Everything I Need to Know About Writing, I Learned from Disneyland
(Repost from 24 May 2010)
Recently, 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.