Kayfabe is a term used in the professional wrestling business to describe the keeping of appearances to create the illusion of hyper-reality of the sport/entertainment. We all know that the actual matches in modern pro wrestling is choreographed – I hesitate to use the word ‘fake’, simply because of the athleticism and inherent danger involved; it would be like calling stuntwork ‘fake’. – but the efforts of kayfabe are to create that same suspension of disbelief an author uses to engage a reader.
Meanwhile, most of the actual events are determined by the writers and ‘bookers’, the men and women who decide on the match cards, the storylines, and so on. They would be the reality behind the scenes, the wizard behind the curtain. Though the wrestlers and other performers have input, sometimes significant, it usually comes down to the Powers That Be to make the final decisions.
How does that all come together in The Opening Bell?
Well, as I have taken to saying in interviews, the story told in Bell has a lot in common to a serious martial arts drama. To keep that sense of drama and tension yet still have a connection of reality to what professional wrestling is in our world, I took inspiration from both kayfabe and the reality behind the scenes.
It comes down to subtle blends of fantasy and reality. The matches in the world of The Opening Bell are much closer to modern MMA or the wrestling of the late 19th and early 20th century in terms of ‘reality’. They are depicted as real athletic confrontations, with deeper consequences and injury, and a strong competitive spirit. In that way, they take the place of the conflicts one might find in a martial arts book or movie. Combining the natural storytelling involved in the modern pro wrestling match with the stakes of an actual combat serve to up the overall drama of the entire story, hopefully pulling the reader deeper down the rabbit hole of investment. This is the kayfabe of The Opening Bell at work.
In counterpoint, behind the curtain of the wrestling organizations depicted in Bell, things turn into a dramatic interpretation of the modern wrestling business. The promoters and bookers may not decide the outcome of matches, but they do set them. Likewise, capturing the inherited carnival spirit of the locker rooms, even rivals in the ring are depicted as being expected to show loyalty to the organization they belong to as a whole. Paying one’s dues is an important aspect of this, as well as the idea of an insular system of seniority and self-policing for infractions against the league and its talent. This not only serves to connect the more ‘action-movie’ elements of The Opening Bell to reality, but it also provides another tie to the martial arts inspirations, serving as stand-ins for tropes like the Rival School.
Where these world elements of fantasy and reality truly blend is in the characters themselves. Kayfabe not only affects the ‘reality’ of the matches themselves; it spills over into the public face of each wrestler. For some, that public face is simply a more exaggerated version of their own. For others, that persona can be wild and fantastical. Viking warriors, wrestling dentists, and demons from Hell are just a few of the wildest ‘gimmicks’ a wrestler in our own world has depicted. At it’s strongest, kayfabe would dictate that a wrestler keep up their gimmick at all times in public, which has lead to some bizarre situations in history.
This element of kayfabe runs a range in The Opening Bell and the overall series, allowing for the exploration of truth, trust, falls from grace, and redemption. Each person our protagonists encounter could be exactly what they seem to be or they could have hidden depths (or darkness). For some, the kayfabe face they put on is a mask of what they think they are (or what they want others to believe), one they can embrace or toss aside, for good or for ill.
So it is a combination of kayfabe (illusions and acting) with the realities of the wrestling business that create the hyper-real world of action and drama that is The Opening Bell. This kind of combination isn’t something that is just suited for a wrestling novel, though! Most action-adventure tales use this same artful mix of the fantastic and the real to create a sense of plausibility and wonder to draw readers in. Think about it the next time you weave a tale. You might be surprised how much, say, an urban fantasy might draw from the same well as a pro-wrestling drama!