Mark Terry

Monday, April 13, 2009

Disney and Writing

April 13, 2009
One of the things I was thinking about at Disney was something that applies to novelists in today's market. It's that Disney never just gives you a ride. Almost everything, whether it's a roller coaster or a spinning ride, has a narrative, sure. That's unusual enough. But I think the thing that makes Disney Disney is simply that they never just give you a ride.

For example, the newest ride at the Animal Kingdom, the Everest Adventure, isn't just a roller coaster. It has a narrative, that you're searching for the Yeti as you take a train ride through Mount Everest. But more to the point, Disney could have just given you a roller coaster ride through a fake Mount Everest. But they didn't. They give you a roller coaster that ends at tracks torn up by a Yeti, then reverse the coaster so you're slamming through the tunnels backwards... then the Yeti comes out, tears up more track, then you go slamming forward through the tunnels.

I don't think it's Disney's greatest ride or even greatest roller coaster, but it has those Disney signatures: it's got a narrative and it's not just a run-of-the-mill roller coaster. Disney never goes for the biggest or the fastest, they put their own unique spin on everything they do.

Obviously there's a point about writing there, but I'll take it one more step.

I'm reading The Second Perimeter by Mike Lawson, a book recommended by Erica Orloff, She Who Must Be Read, and if you go to the page I linked to, he talks about his decision to not write a book about a cop or a spy because there were plenty of good books about them by really good writers. So he made his main character a lawyer who works as an investigator/troubleshooter for the Speaker of the House.

Now, I'm probably not as enamored with the book as Erica was, but the character and his job are great and I think you can take a lesson from both Disney and Mike Lawson when considering your next book.

Although I wasn't being quite that deliberate and methodical when I created Derek Stillwater, who is a troubleshooter for the Department of Homeland Security and an expert in biological and chemical terrorism, it has occurred to me that I did create a character whose job I'd never seen before. He's not quite a cop, he's not a spy, he's not a lawyer or a soldier.

I don't think it means you can't write about a cop or a lawyer or a soldier or a spy. But I do think you're going to have to go the Disney route and figure out what's specifically unique about your cop, lawyer, soldier or spy. Because all you have to do is look at the books on the shelf and realize that's been done to death. Is your cop blind? Is your lawyer disbarred and just released from jail? Is your soldier a woman? Is the spy schizophrenic? What's the spin? What's unique? What stamp can you put on your character that's specific to you, so an agent or editor doesn't say, "Oh brother, another police procedural. Been there, done that."

It doesn't have to be gimmicky, necessarily, but it should be something that's at least a degree or two off the expected.

Mark Terry 


Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'm rereading The Breakout Novel and Maass says so many of the same things.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

That means I'm in good company. And maybe it's time I practiced some of my own lessons.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Hi Mark:
You know . . . I don't read thrillers. Or hadn't in years, when as I had posted, I picked that up by accident. I can look back at reading it and see what I loved was exactly that. Both he . . . and his best friend . . . were different. Different, yet I believed them. I thought her and her lover . . . very realistic. I thought his relationships with the politicians was fun. You are dead on. I didn't articulate it, but yes. To me, there is no point in writing the cop/private eye/name your genre, unless you bring something new to the table. And yes, as will likely be pointed out, EVERYTHING has been done before. BUT . . . Mike Lawson managed to bring something fresh to his character.

Great post.

7:03 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I'm not saying it's a bad book. In fact, I think it's very good. And it's biggest strength is characterization. The plot does some predictable things and some unpredictable things--hey, I read a LOT of thrillers--and the pace is pretty good. I think Lawson could use some help differentiating his characters when he's got 5 or 6 of them in the same room talking, which he does several times. I'm also mildly puzzled about the relative passivity of the main character versus Emma, although I think he's an interesting character with interesting skills, so when he does act it seems like he's rising to the occasion rather than just business as usual.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

I found the golf scene in chapter one or two (forget which) to be difficult--too many people talking, too many characters to keep track of. So I definitely hear you . . .

I think I especially like it because, really, characterization is my "thing." I will stick with a lot of books for characters versus plot.


12:15 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Bingo! That was the primary scene I thought about--first chapter and I couldn't keep everybody straight--although he does it several other times in the book with various characters and I start to lose track of who they all are.

I'm not done yet, so I'll talk more about it when I do, but I would still strongly recommend this book. And yes, it seems more character-driven than most thrillers of its type.

12:47 PM  

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