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By Thomas Baekdal - April 2012

The Story In between The Story

Storytelling is one of the most fascinating concepts that we have, and I want to give you simple example of a very important element to any good story. It's the story in between the story.

I have always loved watching Disney's animated movies because of the amazing level of creativity that goes into their stories. With an animated movie, everything has to be created. All the visuals, the story itself, the expressions within, and the feelings of both the characters in the movie and within you as a viewer. That takes a lot of skill.

Let me illustrate this with a very short 8 second clip from Tarzan 2 (where Tarzan is a kid). The story is that after falling down a cliff, Tarzan has run away and is friends think he is dead. But one day, Tantor the Elephant (or is that the heffalump) suddenly hears Tarzan's voice and gets excited about it.

In short, the storyline goes as follows: Tantor hears a sound, gets excited, and runs out to tell everyone about it.

How it looks

The artistic work here is incredible. Tantor the Elephant is beautifully drawn and the matte painting used in the background is stunning.

But these three images just tell the story. It's beautiful, even funny, but it lacks something. It doesn't really excite you. It gives you the main points, but it doesn't tell how Tantor feels or the emotions he is going through.

This is where the genius of Disney's animators come in, because in between these three images, they manage to create the most wonderful mini story that will evoke all kinds emotions inside you.

Here is how that works:

We start off as before with Tantor hearing a voice.

Then he recognizes it...

But he is still not entirely sure what it is. His brain doesn't have enough information to find the connection, so he listens again with the other ear.

And ever so slowly, he recognizes who the voice is coming from. He moves from curiosity to realization.

Now, Tantor's 'inner brain' reacts. "It's Tarzan!!" ...and his entire body reacts to this surprise.

But, by now, his conscious brain has had enough time to analyze it too, and surprise is replaced by sheer excitement. "He is alive!!". Every single part of his body react to this at once, and he tries to move in every single direction possible.

...and finally he manages to get control over himself, and runs off to tell everyone else!

Isn't this amazing? This entire sequence is just 8 seconds long and only contain three main points. But in between those points, Disney manages put in an incredible amount of story telling.

Here is the entire scene in real-time. It happens so fast that you don't even realize it, but your brain knows! That's why you laugh when you see it. That's why you feel it.


The point is that whenever you want to tell a story, you need to make sure that the main story line is captivating the audience, but it is equally important that you fill the gaps in between with feelings, energy, excitements, and emotions.

The part that makes the story come alive, is not the story itself but the feelings you experience as you go along.

This is not just true for movies and books. It's true for brands trying to engage people online, for instance on Facebook. If you only focus on the main points of your story (promoting your products, telling people about events), you won't create that much excitement. The trick is to show people what emotions you go through in between, as you move forward.

Don't just tell people what you do, show them how you feel as you are doing it!


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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