How (NOT) To Book a Storyline In 2020

As WWE TV ratings continue to disappoint, could a return to some storytelling fundamentals help matters?

All photos: WWE

Wrestling is an entertainment form at its core. Although this particular form resembles a sport, thus requiring tremendous athletic ability, storylines and ‘angles’ have been a staple of wrestling since the beginning.

You have the good guys and bad guys (or ‘faces’ and ‘heels’), and promos are used to enhance the story from his general foundation of the wrestlers involved wanting to fight each other.

Back in the day, it was very straight forward. You had the good guy be his good guy self and the bad guy came to ruin the fun so they would fight and more often than not, either the good guy came out the triumphant hero or the bad guy used some shenanigans like a weapon or outside interference and got one over on their opponent.

Over the years, the line has been blurred between reality and fiction, largely due to social media, and people connect with the person behind the character. What this then means is that guys who are heels and are meant to be booed, end up getting cheered due to recognition of their ability. 

You also have the smaller percentage of fans who love to just go against the curve and will boo faces and cheer heels simply to be different. 

Due to these facts, booking a compelling storyline in the modern day is a lot more difficult than it used to be as you have a lot more variables to try and account for which at times is near impossible to predict.

For example, who could have predicted the fans’ uproar over Roman Reigns being pushed to the top back when he was a member of the Shield? He was extremely popular in the trio, and his role was smaller and far more digestible.

Before we get into the article, just a quick disclaimer: I do not claim to be anywhere near on par as the professionals currently working in the business. I have total respect for them. I’m just a smartarse with a laptop and an opinion. With that said, here it is how (NOT) to book a storyline in 2020.

First thing is first when telling any story, whether it be movies, TV shows, or wrestling, a story is only as interesting as its characters. You need to build the characters as people that fans can get invested in before you shove them in a big complex storyline. 

An example of a time where this has happened, and there are a lot, is when Erik Rowan was revealed as the man attacking Roman Reigns. It made no sense! He had barely said a word since appearing and helping then-WWE Champion Daniel Bryan.

When it was revealed that Rowan committed attempted murder, Bryan denied any involvement and Rowan attacked him. Then Luke Harper came back, and things just got really messy.

If WWE had taken the time to build up Rowan as wanting to go off on his own, or hinted at being in touch with Harper (or, y’know, wanting to commit ACTUAL murder!) then this might have worked. 

After you have your character built and ready to go, you need to give them a legitimate reason for wanting to fight each other. Now this doesn’t have to be a major reason like the aforementioned attempted murder, but just something. As I said earlier in the article, gone are the days of basic, good guy v bad guy booking. Fans want more nowadays. 

Not every match needs a built-in storyline mind you, especially title matches. It does add to the effect, but you can have two superstars face off for a title without an in-depth storyline. If you force a storyline down the fans throat in order to get a match more attention, it will usually backfire and put the fans off.

However, if you are going to start a full storyline, it needs to make sense.

WWE seem to have a problem with starting storylines without having an end point in mind. Rowan’s mechanical spider springs to mind. Another example which was a bit bigger was Rusev and Shinsuke Nakamura feuding over the US title in late 2018 into early 2019. They feuded for a few months and bounced the title back and forth, then when R-Truth won the title, Nakamura and Rusev became a tag team for… reasons? It didn’t really make sense and it left fans confused.

Comparing Rusev and Nakamura’s stock in January ’18 to December ’18 sums up WWE’s creative woes (photo: WWE)

Following on from that thought about having an end point in mind, another important aspect is knowing when to end the storyline. If you end it too quickly it can leave fans wanting more – for example, when Samoa Joe faced Brock Lesnar. People really wanted to see more of that. 

On the flipside however, what happens a lot more often is we will see storylines extend far past their expiry date and go stale. A good example of this happening is Shinsuke Nakamura vs AJ Styles. I think the main reason this happened is because the matches were ending the same way over and over again.

Probably the biggest example of a feud gone on too long is Randy Orton vs John Cena. Those guys feuded for years! That’s not to say they didn’t have good matches, but the common criticism of this was that it was the same two guys at the top playing hot potato with the WWE Championship.

So, once you have your characters, your reasoning, and your when, where and why, the only thing left is to end it in a decisive way. It is okay to have shenanigans if you are planning on continuing the feud, and 50/50 booking can work with certain feuds (for example, Cena/Orton) but for the majority of feuds, you need to have a winner and a loser. 

Just this past April Baron Corbin came out and threw Elias off that podium thing they had set up, Elias then won at Wrestlemania 36. Corbin continued to berate him on Smackdown, only for Elias to cost him the Money in the Bank match by smashing him with a guitar.

Really the Mania match should have been the feud over and done with, but WWE kept it going, apparently to give both guys something to do. 

So, there you have it. How to book an engaging storyline and some examples of what NOT to do. Let me know what you think on twitter @epicfail318. Thanks for reading

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