Everything I Need to Know About Writing, I Learned from Disneyland


(Repost from 24 May 2010)

Court-des-Anges-755x755Recently, we made a painful decision to part with a close family member: satellite television service. The good news is that we haven’t missed it. Instead, we reallocated our funds, partially, to season passes to Disneyland. There are several reasons why we chose to do this, but the primary reason is simple: to escape reality for a day and experience something magical.

For many, reading isn’t very different. They read to escape their particular reality and to experience something new, something different. They like to believe in something beyond themselves, a world where magic sometimes works. This is not to say that all writing should be fantasy, or contain some fantastic supernatural element integral to the plot. Far from it, actually. But there is something inherently magical about going to a different world. That may be Middle Earth, or it may be Metropolis or Gotham. It could be downtown New York, or a small desert town in Southern California. The location isn’t always the important factor (heck, Disneyland has Fantasy Land, Tomorrow Land, Frontier Land, New Orleans Square, etc.)—the perceived reality of that location is.

Here’s the thing about Disneyland: it’s magic is real. The Imagineers spent years designing, developing, and tweaking every detail, every nuance of the park. Even waiting in line, you’re someplace else, experiencing something new or exciting. Take, for example, the Indiana Jones ride. To get on it, you have to walk through an ancient abandoned temple. As a child, I loved this sense of exploration and discovery. I still do.

At Disneyland, you are hard pressed to find chinks in the magical armor. Those you do are often there by state law. I’m thinking specifically of emergency exit signs and the like. But even the little things like that serve a greater purpose. When I see them, I’m reminded that Disneyland was designed by someone, that there is a human hand behind it. The same principle applies, I think, in writing. The goal should be for the writer to remain behind the wall of magic. Still, it’s nice to see his or her hand at work at times in a way that is essential, but not distracting. The exit signs, as they are, should never subtract from the experience.

As an adult, I’ve come to search these chinks out. I like to know what makes The Pirates of the Caribbean work. I like to know how the pictures stretch in the Haunted Mansion (or the statues that follow you with their eyes—still can’t figure that one out). It’s not always easy, but I’m old enough now to actually enjoy it—one craftsman admiring the work of another.

With that in mind, as a writer, we should have the same endeavor as we read. Our goal should not be to find the flaws, but to notice the subtle accomplishments of the magic that works. Our enjoyment of a book can only be heightened if we read with a critical eye. We should read the masters and recognize their careful attention to detail, how they’ve seamlessly weaved a complex plot with characters who are quirky and strange enough to live in our minds forever.

Special note: Thanks to Kevin Crone for the rad HDR pic. Make sure to check out his blog.

10 thoughts on “Everything I Need to Know About Writing, I Learned from Disneyland”

  • I had never thought of Disneyland like a piece of fiction, or anything else but a fiction novel. After reading this I hope this give me a whole new light into what I see everyday.

  • I have never really thought of Disneyland as a man made world i always wanted to think that it was just a world that was just here for the first people and it was an escape or to get your head clear and take a break and have some fun. Disneyland as a fiction novel mm.. in not really sure i cant imagine that it’s just one fun place and age is just a number left at the gate. It’s never a bad thing for the writer to imagine (to much). or if your an adult and you just want that kid feeling once more it’s never to late to imagine and just remember that Disneyland’s gates will always be open.

  • Before I read a book, I already know that a lot of this can’t happen in reality. But when I really get into the book, depending on how the writer describes things, I start to believe. It’s just like Disneyland, none of it is real, but you suddenly start to believe, like you were in the Pirates on the Caribbean and took part of the sword fighting that was happening on the rocking ship.

  • Disneyland being magical; I don’t know how I didn’t even see how this is very true. Every time I go there, I am immensely sucked up into each world. Each ride, each setting, everything was crafted so beautifully. It really is a bit hard to fathom that it was made entirely by people.
    Just like Disneyland, I am easily sucked into the world of each book I open. I honestly can be transported into numerous worlds all at once as well. I actually tend to read a few books at a time. (I’m honestly not sure if that is odd or not, but I am never lost when I hop from one book to the next).
    Books are such great escapes from the life around me. I love them!

  • I think that it is important to make fiction books believable. Even in fantasy or science fiction books, the good ones still describe unbelievable elements in a way that seems believable, even though i know it cant really happen.

  • What I mostly like to wrote about is like fairy tales and happy ending love stories. Mostly stuff that won’t be expected to happen in reality. When using magic you can create anyone and anything, and I really like that because sometimes my wild imagination kicks in.

  • Many writers nowadays fail to do this effectively. Like you said, Gansky, the reader needs those “exit signs” to remind them that what they are reading is the product of someone else’ imagination.
    I’m not saying that for you, as a writer, to press your face up against the fourth wall and yell at the reader, “Hey! See this? I wrote it!” Just the opposite.
    Let your readers suspend their belief for just a second. Make that story–that one, in your mind, the one you’re thinking of right now–make it into something that feels like it could be real, but isn’t.
    Is it hard? Absolutely. But is it worth it? Heck yeah.
    Write well, write often.

  • Wow this blog is so true. We some times look at those exit signs when we need to look at the entrance signs (if that makes sence). We should let the reader loose themselves in the book innstead of forcing it on them and saying “Hey look i wrote this! Read it read MMYYY AMAZING work!” I know sometimes i do this and i shouldnt so im trying harder not to.

  • I had never thought of Disneyland like a piece of fiction, or anything else as fiction except for a fiction novel of course. After reading this I hope to use this to give my writing a more realistic, appealing piece of fiction. I really enjoyed the light bulb in my head that this blog post make happen, if that makes any sense.

  • To me Disneyland is something that has been made real by all of these creative and fantasy -like ideas. Its real because it has been built and tangible. I hope to create real stories by bringing together some fantasy ideas to make them real

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