Read the whole thing, guys. This is quality stuff:
The keys of pro wrestling and even pro wrestling writing are rooted in proper ring psychology. Knowing holds, five or five-hundred, doesn't mean dick if you don't know how you're using them, why your using them, and how they connect with the audience (be it an actual physical crowd or just people reading results or matches).
We are going to start with efficiency and conservation of energy.
Pro wrestling does not come from amateur wrestling as the name would imply, in fact, pro wrestling came first and high school, college, and freestyle wrestling coming up as pro wrestling's little brothers. Pro wrestling and amateur wrestling come from the combat sport catch wrestling. Catch wrestling has existed for centuries and still exists today. The reason why most pro wrestling schools and promotions seek out high school and college wrestlers is because high school and college wrestlers have much of the same conditioning required for pro wrestling but from a psychology standpoint it really makes little difference if you have the background other than having some knowledge of fundamental positioning and what goes where and why.
With catch wrestling, which will translate into pro wrestling, there is heavy emphasis on efficiency and conservation of energy. The old legend of where Lancashire catch comes from is the coal miners would wrestle each other for some reason or another, usually as entertainment. Mining, which should come as no shock, is exhausting. They were mining before and after the matches so the desire not to kill yourself whilst dicking around off the clock was a priority so the miners would focus on the purpose of the lecture: conservation of energy and efficiency.
By using certain holds they could pin or submit their opponent as quickly as humanly possible so they could rest up to continue working for another six hours. Another factor was trying not to injure the guy because in all likelihood he was your buddy and at the very least your coworker and it would be pretty shitty to break his wrist and take food off his table. That was another aspect that bled into modern day pro wrestling.
The holds used in catch wrestling, by in large, are identical or have similar cousins in pro wrestling. The reason why we still use them is because they follow the rules of being efficient and conserve energy. One could easily do backflips all day and powerbombs and a bunch of other shit but if you did that then the match wouldn't be very long, it would look like a mess, and you would be beat up and tired and just had a match that nobody cared about because it looked like shit.
How to apply: never start a match big unless you have to for storyline reasons. Matt and Jeff Hardy, Jay and Mark Briscoe, CM Punk and Colt Cabana have wrestled each other in the indies hundreds of times, they didn't build off of it like a longstanding feud, each time they built the match from scratch which is how most guys learn: they wrestle the same guy over and over using the same holds over and over and do the same spots over and over until they build the muscle memory to realize "this is what I do now, and then this." So when you start you are always going to start small with armbars and headlocks, every time. The reason why is because it's efficient. IF you can submit a guy with a wristlock or a headlock, do it, go for it. Instead of killing yourself with a bunch of flippy-shit or big, heavy high spots, if a guy taps out to a headlock then great. In pro wrestling we don't typically do that unless it's the Just Facelock, but that's the idea. You want to do the least you can do to hurt your opponent, you want to do the least you can do to get out of holds and reverse them. You want to conserve your energy. Obviously you're not going to but your psychology, your mindset has to be set on doing as little as possible while yielding the greatest possible result. The reward of this goes along with great psychology and building it off itself.
Now, what is selling? The obvious answer is "pretending to be hurt" but what does that mean?
This is actually a short lecture because the previous lesson pretty much covered a lot of what this session was going to deal with in what we do and why.
Selling can mean a lot of things. It can mean a "knee injury" from a pre-match assault. It can mean being winded from a long match or fast-paced exchange. It can mean not being able to lift someone because someone was working over your back for the whole match.
Selling comes as a result of something. If I get suplexed I'm going to sell the back but I'm not going to reference it further. At no point would I write the suplex that happened six minutes ago is still giving me trouble. Selling has short-term memory loss. If I dropkick the knee, unless I'm going back after the knee throughout the match then that's more or less the end of it. But short-term doesn't mean ignored. If I do a low dropkick to set something up that doesn't affect the knee that doesn't mean the knee isn't compromised, it has a short term daze limit: such and such time has to elapse before you can start to realistically start walking and lifting like normal.
Now, selling is a huge part of the match despite how easy it seems because it's how one builds match drama. If I crash and burn on a moonsault and it's built as a big spot in the match then whatever I'm selling after that (knee/arm/chest/whatever) has to be the focal point in the match. After that something is compromised, it's weakened, and it's a target and the rest of the match deals with the two option success story: option one is my opponent successfully exploits it and wins or option two is I successfully over come it and my opponent.
Another facet of selling depends on alignment and point in the match. 91% of the time the face is the one who has that first fuck up either of their own accord or underhanded ungoodlyness. This is on account of the face gaining some sort of advantage. If the heel dominates at first and the face makes a comeback, this will happen. If the face starts out dominant then this will happen. During this time there are near falls, submission attempts, and general "face in peril" motifs until the face starts to build a comeback. The comeback, no matter how convincing, doesn't solidify the turnout of the match until the heel makes a mistake or the face just starts attacking a limb, thus the heel selling. When the heel sells the match starts to balance out again. My knee might be hurt but now I've dropped you on your head so now you're selling the head and the neck. Then I can start going for the kill as a face or I can goad the face in for him to make another mistake, exploit it, reaggravate whatever it was I was building to begin with as a heel.
This is a pretty tried and true storytelling mechanism in any sort of fight scene. For our particular needs, all of these matches should pretty much relate to martial arts or Rocky movies which is why in terms of match psychology and storytelling I cannot recommend 70s kung fu films enough, more so than actual wrestling matches because in kung fu fights there is a finite end whereas in wrestling there's room for rematches or series matches. The one-on-one fight scenes pretty much have all the good storytelling you need to kind of pick up on that kind of psychological progression without getting distracted by "oh, that's a cool spot," "I can modify that sequence," or "I like that move" and getting a feel for the emotional content of how a match should progress.
Why go for a headlock instead of an armbar? Why kick instead of tie-up? Why does your character do certain things what is their motivation, what are their in-ring habits?
The easiest way to streamline any sort of match-writing is by understanding character motivations. The easiest way to find ways out of corners, blanks, and blocks is knowing how to relate to your character's methodology.
Back when I did traditional RPs and would only do spot inputs that I would send to match writers, a lot of shit was sloppy but there were a few gems that worked well and I could use all the time against anyone. One spot was a Tiger Wall Flip/Duck Clothesline/Springboard Heel Kick. Other spots were garbage or one-time deals but at any point in any match in like 2003, I would do a wall flip-heel kick spot.
Later on I would do a bulldog spot that I modified a bunch. Originally it was two clotheslines, a back elbow, and then a bulldog. Then it was three back elbows, corner shining wizard, diving bulldog. Then two haymakers, back elbow, bulldog.
Here I did the springboard crossbody spot A LOT and I still do it sometimes. The reason why is because they were good spots. They were universal spots and they made sense for me to do them regardless of who my opponent was because that's who I was.
I've said this a bunch in ring psyche and I'm going to say it again here, the easiest way to understand your character's in ring mannerisms is to give him habits, give him rituals, give him spots. It's cool to see something happen once but waiting for the build for a spot you know is coming builds drama. I took cues from Raven because Raven has been one of my favorite wrestlers of all time since I was little. When Raven isn't brawling he's doing a spot that you know is coming from a mile away but it's still great every time you see it. Russian Leg Sweep into the guard rail. Corner Clothesline/Bulldog(+neckbreaker drop). Drop toe hold into the chair.
These weren't finishing sequences by any means, the Evenflow would just pop up. But Raven would always do these spots because it's how he told his story of the match, it's how he told the story of his character in the current situation. People don't change themselves in an instant and just change back once it no longer suits their needs. People have habits and they don't adapt themselves, the adapt their habits; that's not just pro wrestling, that's human nature.
So when coming up with regular spots for your character consider that they have to be universal, they have to reflect your character's alignment and style, and they can't be too "devastating." These aren't giant high spots, these are just things you do between high spots when you don't feel like chinlocks anymore.