Long before I became a writer, I was a fan of professional wrestling. These were the early days before the WWE did away with all of the competition. In the early 80s the country was divided into territories. In Louisiana, our territory was Mid-South Wrestling. Some of the best times in my life were spent in the Baton Rouge Centroplex with my grandfather, rooting against Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express. I loved their rivals, the Rock & Roll Express.
Fast forward thirty years. My son is now a wrestling fan. While it’s not really the same “family friendly” product I enjoyed as a boy, and they freely admit that it is “sports entertainment” it’s still fun. His favorite wrestler is John Cena. He loves John Cena. For my son’s birthday, I ordered Wrestlemania XXVIII. The main event was The Rock vs. John Cena. We had a great time . . . until John Cena lost. My son was practically inconsolable. It reminded me the days when my biggest concern was whether or not the Junkyard Dog would beat Butch Reed or if the Midnight Express would cheat AGAIN to beat the Rock & Roll Express. I smiled and dismissed the thought as I wiped my son’s tears and tucked him into bed.
A few weeks later, I was talking to my fiancée about the antagonist in her short story, and that was when it hit me…
In a drama, whether it’s pro wrestling, novels or television, you can’t have a great hero without a great villain. As much as I loved the Rock & Roll Express, I HATED Jim Cornette and the Midnight Express. As much as my son loves John Cena, now he HATES The Rock. He won’t even watch The Rock’s movies anymore. If he does watch one, all he wants is for The Rock to die a slow painful death.
That is the type of hate that I want for my antagonists. With as much time as we spend on our heroes, it really doesn’t matter unless they are facing insurmountable odds or a villain that has them completely out matched.
Look at the most popular wrestler of all time, Hulk Hogan. Most of his early success centered around one of his first feuds after winning the championship.
Rowdy Roddy Piper.
Who was Roddy Piper? Everything Hogan wasn’t. He was evil from the top of his head down past his kilt and into the soles of his wrestling boots. He was totally self-centered and had no regard for the welfare of others. He was a user, a liar, a cheater and someone you had to hate.
With all he accomplished in wrestling, Hulk Hogan was not a great ring technician. He had the look and he had the personality, but without Piper, who was a great wrestler, he could never have achieved the level of success he did in the eighties.
Recently, I took my son to a live wrestling show in the same arena that my grandfather took me thirty years before. One of the wrestlers, a third generation star named Ted Dibiase, told the crowd that he was born in Baton Rouge. The crowd cheered. Then he said the best thing his father did was move him away from that God-forsaken place the next day. I have never heard someone booed that much in my life. With that insult, he was forever cemented as a villain by anyone who was in the arena that night. Ultimately, people love to hate more than they love to love.
Whenever you come up blank when working on your protagonist, flip the script and spend some time developing your antagonist. If you need inspiration, watch some pro wrestling. I promise that you will get plenty of ideas.