WWE broke the cardinal rules of stroytelling at the 2015 Royal Rumble. Here’s what went wrong, and how to solve the problem ahead of Wrestlemania 31
I don’t want to beat around the bush here. So many critics have already reviewed this year’s Royal Rumble and have almost unanimously agreed that it was the worst Royal Rumble of all time.
Fans are angered. Perhaps more angered than they have been at any other WWE pay per view. Even The Rock was not without scatching as the fans booed his return at the end of the event.
WWE Creative did absolutely everything wrong. They brought Daniel Bryan back and had him unceremoniously lose. They had Roman Reigns win even given what happened with Batista last year. And they made Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, Ryback and Erick Rowan mere fillers.
Right now, WWE Creative are sitting around their boardroom scratching their heads, sweating at the idea of being fired by Vince McMahon and wondering: Just were exactly did we go wrong?
Well, it’s pretty darned simple if you understand the laws of storytelling.
How the Royal Rumble broke every law of storytelling
Storytelling Rule #1: Premise
A premise is the basic idea of what happens. Harry Potter, for instance, has: Kid goes to school for wizards. For Star Wars it’s farm boy sets out to discover his true powers to end the wrath of the evil Galactic Empire. So what is it for the Royal Rumble? Simple. WWE said it themselves in the promo: the Royal Rumble is the proving grounds for WWE’s talent, a match in which everyone competes in a huge battle royale to determine who will go to Wrestlemania.
The Royal Rumble’s premise doesn’t involve Bray Wyatt sitting alone in the middle of the ring singing
The premise is the number one rule of a story. Without a basic idea you have nothing. Without the wizard’s school you don’t have Harry Potter. A storyteller (be they a writer, director or any other storyteller) needs to maximise on this premise. For WWE to succeed at the Royal Rumble, they need to make their premise of a “Proving Ground Battle Royale” work. Clearly they didn’t.
First off, the “Proving Grounds” part. The Royal Rumble should showcase their talent in the 30 man match. This part should be easy as pie. Just take the best of what you’ve got and allot them an amount of time based on how good they are. For instance, Daniel Bryan should get a lot of time, because he’s one of the top talents. Clearly, WWE failed in even here. Daniel Bryan was dumped like he was no one. So were Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, Dean Ambrose… this wasn’t a “proving ground for WWE’s talent.” It was more like a slap in the face for many of WWE’s most talented superstars.
So what about the second part of the premise, what about “Battle Royale” part? That’s the heart of the Royal Rumble. And yet somehow WWE failed here too. It used to be that around twenty guys would be in the ring simultaneously. Royal Rumble 2015 started off with a bunch of one on one match (or triple threat matches) and it wasn’t until about half an hour in that we even had more than five men in the ring at one time. We see equally big battle royals on RAW.
It wouldn’t be amiss to say that the Royal Rumble was advertising fraud. It promised a huge battle royal to showcase the best of its talent. It didn’t deliver.
In its premise, WWE Royal Rumble failed completely. One law of storytelling down.
Rule 2: Important characters should be given the most time
A.K.A don’t eliminate a fan favorite like Daniel Bryan 35 minutes before the end of the match
Whether it’s books, movies, or WWE, your most important characters need to be given the most time. That’s because it takes time for a reader / viewer to get to know the characters and to develop a bond with them. Take The Rock, for instance. The Rock’s been relevant for twenty years and because of that he’s developed a strong relationship with the WWE Universe.
The lead character of the Royal Rumble, of course, is the superstar who wins. Roman Reigns ended up being the winner, and therefore the lead character. Just one problem: he’s had next to no time with the audience this year.
The WWE Universe has been spending time with the likes of Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, and Ryback. They were the main characters going into the Royal Rumble. They were the ones the fans felt closest to and cared most about heading into the Royal Rumble. And they were all dumped unceremoniously.
Now for the crux of the matter. WWE has a terrible attitude of believing that they own the superstars and that it’s up to them what they do with them.
The superstars exist in the mind of the viewers, just as they do with movies and books. The WWE Universe has developed relationships to superstars. Those relationships are the heart of the WWE. A fans love and loyalty of (for instance) Daniel Bryan, is what makes the WWE tick. And the fact of the matter (a fact WWE Creative refuse to respect) is that you can’t use your superstars cheaply without using your audience cheaply.
If WWE choose to make little of Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Ryback… then they choose to make little of all the time the fans have invested in those superstars. If you disrespect a superstar you disrespect their fans. WWE disrespected near everyone of their fans at the Royal Rumble, because near every WWE fan is a fan of either Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, or one of the other superstars that WWE used so damn cheaply last night.
Rule 3: Minor Character Have Little Screen Time
Roman Reigns has had very little time with the WWE Universe this year, and thereby is simply not in a position to be made the winner of the Royal Rumble. Now, don’t get me wrong, Roman Reigns is great. He has talent. He definitely should be a major superstar going forward. But the WWE Universe needs time with Roman Reigns. They need to be a part of Roman Reign’s growing story.
Instead, the WWE Universe hasn’t been a part of Roman Reign’s story for a while now. They’ve effectively gone from seeing him as a high midlist star to the number one contender.
Imagine seeing Luke Skywalker as the farm boy he starts off as in Tatooine and then suddenly jumping to his confrontation with Vader, with none of the in between. You wouldn’t feel a part of the story. And that’s precisely what WWE did with Roman Reigns. They made his story develop away from the audience and thereby effectively severed the WWE Universe’s connection to the now number one contender. The result? Next to no one cares about the main event at Wrestlemania.
But it’s worked before
Now, you could be forgiven for saying that other superstars have left WWE only to return and win the Royal Rumble, and that at those times the fans were overjoyed, so what’s the difference? In 2002 HHH returned to the biggest pop ever and won the Royal Rumble and the fans loved it… what’s the difference?
A couple of things. Firstly, HHH returned a few weeks before the Royal Rumble so had at least a little time to get back into things. This really isn’t the main point though. The main point is that even though HHH was injured he was never gone from the WWE Universe’s minds.
WWE followed HHH’s injury closely. They made sure the WWE Universe were a part of HHH’s story even while he was away from the ring. He never truly “left.” And so, the WWE Universe was part of HHH’s story the whole time. That’s why they cheered, because they felt close to HHH, because they had been involved in his entire story.
Not so with Roman Reigns. Roman Reigns, instead, was pretty much gone entirely, except for a couple of videos. He left the WWE, and at that point his connection to the WWE Universe was severed. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have returned. It just means that the WWE Universe needs time to reconnect with Roman Reign’s story before he wins anything major like the Royal Rumble. Instead, as it is now, the WWE Universe feels robbed because they missed the part of the story where Roman Reigns went from where he was to where he is now.
Rule 4: Good Fiction Adheres To Its Own Rules
Another fact of all good stories is that they stick to their rules. Even high fantasy like Lord of the Rings takes place in its own world which has its own rules. The Royal Rumble has its own rules. Thirty men enter. Twenty nine go over the top rope. One wins.
The Royal Rumble 2015 only had 29 men enter, because of the complete debacle that was Curtis Axel’s entry. He never was in the Rumble. He never entered. So, technically, the Royal Rumble ended when the twenty ninth man went over the top rope, and that was Roman Reigns.
This mistake is basically the point at which WWE Creative should have screwed up the paper and thrown it in the trashcan. The fact that a billion dollar corporation couldn’t get this simple fact right is absolutely disgraceful.
Rule 5: Good and Evil
In every good story ever told there is some idea of good and some idea of evil. Or, more specifically, there is something to be cheered for and something to be booed. Fans / readers / viewers need to know who they are rooting for. Without something to cheer for there’s little reason to continue with the story.
Even stories that aren’t about direct confrontations have something to cheer for and something to boo (heck, even Jane Eyre has the good of love versus the bad of societal prejudice). We need something to cheer. Simple. But who exactly are the WWE Universe going to cheer for at Wrestlemania?
Already lots of WWE fans are saying they won’t watch Wrestlemania 31 because they don’t care about the main event. And why should they?
WWE Creative want us to cheer for Roman Reigns. But unfortunately Roman Reign’s story has just been marred by awful character development. WWE desperately wanted their fans to cheer Roman Reign’s win at the Royal Rumble. They booed. Heck, they even booed The Rock. Roman Reigns is nowhere near fan favourite enough to headline Wrestlemania 31 as the face. And, conversely, Brock Lesnar is nowhere near evil enough to represent the heel. In fact, Brock Lesnar had far more people cheering for him than Roman Reigns. The face is less popular than the heel, that’s how wrong WWE Creative has gone.
What happens when Roman Reigns is booed again? Does he do what Batista did? Does he suddenly turn heel? Or does he make the most of his position and put it (what will have to be) some amazing performances to make up for the current mess so that he actually is popular enough to headline Wrestlemania?
I’d like to present a solution. I don’t have TV writing experience though so can I do as good a job as WWE Creative…? I certainly shouldn’t be able to.
First though, here’s what will probably happen, the choice WWE Creative will make. They’ll determine that Roman Reigns is not popular enough because of the Royal Rumble. They’ll also determine that Brock Lesnar isn’t hated enough to take the place of the heel at Wrestlemania 31. Their solution will be to change the title match so it isn’t one on one.
When telling a story you have to stick to your guns. You have to present a coherent and logical flow to your story. Roman Reigns is number one contender. And Brock Lesnar is the heel. To change any of that now would be a complete mess and would confuse the audience even more. Instead, WWE needs to keep those two, Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, as the main event in one of either two possibilities: 1) a one on one match, or 2) a triple threat with Seth Rollins cashing in money in the bank.
Seth Rollins is the only guy who can be injected into the match because he’s the only guy that makes any kind of sense. He’s earned Money In The Bank, he can use it if he wants to without confusing the story anymore. The WWE Universe knows that Seth Rollins has that option, so he can cash it in if he chooses to.
Regardless of what Seth Rollins chooses to do, the main event at Wrestlemania 31 needs a clear heel and a clear face. Right now we have neither, because neither Roman Reigns nor Brock Lesnar is that loved or that hated. WWE need to choose one to be face and the other heel (probably sticking with Roman Reigns as the face because that’s where they’ve been trying to head even if they haven’t got there yet). They then need to work on some stellar character development. So how do they do that?
How to save the WWE ahead of Wrestlemania 31
Step 1) Roman Reigns works with The Rock more. There’s very little time for Roman Reigns to earn popularity, making him work with The Rock more is just logical.
Step 2) Sting returns and Brock Lesnar attacks him and puts him through a table (or something equivalent because HHH ordered him to. This would immediately make Brock Lesnar a true heel and would also create the momentum for HHH VS Sting at Wrestlemania 31.
Step 3) “Fast Lane” : Fast Lane is a brand new WWE PPV. No one actually knows what it’s supposed to be about yet. Just make it the fast lane to Wrestlemania and use it as a way to get another superstar into the main event (which will probably be Cena).
Step 4) Have Seth Rollins cash in his Money In The Bank in order to be put into the main event at Wrestlemania 31 as well. This would make sense for Rollins’ character because he’s arrogant and wants to headline Wrestlemania 31.
What we’re left with is a far more interesting main event: Brock Lesnar VS Roman Reigns VS John Cena VS Seth Rollins.
And that’s a hell of a lot better than what we’ve got right now.