Turns out I’m not done talking about gimmicks.
Let’s start with mine.
My Pokemans, let me show you them
Here’s the table I showed off last time, with all of the characters/gimmicks I’ve brainstormed (and stuck on corkboards) for my YA wrestling novel-in-not-really-progress-yet Piledriver.
|Hardcore veteran at age 18||Management’s golden boy|
|One true master of submission holds|
|Guardian of the mask||Pasifika wrestling royalty|
|Basketball MVP||Video essay guy|
|K-pop ||Sk8r boi|
|Brooklyn tough||The Smiling Assassin|
|Real freakin’ strong|
|Trash panda||Trophy collector|
|‘Fire in the belly’||Mean girl|
|Frenzied fighter||‘Big cash money’|
Just as the novel is in the germination stages, so are these gimmicks (hell, none of these characters have names yet). As you can see from the strikethroughs, my ideas are still in flux and getting updated
daily weekly sporadically. Gimmicks are surface-level concepts but they can nonetheless be surprisingly nuanced, and you can tinker with them for ages before getting them right.
In fact, I think some roughness here makes sense for the novel, which focuses (in part) on the creation and launch of a new, all-teenagers wrestling promotion. Ideas are going to be rough at the start, and there’s good story material in showing the development, refinement, testing and rejection of gimmicks in the early days.
That said, these are all good gimmicks, and I can tell you why. Because I am the King of Gimmicks.
What makes a good gimmick?
An effective gimmick should be…
Easy to summarise, hard to explain: What is a ‘video essay guy’ or a ‘trash panda’ – or, to pick a real wrestler, Mr Perfect? I could tell you in detail but I don’t have to; you already (I hope) have an image in your mind. A gimmick is all high concept, a phrase that unpacks itself in the audience’s imagination; it’s only later, once the hooks are in, that it needs to be fleshed out and coloured in.
Able to hold your attention: But you do need to get those hooks in, and that means holding the audience’s attention. A character is called ‘The Smiling Assassin’ – why? Does he smile (yes)? Does he murder people (no)? How does his ‘sneering killer’ concept flavour his fighting, his promos, his backstage scenes? If a gimmick is just a name or a look, it’s not going to keep audiences interested; it has to have some substance and nuance to inform what happens next.
Adaptable and extendable: Some gimmicks are face gimmicks, some are heel gimmicks, but the best can be pointed in either direction. Similarly, a strong gimmick can morph over time, add to itself, even contradict itself and still remain identifiable. Looking to WWE, Kane and Sean Michaels (‘The Heartbreak Kid’) were a dozen different things over the decades, but were still definitely the same characters and concepts each time. Flexible gimmicks like ‘Guardian of the Mask’ or ‘Pasifika wrestling royalty’ could have the same adaptability and longevity (unless romance and drama get in the way, which they will).
Expressed in multiple ways: A great gimmick is more than a look, a concept, a finishing move. It’s a catchphrase, an attitude, a vignette, an ethos; it’s something that can be packaged a dozen different ways, all of them available from the merch table. Maybe no-one defines this better than Stone Cold Steve Austin, who turned a ‘tough guy who hates his boss’ gimmick into a dozen catchphrases, a million T-shirts, a presence in pop culture strong enough that someone who’s never seen a moment of wrestling might still understand and enjoy a 3:16 reference.
Deadpan: The Undertaker is a zombie. Kairi Sane is a wrestling pirate. Half the roster of Chikara were various types of humanoid ants. The key to making ideas like that pop is to take them… not seriously, perhaps, but at face value, rather than deconstructing or questioning them. Because when you undercut one wrestling concept, you undercut the very notion that it’s real or a sport or that it makes sense to settle personal disputes by suplexing someone through a table rather than talking to a small claims lawyer. Treat your gimmicks with respect and never wink at the camera – not openly, anyway.
Okay, that’s a lot of talk about gimmicks and how to craft them.
It’s time I knuckle down on applying my own advice to my character roster, fill out these index cards, finish the outline and start writing this book.
…unless I get distracted by a new puppy. But that would never –
PUPPY ENTRANCE MUSIC HITS