On Theme Parks and Storytelling

On theme parks and storytelling, I have recently had a lot to explore. While traveling with my family, we have visited several parks as part of our vacation. We have been on some exceptionally good rides. Roller coasters with digital elements blended seamlessly into the background. But what stands out, at the end of our explorations, is that the best rides -the ones we will remember for years to come- is not the mechanics, it’s the storytelling.

In one of the parks there is a ride. Without the narrative that surrounds it, it would be nothing. One car that jostles you slightly and changes the floor angles. Another car that self-propels around the floor, combined with some elevators and movie screens. Nothing to it.

But the narrative that surrounds the ride starts even before you get into line. It starts with the music, familiar and simple. Nostalgic even, pulling on your childlike heartstrings. You remember the story this ride is based on. All the elements are take inspiration from that.

While you are standing in line, you are given glimpses into the story, either through background elements, video clips, or props in equipment lockers. Every detail of the line itself, from the entry to the soundscapes played over speakers, lighting, and set design are all carefully put in place to put you fully into the world of the story.

Once you get to the front of the line, you jump right into the story. You are taken onto the first car, whose simple twists and yaws, along with some clever screens and animatronics, almost convince you that you are on a spaceship flying into space. Those same motions then convince you of a tractor beam and the story continues on another ship in space.

Here they have literally employed window dressing, virtually, to make you feel the size of the new ship. We were all looking around, taking pictures, and being hustled into lines as characters in the story. It was so engaging, we forgot that all of this was, in fact, just a continuation of the line.

Every detail, every characterization, every live actor all added to the ambiance and storytelling that was on display. As a writer, I was totally sucked in. It was one of the most breathtaking displays of worldbuilding that I have ever seen.

That is the goal, in professional and in creative writing. To create a world so engaging, people forget that they are reading, and just become part of the story.

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