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Minds Eye


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Nov
26th
2014

Hotshotting and a Theory on Creativity · 2:19am Nov 26th, 2014

Don’t mind me, just climbing on my soapbox again...

There we are.

Hotshotting, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, comes from pro wrestling. I’ll admit that’s a strange place to start a blog on writing, but given the staged (“fake”) nature of the business, pro wrestling has always had an element of theater and entertainment to it. The basic premise of “Two men don’t like each other, and people pay to watch them fight,” has sold out arenas across the world for decades.

How? And what could we as writers learn from that question?

To answer the first question, there’s one more term you need to know: booker.

The booker was the guy that planned out the wrestling show each night. Wrestlers would work with each other to figure out how their match would go, but the booker was the one that decided who was working together each night. More importantly, they decided who would win and how they would win.

If you were going to write an interesting story, would you make the hero a god of war that could destroy everyone that gets in his way without any trouble at all, including the evil dragon at the end of his quest? No. That would be boring. There wouldn’t be any drama or suspense or anything.

Same thing in wrestling. The best way for a staged fight with a predetermined outcome to be exciting and interesting was for there to be a feeling of unpredictability. The good guys would wrestle the bad guys, but if the same guy won every single night, the outcome of the match would become boring and predetermined in the eyes of the fans.

Odd, huh? The point of a predetermined show was to avoid appearing that way.

It was up to the booker to keep things fresh and keep the fans invested in the program between the two wrestlers. The bad guy has a manager that keeps interfering in the match? Give the good guy a friend at ringside to help out. The bad guy brought in another wrestler to put a beat down on the good guy? Time for a tag team match. The bad guy keeps running away? Tie the wrestlers at the wrist with a leather strap. So on and so forth.

Eventually, the time would come to end it. The same wrestlers wrestling each other night after night, week after week, town after town would get just as boring as the same one winning every match. The feud would culminate with one last match. What’s more, that match would coincide with the final match in other feuds between other wrestlers. These shows were the moneymakers, when the fans’ interest was at its highest.

How much money? WCW’s Starrcade 1997, which was built around a year long feud between Sting and Hulk Hogan, drew over six million dollars between the fans that attended live and those that ordered the show on pay-per-view.

Six million dollars in one night.

So what exactly is hotshotting? Well, it’s the opposite of what I just described.

Think about what I told you about Starrcade, the feud between Sting and Hulk Hogan specifically. “A year long feud.” WCW held their most popular good guy from fighting their most hated bad guy for an entire year. Of course they made six million dollars in one night. They had fans drooling like Pavlov’s dogs for that match.

So what if they scheduled the match with just six months of build-up leading to it instead of twelve? Would they have still made six million dollars? Probably not, but they still would have made millions. But what if WCW panicked because the ratings on their TV show were down? What if they had Sting and Hogan wrestle each other on TV instead of pay-per-view? How many millions of people would have watched that match? Think of the ratings!

Of course, those millions of people would have watched the match for free. They wouldn’t have paid. WCW wouldn’t have made six million dollars. Still, ratings! That would have been worth something, right?

Right?

That’s hotshotting. Giving away what would be lucrative business for a short-term spike in interest is not going to be successful. Obviously, the immediate reaction would be positive. It’s like throwing a firecracker in a crowded room. There’s a bright light and a loud sound, and everygone goes, “WHOA! That was awesome!”

But what comes after?

The answer is easy for a wrestling company. They have a roster of heavily muscled men that people want to watch fight each other, so why not give the people what they want? Okay, and then what? After all the wrestlers have fought each other, after all the titles have changed hands, after all the gimmick matches you can think of are over, what do you do then? There's nowhere to go. The fans have seen everything you have to offer.

You can’t just put out your best ideas every time. Creativity doesn’t work like that. Ideas need time to develop into all they can be, to the benefit of everyone involved.

For a writer, execution is everything, and timing and planning are both parts of execution. Is now really the best time for this idea? Is this chapter the right chapter to reveal the big secret? How will the characters react, and will there be a better reaction later on?

Those are question worth considering. Constantly. “Ideas are the bombs in your mind,” according to a rock song I’ve heard recently, and the writer’s goal should be to blow their readers’ minds instead of their own. Ideas should be planted and cultivated until they’re ready for the writer’s purpose.

So... when is that? When is the right time to pull the trigger? I wish I knew. Every situation is different. Above all, a writer has to realize that they are driving the story. Nothing happens if they don’t want it to happen.

And part of driving is knowing when to put on the brakes. It can be a hard thing to do, telling yourself, “No. That's enough.” The temptation is always there to add more. More feeling. More information. More action. Make it cooler.

There is a danger to this practice. At what point, when you start adding more and more, do you stop seeing how well this idea fits with your story and start playing a game of one-upsmanship with yourself?

That doesn’t benefit anyone. Throwing idea on top of idea on top of idea on top of idea on top of idea—dear GOD, did you read that sentence? I wrote the damn thing, and it’s an eyesore.

The point is this: too many ideas can kill the clarity of a story. The problem may not even be the number of ideas, but how they are executed. Changing your ideas can be just as bad. Presenting the reader with something only to yank the rug from under their feet makes them feel like a fool. The interest they were feeling is now worthless. If you overload the reader, they won’t know what’s important and what’s not. They won’t know what was worth remembering and what was meant as a throwaway gag.

They won’t know why they should care.

If you reach that point, you’re screwed.

If your characters aren’t consistent, if the anticipation building up to a moment is rendered meaningless, if there is no time to understand what's happening in your story before it shuffles along, your readers will stop reading.

As it was the booker’s role to keep the fans interested in a feud between wrestlers, it is the writer’s role to keep the readers reading. Throwing everything you have against the wall with no rhyme or reason (like having a B-list actor win your world title) is not the way to do that.

Here’s something to keep in mind about WCW: barely three years after Starrcade 1997, they were out of business. The company that once made six million dollars in one night was sold for less than four million.

That’s the danger of hotshotting.

Report Minds Eye · 225 views · #advice #writing
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