For those who didn’t know, one of my many day jobs is as a writer of fiction. Not quality fiction, but pulp fiction – horror, fantasy, sci-fi, you know the drill. So far none of my novels (and there are too many of them) have been published, but there are more than enough of my short stories out there in the real world.
Now, in order to sell a story, you need the basics. People don’t buy stories if you just describe your day on the docks. At least, not anymore, and not in high turnover markets. You need a hook, something to engage an audience. And in story-telling these basics can be put as Goal, Motivation, Conflict. Goals – what do the people want to do; Motivation – why do they want this goal so badly; Conflict – what is in their way when trying to achieve that goal. And, added to all of this, these GMCs must all be plausible.
Simple, really. It’s used in books, films, soap operas, plays, everything that needs to tell a story. Even the worst written things will have something approaching this.
So why the lecture? I think we should look at current WWE content and see why maybe things are or aren’t connecting with the audience.
Let’s start with Blair Douglas’ favourite current champion – Sheamus. While he is getting some cheers, he is generally treated with apathy by the audience. Not boos, not hostility, just apathy. And I think it’s because the GMC of his character is lacking. What are his goals? Why are they so important to him? And nothing lately seems to have stopped him – he’s won the Rumble, won at Wrestlemania, defended the title without loss. So what?
To contrast, Daniel Bryan, even though a heel, has the crowd firmly with him. His goal is to be the world champion. His motivation is because he sees that as the pinnacle of his chosen sport, and he sees himself as that pinnacle. His conflict is the fact he had a stalker ex-girlfriend, and he seemingly can’t beat the current world champion in Sheamus. Simple and plausible, and so the crowd buys into it.
So why should we cheer Brodus Clay, the Funkasaurus? He is different, but he’s certainly not getting the cheers. Why should we boo Lord Tensai? Why should we care either way about Ryback? These are characters whose individual GMCs mean nothing to the crowd, and they are treated with subsequent indifference.
So that’s character. But characters do not a story make on their own. We need things for them to do.
That brings us to the feuds. Look at Jericho-Punk. They have the same goal – to prove they are the best in the world at what they do. They have the same motivation – ego. A simple one, but a good one. And they both have the same conflict – one another claiming the same thing. All the extraneous stuff about Punk’s family is just that – extraneous stuff. It might add interest and depth (in theory), but it isn’t part of a very basic GMC that works. Oh, and the reason it works? That’s because it’s believable. It’s real. These two could well be the best in the world. We as an audience are interested in the outcome.
So, on the other side of the coin, what about the Big Show-Cody Rhodes feud? The goal is being the Intercontinental champion, same for both guys. The motivation is where it gets muddied. The Big Show is a former world champ, former tag team champ, and maybe the IC title added to his grand slam collection, but really, why would he want to be IC champ? And Cody Rhodes’ motivation just seems to be to get under Big Show’s skin. The conflict is just as confused. Is it one another, playing each other’s history, or what else? The crowd does not buy it. The only thing even making this remotely interesting is the emotional investment the crowd seem to be having in Cody Rhodes as a character.
What about the Divas? Their goals seem to be absent apart from wanting to win a title. Their motivation seems to be because it’s there. Their conflict is merely one another. Could this be – apart from the apparent lack of wrestling ability or improvement on the part of most of them – why the Divas matches are seen as toilet break matches? I mean, who are the most interesting Divas? AJ, who is stalking Daniel Bryan after being abused by him, and Eve, who has gone from girlfriend to “ho” to woman in charge. And neither are anywhere near the title scene, but they have a GMC the crowd now can believe in.
But, it must be said, the story-telling is improving. We have wrestlers who can tell the stories that they are given – Punk, Jericho, Bryan. And we seem to have writers willing to allow stories to happen a little more organically – be it personal tales or feuds – and not rushing everything through. Of course, they still go through that at times, but it does seem to be getting better.
Will this see a renaissance in the wrestling landscape? Well, probably not. It’s more that the powers that be realise that what worked back in the successful days was not characters or gimmicks, it was stories, and stories that followed Goal-Motivation-Conflict. So hopefully all of this will be the start of some decent and maybe even some proper long-term story-telling, not only in feuds, but in the individual wrestlers themselves.
Story-telling. It ain’t rocket science.
Now for this fortnight’s Australiana.