The Wonderland Effect

Disney’s Alice in Wonderland remake is opening in theaters this Friday, and it’s no wonder with the high anticipation and success of James Cameron’s Avatar that other studios are rushing to make their films available in 3-D IMAX. However, the difference between the critically acclaimed Avatar and the lack luster Alice in Wonderland (I saw an early screening on Monday) is that James Cameron filmed Avatar with 3-D in mind, whereas Tim Burton added small 3-D flourishes as an afterthought. As in film, similarly in writing, all aspects of a work have to be integrated from the beginning.

When a creator fails to fully consider their project from the beginning, it is called the “Wonderland Effect.” Let’s look at this from a writing standpoint. A hospital wants to launch a new advertising campaign to promote awareness and increase the number of patients that come to their newly renovated birth center. The copywriter submits a stellar ad. The hospital director, however, believes that he can save money and advertise for both the new birth center and recently added mammogram technology added to different wing of the hospital all at the same time. He adds a paragraph of copy and multiple contact numbers. Three months after the ad is printed, the director wonders why he is seeing no increase in the number of pregnant patients or women over 50 needing mammograms. Little does he know that he has fallen prey to the Wonderland Effect. The copy written for the ad (and no doubt the design as well) was meant to target pregnant women. The additional information more than likely confused the intended audience and failed to attract the audience that was included as an afterthought.
The Wonderland Effect can also strike fiction and nonfiction writers as well. Without a clear premise established from the start, books can meander on endlessly in any direction. In fiction, for example, an author wants to write a book illustrating that “war is hell” and “true love conquers all.” Of course there can be a romantic story line in a novel about the horrors of war, but in order to make the point that war is hell, there can be no happy ending, which contradicts the premise that true love conquers all. Similarly in nonfiction, without a thesis that each chapter continually returns to, a book can quickly become encyclopedia in its scope.
James Cameron redefined the movie watching experience by immersing his audience in the sight, sound, and movement of his film. Tim Burton gave the equivalent of walking with the occasional fly buzzing past your ear. A clear vision at the beginning will produce a more concentrated, deliberate, and stronger message. Without it, the Wonderland Effect will drive your audience mad and ultimately drive them away.

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