The Five: Everything I Need to Know about Storytelling I Learned From Professional Wrestling

Anthony R. Miller checks in to ruin any credibility he had as a writer.

Hey you guys, In keeping with Septembers theme of “Breaking the Rules”, and following up on my “Tips for Doing Reasonably Well” I have one more installment of rules I actually follow. Which I suppose is my clever way of breaking the rules. Now I make no secret of my passion for the Art of Professional Wrestling, I have long considered it theatre at its base, undistilled if you will. One thing that most fans can agree on is that feats of athleticism are great and all, but when Pro Wrestling is truly great, it is because of its adherence to strong storytelling. So along with Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing or Stephen King’s On Writing, being a lifelong fan of pro wrestling has taught me some important rules in compelling story telling, and wouldn’t you know it, there are five.

DISCLAIMER: I am still not famous, so these shouldn’t be seen as rules that will make wildly successful, but they do work for me.

Black Hat/ White Hat

Even in a world of grey area and anti-heroes, it comes down to one basic principle; there is a good guy and a bad guy. Call it Protagonist / Antagonist or Babyface / Heel, but there’s the character you feel compelled to root for and there’s the jerk who keeps messing it up. The good guy is not seen as such just because he smiles or says things that make us cheer, he is supported by just how awful the bad guy is. Sometimes we want the good guy to win simply because the bad guy does such awful things; we are invested in him getting what he deserves. The good guy is simply a representation of what we want to see most in the world: justice.

Why Did You Do That?

Sure, we know Johnny Skullcrusher is going to bust out his steel chair at some point. But what makes that moment exciting is when and why he does it. While it is in the nature of the bad guy to cheat at some point, it comes at a time when he is afraid he will lose. It should be seen as an act of desperation. Because of that act the bad guy is seen as a cheat, or a coward. So, like in any story, there is a reason for the character’s actions. A series of moves with no real motivation is the same as a series of events that are not connected to each other. It is the difference between “This happened AND THEN this happened AND THEN this happened” and “This happened, BECAUSE OF THAT, this happened.”

Pacing, Pacing, Pacing

Like any good story, you can’t just have action, action, action. The same goes for an exciting match. There can’t be just spectacular moment after spectacular moment. There has to be peaks and valleys. Sometimes you slow things down to build tension, sometimes you speed them up to create excitement. Great matches, like great stories place major events at just the right time, and they take the time to build up to those major events.

Winning is Better When You Think They’re Going to Lose

I’m a sucker for a good underdog story, and if your story is told well, I am emotionally invested in the good guy getting what he wanted. In the case of pro wrestling, it is a victory for a championship or it is to settle a grudge. This make the moments leading to his victory pivotal. This might be the moment when our villain has seemingly overpowered our hero. And then, our hero digs deep and pushes himself harder than he ever has and fights back at the last moment to get his victory. But the weight and emotion of his moment of victory are dictated by two questions; did we want him to win and was there a moment when we truly thought he wouldn’t win? Everyone likes a happy ending, but it still needs to be earned. Victory is so much sweeter when we truly believe if just for a moment, it’s not going to happen. Equally, a loss is more upsetting when you truly believe everything is going to work out.

The Only Thing They Remember is the Last Thing They See

Also known as “Stick Your Landing”. End strong, the final moment of your story and the emotion it carries is what your audience takes with them as they walk into the lobby. Were there a few botched moves? Sure. But these moments can be forgiven with a strong impactful ending. Maybe it’s our battered hero, almost unable to stand, hoisting the belt above his head. Maybe our hero only wins because he has turned to villainy. Whether your ending is happy or sad, it should have emotional intention. Does it make me feel happy? Do I feel excited? Do I feel emotionally exhausted? Whatever the feels may be, the ending has to make me feel them. A great ending in pro wrestling is like any story, we’ve gone somewhere with the character, we have experienced things along with them. Everything is just a buildup to the end, where we feel the triumph or the tragedy. Now there are bad feelings too, like bored, or relieved it’s over, or dissatisfied. No matter the medium, those feelings are the result of weak storytelling. A great ending should be something we feel along with our hero.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer, producer and wrestling nerd. His play “Sexy Vampire Academy” will get its first reading in October, learn more at His other play “Christian Teen Dolphin-Sex Beach Party will be read as part of the San Francisco Olympians festival in November.

Cowan Palace: The Write Stuff

Ashley Cowan shares thoughts from her journal as well as offering a few suggestions to make you a better writer.

When I was kid, writing creative stories was sort of a guilty pleasure. It wasn’t something I told my friends (because I would have been teased… more than I was already) but in my free time, I’d go to town writing pages about anything from the inner lives of those on the Oregon Trail (the game) to the secret workings of kids who were way more popular and had somehow missed adolescent’s awkward hazing process of braces, glasses, and growing out your bangs. Which, by the way, if those were the three parts in a nerdy triathlon, I would have been a serious competitor.

As I grew up, I continued to treasure my English assignments over most subjects but managed to keep the interest to myself. I actually developed a fear of sharing my work with others because it made me feel incredibly vulnerable and exposed. So mostly, I kept my words hidden in various notebooks and journals.

The first time I shared my work with an audience was thanks to Theater Pub. It was their second show ever and it featured a more bitter examination of Valentine’s Day (conveniently playing a day after the romantic holiday itself). I read from my legit, very personal diary, things I had never planned to share with anyone (leave it to you to get it out of me, Theater Pub). But ever since that experience, I’ve been able to continue facing that fear and move on to the other hurdles of declaring yourself a writer.

Very recently, I decided to try and submit something for Theater Pub’s highly anticipated Pint Sized Festival. Not only did I wait until the last minute to choose what to write but I also misread the three character maximum rule and wrote something with four characters in mind.  Leaving me to hurry home from Monday’s fun performance and scramble to put something resembling my idea together into a play before midnight.

But it’s my own fault. I have mastered the art of distracting myself each time I try to get some work done. Whenever I should be writing, I suddenly become quite interested in doing things like cleaning out my closet or reading the latest gossip on past Bachelor contestants (will Sean and Catherine make it?!). And if you’re anything like me, maybe you’ve thought of some similar excuses. So I thought it may be fun to look into some of the habits of some more well-known writers; perhaps we can all gain some wisdom and advice in the form a gentle list of suggestions to get back in the world of written words.

So here we go. Without further ado, here are five suggestions to become a better writer.

Write Something Everyday

That’s right, lazy bones. If you want to be a writer you actually have to write. You wouldn’t run a marathon without prepping a bit, right? Maybe doing some stretching or whatever? It’s similar. Just take it from the pros; Stephen King vows to write ten pages every day. No matter what. Ernest Hemingway aimed for at least five hundred words. You don’t have to write about nightmare clowns or develop a famous alcohol issue (though, I’m not stopping you) but consider it a good push.

Change Your Position

Literally. Now, maybe you’re most comfortable at a desk but who’s not a fan of lying in bed?! And for some writers, like Truman Capote, they claim to be a “completely horizontal author”. George Orwell, Edith Wharton, Winston Churchill, and I’m sure many others, also shared a love of the good ole writing in bed routine. While you’re there for your next catnap, why not try documenting a thought or two?

Turn Off The Internet

Yeah, okay, I know you can’t actually turn off the Internet worldwide but you can do yourself a favor and disable it from time to time. From the mind-suck of Facebook to the endless array of new articles (but seriously guys, do you think Sean and Catherine have what it takes?!) it’s easy to become distracted. When Sara Gruen wrote Water for Elephants she said she would dedicate a few hours a day to work in a small, cramped private space devoid of distraction. If the online pull isn’t an issue for you, perhaps investigate other new ways to help your concentration. It could be turning off the TV or locking yourself in a padded room, whatever. Make focusing a priority.

Cherish The Small Stuff

Get those short stories done! Write that ten minute play! Before you can tackle the next great masterpiece; try to complete those projects that seem to be constantly left on the backburner because of their petite size. Mark Twain did it! He was a travel writer and journalist before he went on to write any material that would later be dissected by high school students everywhere. Besides, completing shorts gives you the wonderful opportunity to really know your story and make it solid.

Write Because You Love It More Than Your Journal

Don’t get me wrong – I love journaling. It’s how I survived my teenage years. And it’s a great way to keep stretching those writer muscles because it keeps the habit thriving. But consider writing for other people. Keep it personal (I’d love to read your gossip) just keep potential readers in mind. Push yourself to get those thoughts out from hidden inside your Lisa Frank binder to a larger interested audience.

Neil Gaiman once said, “Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.” It’s not the easiest thing to love but know you’re in a welcoming community of fellow minded folks and if you fall, there are a bunch of us already down who can soften the landing… as we pick each other up again in search of flight.

What’s your typical writing routine? Any practices you’d like to share? Have you heard any interesting Sean and Catherine news? Please, leave us a comment!