary to employ action as a characterization device so that you can keep your dialog down to the minimum you require to get the job done.

  • Show What He Does: Your character's decisions become his actions. What he chooses to do is a basic element of efficient storytelling, because what he chooses to do reveals elements of who and what he is. Heroes and villains reveal their character through the actions they take.
  • Show How He Does It: How he does what he does also shows elements of who and what he is. As word count allows, use this to flesh out the above step. It's one thing to shoot down an enemy fighter. It's another to deliberately target the cockpit when that is not necessary, and another again to circle around to paste the pilot after he's out of the fight.
  • Show How He Looks Doing It: Appearance is as much a valid storytelling trope, so exploit the hell out of it. A crude man dressed in barely-shaped iron plates wielding a cleaver that barely qualifies as a sword is very effective symbolic shortland for your villain, and you are a foolish writer to disdain the value of symbolic language.
The audience expects heroes to look this way, villains to look that way, and gets mad when those streams get crossed. Fulfill them as much to enhance word use efficiency as to satisfy what audiences expect- even demand. You making the most of appearance and action to demonstrate character will take you a long way.
Go back, read the old masters again; they wrote not only under tight deadlines but also under tight word counts. They had to make the most of every word on the page, and you'll likewise benefit from developing the same skills. Given today's terribly competitive entertainment environment, you're also under even worse pressures than the old masters of the Pulps were, so step up to the challenge and learn from the wrestling business. They're still a significant entertainment competitor today for more than just the savvy of Vince McMahon, something rivals dismiss to their cost.

1 comment:

  1. To give an example of a recent movie that used action well to advance the plot and inform on the character was 2012's Dredd. Dredd's and the other Judge's mechanical tactical clearing. The fact that Dredd was willing to beat a confession out of someone and his disinclination of falling for hostage taking. And Anderson's arch from being hopped up on adrenaline to being self-confident enough to shoot another judge.

    However, I fall on the minority side that it was a good movie and did a great job at telling it's story.