11 March 2014 // Thoughts

Defining Your Story, Part 2: Rooting Stories in Place and Time

Yesterday, we introduced Keith’s IAAPA Leadership Conference presentation on “Defining Your Story”. Today, Keith identifies the eight different types of stories. Today, we’ll get an in-depth look at two of those story types – Place and History.

While every attraction really uses a variety of story types, we’ve identified eight (8) basic types of stories, specifically those that are based upon:

  • Place
  • History (person, place, thing, brand, event)
  • Culture
  • Fact
  • Fantasy
  • Abstract
  • Brand
  • Genre

And these stories are conveyed in a variety of ways, including:

  • Theming
  • Rides, attractions, exhibits, etc.
  • Music and shows
  • Events and parades
  • Food and retail
  • Staff

Let’s begin with Place, which is really about creating an attraction based upon a geographic location or region.
A great example is Disney California Adventure, which by its very name immerses guests within the story of California.
From a nod to its historic piers and boardwalks

To its landscape


To taking guests Soarin’ over the state, including right here in San Francisco.

Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is based upon the immersing guests within the stories of the Smoky Mountains, and does so in its theming, such where this ride is set within an agricultural theme,

or this rustic water play area

or this theatrical experience we created where Dolly Parton talks about how growing up in the Smokies was the primary influence on her life and music.

Living history museums are also primarily driven by the stories of their place, whether it’s the story of Gettysburg.

Plimouth Plantation

Or Colonial Williamsburg.

At these attractions, the story is as much about the place as it is the history that took place there.

Sometimes, an attraction is developed to take guest to another place, such as the New York New York Hotel in Las Vegas, which recreates Manhattan’s iconic skyline

and streetscape.

Or EPCOT’s 360 theaters, which immerse you within both China and Canada.


History provides a rich source of inspiration to create stories.

These stories can be about the history of a person, such as here at the Walt Disney Family Museum, which tells the story of the Disney family history…

…as well as Walt’s dream for what would become one of the world’s most beloved theme parks.

An attraction can also be based upon the story of an event in history. For example, the National WWII Museum in New Orleans tells the story of not only an event, but a place in time, through exhibits


An amazing immersive theater created by The Hettema Group

And even a live show venue that immerses you in the history of the 1940’s

Great examples of using history as the basis for a storyline and theme can be found at historic piers, boardwalks and amusement parks both here in the US and around the world, from Santa Cruz

To Santa Monica, where even the rides are classic, as you’ll almost always see a Ferris Wheel

Or swing ride

Period signage and graphics are often retained to convey each location’s rich history. For example, Santa Monica’s iconic entrance has changed little in the past 100 years.

And place guests within an historic setting at the very beginning of their visit.

The leverage of the history story can even be found in the name of an attraction, such as at Galveston Island’s Historic Pier.

We hope you’ve enjoyed Keith’s journey through some of the world’s place and history-based experiences. Tomorrow, he’ll show us attractions based in either fantasy or fact, before wrapping up on Thursday with a discussion on how you can meld these different narrative styles to create your very own story.