What I learned at Walt Disney World: Crooked Paths Make Better Stories

Walt Disney World is a place built on stories, and that makes it worthy of study by any writer. It's not built on stories merely, or even mostly, in the sense that the old Disney movies provided the conceptual foundation of first Disneyland and then Disney World; the entire place, every theme park, is a story, or--more accurately--several stories woven together. The very act of walking through the parks is to participate in the stories.

The path of your story at Walt Disney World is never straight.

You enter the Magic Kingdom, and a castle looms ahead of you. It's just at the end of the street, you think. So you start off down the street, dodging photographers and trolley cars and more than a few other tourists while attempting to ignore the distractions on either side of you, but the street ends before you reach your turreted destination. Your path forks, and other paths split off with other tempting destinations peeking at you, calling you to divert from your goal. In order to reach the castle that beckoned you when you first entered the park, you must take a twist (or many twists) in your route, you must avoid distractions along the path you follow, and you must choose to remain on the path leading to the castle rather than a path to some other adventure.

Cynics will say that the Disney World sidewalks twist and turn for purposes of crowd control, simply to provide places to soak up the bodies the corporation would like to jam into its parks. Those cynics are right, to a degree--the crooked, distraction laden paths provide mundane functional advantages for their proprietor, but the chief functional advantage lies in the depth of storytelling they provide.

The quality of the promised stories brings people to Walt Disney World. People return to Disney like they do to a beloved book: knowing the story well, but catching a new delight on the re-read. A straight path may be walked again out of necessity, to get the mail or to pick up a loaf of bread. Only a crooked path will be walked again for the pleasure of the story told.

Crooked paths make better stories.