Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What Disney Taught Me About Writing

picture Say what you will, Disney is one of the long-time masters at presentation and delivery. If you go to their parks with the mindset that you want to have fun, they’ll do their best to make sure you’re not disappointed (long lines not withstanding.)

I’m flying home probably as you’re reading this (unless something dire happened at the airports with delayed flights).

But here’s what I learned from my 3 days at Disney:

They were masters at quickly identifying real characters among their guests and immediately capitalizing on the find. I went to an interactive show (the Monsters Inc one). They’d studied us as we came into the room and the people who became characters in their show had vividly-colored clothing on and an unusual manner. There was a bald man who looked like Uncle Fester from The Addams Family, a sweet-looking middle–aged woman who later exhibited an unexpected devilish look in her eye, and a suspicious-looking pre-schooler who glared fiercely whenever the camera was directed at her. They were hilarious. There was just something unique about them. And Disney had spotted those qualities during our 5 minutes in their holding tank before the show.

Using their technique, I took some great shots with my camera of some really interesting people. Disney World is apparently rife with interesting characters. I think I got 3 books worth of characters that I could accurately describe and create entire storylines around.

Want to learn how to write engaging beginnings that pull in the reader quickly? Disney’s got it down pat. They had, as far as I could tell, several techniques for doing it.

  • The big one was directly addressing the audience in a conversational manner. (e.g.: “Oh! Hi there! Come on—come a little closer. Not that close!”) You know the technique. That works well for rides, but pulls the reader out of the book a bit if you’re writing it.

Their technique can be modified, though. The point is that they’re beginning with engaging dialogue. Honestly, most of the books I read don’t start with dialogue between interesting characters---they start out with some sort of narrative (which can lose me sometimes).

  • Another technique they used (well) was foreshadowing during their rides’ beginnings. Now, there is plenty of talk about writing ‘rules’ and foreshadowing frequently makes the list of no-nos. Well done, though, I think it can be enormously effective. A hint of some kind of upcoming turbulence. Or even an emphasis on how happy and perfect everything is. They know their audience is mistrustful when everything seems to be going too well. Something’s got to go wrong. The audience itself has foreshadowed disaster, then…they didn’t even have to do it for them.

Their entire aim is entertaining their guests. They don’t go off on self-serving tangents. They don’t preach to their audience (even environmental messages are housed in an entertaining fashion). They don’t lose sight of their ultimate goal. They don’t stick in bits and pieces that have nothing to do with the tightly plotted show or ride theme. Too many books that I read start rambling about description that I’m not interested in, or observations that don’t seem to stay on-topic.

Honestly, they entertained so effectively that I’m going to touch on their techniques again tomorrow, including their satisfying endings. Hope you’ll come back by.