Wrestling isn’t like any other form of entertainment. Instead of having an off season to write up stories and give the fans a breather, everything happens week to week, meaning things have to move at a more breakneck pace. While there are various benefits to this, the writing and creative departments have often suffered, and a lot of that is due to the lack of well thought out storytelling.
There are a variety of different ways to tell a story in wrestling and some of them are a lot better than others. You could have a long form story that takes place over the course of years, a shorter form story that takes all of a single show, or far more likely, something right in the middle that takes place over a few weeks or months. No matter what the length is though, the story needs to make sense and have a logical path (even if the path doesn’t seem logical until the ending), but it also needs to be entertaining. Getting these things to do both can be quite the challenge.
That’s what we’re going to take a look at today: the difference between stories that are well told and thought out but might not be the most entertaining things in the world and stories that might be fun but make no sense when you actually think of them. We’ll save the good ones for another time because there are so many factors that go into a story that is actually well told and entertaining.
Consider Vince Russo (and make sure to wash your hands after). To say his methods of producing wrestling storylines is controversial would be an understatement, but the one thing that can be said about them is that they were not boring. There was always some kind of a twist or turn that got us to the next part, but that turns into a problem: how many of those twists and turns made no sense?
One of Russo’s most common booking tropes was the fine print of a contract. Something would happen (either bad or good) and an authority figure would come out and say that the contract had some fine print in there which reversed whatever had happened. You could call this a deus ex clause, as it comes out of nowhere and basically serves as a get out of jail free card to get us to the next plot point. It hasn’t been mentioned before, there is little reason for anyone to fall for it, and it allows the story to continue without having to make a bunch of sense.
If you want a more modern version of this, consider the Monday Night Raw after WrestleMania 32. Shane McMahon had agreed to face the Undertaker inside Hell In A Cell the previous night for a chance to run Monday Night Raw. McMahon lost, but Vince McMahon came out and announced that despite what they had agreed to for weeks, Shane would be running the show after all.
Does this make sense to you:
In other words, forget everything that had happened over the last few weeks, ignore what was arguably the real main event of WrestleMania 32 and ignore all of the character motivations. Instead of what made sense and everything that had been going on, we were just getting a different story. Maybe the Undertaker refused to lose to Shane (fair enough) or maybe the company just changed their minds, but the story that had been built for months was suddenly switched around and we just moved on like nothing had happened.
Ignoring whatever your thoughts might be on the whole storyline, it was badly presented. WWE had booked themselves into a corner and their way out of it was to create new rules instead of following what they had set up. That’s not good storytelling and it didn’t make sense for anyone involved. But hey, they got to the next point and that’s what matters right?
Now let’s switch things up to a story that went the other way. Consider a storyline going today: Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder becoming the Raw Tag Team Champions. While the title reign is still going, things haven’t been the most thrilling for the new champions but that doesn’t mean the path they took to get here is illogical.
Yes this worked:
The story started with Hawkins being on an all time losing streak, with over 250 consecutive losses, both in singles and tag matches. He eventually teamed back up with Ryder, hoping to rekindle some of their previous (albeit ten years previous) success. It didn’t work at first, but they managed to get a Tag Team Title shot against the Revival at WrestleMania 35 and won the titles in a huge upset.
On paper that might not make the most sense, but when you think about the whole thing, it really kind of does. The Revival considers themselves to be top guys, so how much trouble did they expect to have against a couple of losers like Hawkins and Ryder? At the same time, Hawkins and Ryder had been getting closer and closer to a win and they were in front of their home crowd. They got lucky at the right time and won the titles, which is hardly a first time occurrence.
All in all, the story makes enough sense that you don’t have to squint that hard to see how it works. The problem is that it isn’t the most interesting story in the world. The story was more for the live crowd than the home audience (rarely a good idea) and then there’s the aftermath, where Hawkins and Ryder have managed to defend the titles a few times now. It makes the Revival look like losers, but at the same time it’s almost impossible to buy Hawkins and Ryder as the best team in a division as stacked as Monday Night Raw’s tag division.
In other words, the story just isn’t very good. It might be well structured, but it isn’t entertaining in the long run because it doesn’t have the legs. I can’t bring myself to buy that Ryder and Hawkins, who had lost everything until WrestleMania, are now able to survive against teams like the Usos, the Viking Raiders or even the Revival. It makes sense to get there, but having them hold the titles after that one big win isn’t going to hold up for more than a few weeks, mainly due to the team not having the recent success to validate them being more than a fluke.
And sometimes you get an explanation like this:
This is a really tricky combination to pull off (especially in modern wrestling), which is why you so rarely see truly good and entertaining stories. Some will come close on both points, but very few are going to be there perfectly every single time. Even something like Daniel Bryan wasn’t perfect, with some leaps in logic to get to where they were (Bryan was going to be able to get a mob of fans to take over every Monday Night Raw forever?). It worked in the end, but that’s much closer to an exception than the rule.
Wrestling is a complicated place and the people putting it together have to balance a lot of things. With so much going on, it is nearly impossible to create a story that is both entertaining as well as logical throughout, but there are ways to get close enough to make it work. As long as you can make enough sense of things without needing some last second change to the rules to make everything work, there is enough good there to keep things going. If you can keep that going up instead of going down, everything should be fine.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his Amazon author page with 28 wrestling books. His latest book is the the Complete 2000 Monday Nitro and Thunder Reviews Part 1.
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