Being a Better Writer: The Brumak Rodeo Trope

Welcome back, writers! Monday is here, and that means it’s time for another installment of Being a Better Writer! And this week? We’ve got an interesting one to talk about.

Yeah, I know you can all see it right there, up above. Some of you might even be thinking “Aha, a trope I can read about on TV Tropes later. Thanks!” but I’ll warn you that it isn’t going to be that easy.

Why? Well for starters, there is no “Brumak Rodeo” trope listed on TV Tropes. I’ve checked. That lack is one of the reasons I decided to write this post today. Because the concept that I associate with the term? Also not on TV Tropes.

In other words, the Brumak Rodeo is a trope that is not recognized. Either by the term I’m using, or as a trope acknowledged by that site. And … to be fair, I can kind of see why: It’s not something that’s commonly used across stories. In fact, it seems pretty darn rare. For a couple of reasons, among them being it takes a lot of careful setup to use, and use effectively. Used poorly, it’ll come off wrong with the audience and feel ill-earned, quite possibly tanking your pacing. At worst, it could feel like poorly paced pandering—not something you want interrupting your finale.

Maybe this is why we don’t see a lot of books use this concept. In fact, where I’ve seen it used most isn’t in books or movies—off the top of my head I can’t even think of a good example from a movie—but from video games. But even then, it’s not a common trope. Possibly because of the various difficulties of using it well.

But here’s the thing: Used well, this trope can produce some amazingly satisfying and cathartic moments for your audience. moments which can be some of the most memorable of the entire story. And while I’m almost certain that this trope is older than dirt (there’s bound to be at least one ancient myth that uses it in some fashion, even if I can’t think of one off-hand), again it’s so rarely seen that I wanted to make it a discussion topic today. Because it is one of those story tropes that should be in your toolbox, and I think that more writers should have an understanding of how it works. You won’t use it a lot—to date, for example, I’ve only used it once across my entire library of works—but it does make for a fantastic tool under the right circumstances.

So hit the jump, and let’s talk about the Brumak Rodeo. And for that, you need to know what a Brumak is, and where the term “Brumak Rodeo” comes from.

Okay, so what on Earth is a brumak?

Trick question. A brumak isn’t something found on Earth. Brumaks are a particuarly nasty life form hailing from the planet of Sera, a setting from the Sci-Fi video game series Gears of War. A brumak is a gigantic bioengineered creature employed by the big bad army of the series, the Locust, that serves as an organic, bipedal tank. Which works better than one would assume considering that Locust tactics are all about emerging from the ground under your feet to overrun a lot of conventional defenses. A forty foot tall bipedal walking tank is actually pretty effective, at least at close range. You can see a picture of one here, but what you really need to know is that they’re big, armed with massive machine guns and missile batteries, and are a huge threat to the protagonists every time they show up. Brumaks are really bad news, especially since the protagonists are usually on foot and armed with handheld rifles.

Okay, so what’s the “Brumak Rodeo?” Well, near the end of the second game in the series, the game does something really interesting with this enemy. Now, let me set some context here.

First, this occurs at the end of the second game. So there have been two games detailing this desperate war that’s slowly been grinding the protagonists down, things getting worse and worse. Brumaks have already been faced by them at this point, and the audience knows how dangerous they are (the most common reaction is to run and let someone else with say, a tank, take care of it). Brumaks are the big hitters of the foe.

Now, because the Brumak Rodeo happens at the end of the second game, it also comes at the end of a grueling tour de force for the protagonists. The entire last portion of the story leading up to that moment is the most grueling uphill battle of the entire game (and the series so far by that point). It has some of the toughest challenges for our protagonists (and the audience, given the nature of games) so far, with intense firefights against large amounts of foes with superior positioning. There are dangerous battles with flamethrowers in a burning parking garage, a fight over the rooftops of a construction site that involves using cranes to avoid the streets, and then a whole series of fights in a collapsing section of the city …

Point being, it is a grueling test of the protagonists’ (and players’) every skill and talent to survive. It is absolutely a brutal, battering, well-done but ruthless experience. It’s never flat out unfair (because that wouldn’t be fun) but it is taxing and tough. In short, it’s very much the climactic battle of the story. And just when the audience has reached the point of “I am getting wrung out, this is just so brutal …” the Brumak Rodeo happens.

After a final, desperate fight atop, then down with, and then through a partially collapsed, burning building, the point where the audience is just nearly wrung out on all of the action being so hard-fought … The protagonist finds a pinned brumak … without it’s rider. And in a moment that became an absolute highlight for obvious reasons, the protagonist boards said brumak, this terrifying foe that has harassed them multiple times … and uses it to absolutely demolish everything in their path.

It is, hands-down, one of the most satisfying moments of the series. After all that pain, all that turmoil, all that struggle, the audience was rewarded with an absolute beat down of everything that remained between the protagonist and his goal as the tables turned. In possession of one of the most powerful weapons in the setting—at least in an infantry fight—the protagonist absolutely destroys the remaining enemy line on the way to the end of the story in six or so minutes of pure satisfaction.

The achievement for completing this is titled the “Brumak Rodeo.” It’s from this that the trope gets its name.

Okay, so that’s the origin. But I’m sure some of you are wondering what that has to do with writing. Or what the “pure” definition of the trope would be. We’ll tackle the latter first.

It is thus: A Brumak Rodeo is a moment during the climax of a story where after an uphill battle that taxes our protagonist(s) to their limits, a breakthrough is achieved that flips the scenario entirely, putting the once powerful opposition in the state of desperation that was the protagonist’s, and making the outcome all but certain. The protagonist(s) and audience are then rewarded in a cathartic manner with the outcome of that power being used to the protagonist’s benefit. This inverse should come about by the protagonist using something that well before this point was used against them, such as commandeering a powerful weapon or foe that has been used against them to great effect. Note: In order for the “rodeo” to take place, the protagonist must use their newfound power in an extended sequence, not just for a single moment, in order to achieve their hard-won victory. In addition, the Brumak Rodeo is not an automatic victory nor a denouement. The protagonist may still have a final showdown that can exert some challenge and pressure, though by this point it will be clear to the audience that the protagonist is going to win.

The rodeo element will often not be used in this final battle, or it will not be used in the same way, though it will not be suddenly made irrelevant by the antagonist, as such would steal the satisfaction of the rodeo.

Now, I want to note some common tropes that the Brumak Rodeo is not, just for clarity. It’s not a “last minute powerup,” such as the Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2 becoming the Super Gravity Gun, or a character unlocking a power that they’ve had all along and been struggling to understand. Those are cases of the protagonist using something they’ve had the whole time in a new way. Nor is it pitching two foes against one another. Gandalf showing up at Helm’s Deep with reinforcements isn’t a Brumak Rodeo either. All of these are satisfying, but they don’t fit the requirements for a Brumak Rodeo, which is when the protagonist repurposes something that they have long been on the receiving end of to unleash absolute dominance with at the climax of a story.

Dominance matters too. If the protagonist steals the foe’s power just to be instantly equally matched, or obtains power equivalent to their foe’s, then it’s just a powerup.

A Brumak Rodeo also has to come at a specific time. It can’t just “happen” or start off a final battle with the curb stomp. Our protagonist must earn it. A Brumak Rodeo moment only happens after a long, climactic struggle to succeed. They must earn their victory, and then the rodeo delivers that victory. And again, it must hijack something that has threatened the protagonist through their adventure. Not just something that appeared at the last second.

Now, I do want to modify something I just said above about the rodeo delivering the victory. Our protagonists must still have that final moment to clinch things, rodeo or not. A rodeo may make an ending a foregone conclusion, IE “Oh yeah, there’s no way the big bad can win now” but there protagonist must still see it through, and the rodeo often doesn’t help them with that. To use the trope namer, in Gears 2 the protagonist uses their new ride to reach their objective (a bomb site to sink the city) only to have their ride mutate by the protagonists own actions, becoming an infected, mutated monstrosity that isn’t actually that much of a threat, but serves as the final obstacle to their success. If you experience other stories with Brumak Rodeos, you’ll definitely notice that there is still something to be achieved to actually “end” the conflict, and the “Brumak” may not be applicable.

The rodeo delivers the victory, but it doesn’t make it automatic. The characters still must push for it and take it. The rodeo just delivers them to that final moment, but may or may not help with it.

Okay, so why would we use a Brumak Rodeo? And how can we?

Well, a Brumak Rodeo is a great way to bring a sense of satisfaction and catharsis to the finale of our story. In a way, it’s weaponizing the concept of “the shoe is on the other foot” in a way that makes our readers grin with glee as something that has been a prior source of stress and danger now dismantles the antagonist.

It’s the satisfaction of our reader being able to say “Now you know what it feels like!” to the antagonist when they’re taken apart. It can be poetic, if the antagonist was using something they never bothered to fully understand. It can be thrilling too, to watch as the antagonist runs in terror from something they cannot stop.

Really, everything about it is just satisfying. The story up to the point of the rodeo should be stressful, full of tension and worry as the protagonist(s) goes up against the fight of their life. The reader should feel like a rubber band almost stretched to the breaking point.

But then, right before that band snaps, all the tension melts out, and the reader relaxes fully, this time feeling the swell of the power fantasy as the protagonist goes all out. But it’s not a power fantasy that simply delivers victory, it’s a power fantasy that feels earned due to everything that led up to it. So we take what in most stories would just be a guilty pleasure and make it a fully justifiable pleasure. Our protagonist has earned this moment, and that allows us, the audience, to enjoy more fully and without any guilt the curbstomping that is about to ensue.

Pacing and audience satisfaction all in one.

Here’s the thing, though. All that satisfaction, and even relaxation as we see the beginnings of the inevitable end for what it is, only have meaning if the road to get there has been long enough to warrant it.

A Brumak Rodeo isn’t something you just throw into an ending. You need to have a story where this type of climax makes sense. Ideally, a Brumak Rodeo is something that is the climax to a longer form of story. Gears of War for example uses the Brumak Rodeo once in to full effect. Schlock Mercenary has a Brumak Rodeo wrap up a story that was about twenty years in the making. And the one usage of this trope I’ve had? Starforge, the finale of the UNSEC Space Trilogy, a 1.3 million word adventure.

Now that isn’t to say you can’t craft a smaller story from the very beginning with an eye to using the Brumak Rodeo. You can, and I’ve seen shorter narrative experiences (still a couple of hours, mind) use the Rodeo to good effect. But in each of these instances, it was planned out from the very beginning. In one case, what became the object of the Brumak Rodeo (a shark) was the very first threat the audience ever saw come at the protagonist, and a constant one through the story.

You need to pace it well too. A Brumak Rodeo is at its most effective when it’s delivered right when the audience is about to think “Will this ever stop?” Deliver it too early, and the satisfaction will be there, butt without the sigh of relief and the additional satisfaction of that “rubber band” relaxing. Deliver it too late, or fail to hint that it’s on the way, and the audience might put the story down—not a great outcome. So there is an element of getting the pacing right, to stretch the protagonists and the audience right to the ragged edge before delivering the “relax” moment of success.

So yeah, you do need to plan out your Brumak Rodeo, and it’s a trope that is better suited to longer stories or even to a series. And not every story needs to end this way. Plenty of stories—a wide majority, in fact—do not make use of the Brumak Rodeo. They just have the protagonists overcome through effort, hard work, macguffins, believing in themselves, lots of violence, etc. A Brumak Rodeo is a rare ending type, and there’s absolutely no requirement to put in the work for on and have it in your story.

That said, a Brumak Rodeo is incredibly satisfying as an audience member, and for certain stories can elevate a finale far above what it might have been. I can honestly say that if Starforge‘s Brumak Rodeo moment hadn’t been in the story, quite a few readers would have been put out by the finale, as it would have felt like a brutal slog on the characters that just happened, and would have left folks feeling like the ending was a questionable obligation, rather than an “Oh yes” moment of pure satisfaction as things flipped for the cast.

Brumak Rodeos deliver a reason for us to justify the guilty pleasure of a curb-stomp battle. They allow our characters to have earned that moment, so that they and our audience can enjoy it without feeling like it’s a moment of pandering or just blatant wish-fulfillment.

And again, it isn’t the only means by which we can deliver a cathartic, relaxing conclusion to a big battle or climax. While Gandalf arriving on the third day to the Battle of Helm’s Deep with heavy cavalry isn’t a Brumak Rodeo, it’s still incredibly satisfying and many will list it as one of their favorite moments from the books or the films. However, it’s not the ending of the story.

So, should a Brumak Rodeo be in your toolbox, at least as a trope? I’d argue yes, because for the right story it can be a fantastic finale. Will you use it every time? Probably not. In fact, I’d be surprised if you used it more than a few times across an entire career.

But a lot of the tools in our toolbox are like that. We may not use them often, but our job as writers is to know what they are so that when the circumstances arrive, we can deploy them in the proper way and place.

So no, I’m not saying you should start considering how all of your stories can end in this manner. First, we shouldn’t want all of our stories to end with a Brumak Rodeo. That’d become predictable and a bit dull, no matter how hard-earned they might be.

But being able to deploy one when the moment is right? That’s something worth knowing how to do.

Now, one final note: Tropes are just tools. They’re setups, conventions, and other aspects of writing that every story uses. They can be played straight, subverted, modified, tweaked … At the end of the day, they’re just tools, and it’s the hands of the artist that make anything from them.

The Brumak Rodeo is a tool like any other. But to most effectively use it, an element of understanding is advised. So, be it through subversion, playing straight, or some other usage, understanding the tool in your toolbox is useful. Once you know what it is, and how it works, you may start to see signs of it being used in other stories, or reflections of it in small scenes. And seeing how others use it in clever or unique ways—or even just straightforwardly—will give you insight and inspiration into how to make effective use of it yourself.

So there you have it. The Brumak Rodeo trope and it’s use in fiction. Put in your toolbox. Use when necessary.

Good luck. Now get writing.

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