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By Thomas Baekdal - June 2012

What Happens When You Define the Story First?

You put the story first, and only then do you figure out what format to use.

One of the things that really amazes me about the new media world is the shift from format to stories. In the past, the format always came first. You would write a book, write an article for a newspaper, and create a show for TV etc.

The shift is turning this whole thing upside down. The format first approach doesn't work in a digital world where any format can be mixed with anything. An article is no longer just text. A TV show is no longer something that just happens on TV. A book is no longer a collection of pages.

We are now putting the story first, and only then do we ask, "what format or formats would help me to tell this story in the best and most engaging way possible?"

BTW: I wrote more about this in The Future of Books in 2015.

The Story of Flewn

One brilliant example is the children's book 'The Story of Flewn'. It's a Kickstarter project (that I'm backing) made by Gabriel Smetzer.

The story is quite interesting. It follows an old whale crossing a continent on stilts made of driftwood in search of a new ocean for himself and the sea creatures he carries on his back. As he grows a beard and a weary heart he meets a frog on a unicycopter and a rabbit with wings. Together the three characters must use their creativity and courage to find a new ocean and confront the reason their world is falling apart around them.

But this is not a traditional book, or even an ebook. As a children's book you have to ask, "what is the best format for this story?" Gabriel thought that it would work best this way:

The Story of Flewn combines interactive game mechanics with cinematic storytelling set in a richly illustrated world. Traditionally a reader would turn pages of a book or sit passively watching a film to discover a story. In Flewn the player must keep the main characters (Frog and Rabbit) well fed and flying across beautifully illustrated landscapes in order to progress the story.

Note: See 'The Story of Flewn' Kickstarter page.

What a brilliant idea.

I'm not saying that every book should be like this. The point is that you put the story first, and only then do you figure out what format to use. In this case, it's hard to even define the format. It's not really anything while at the same time it's everything. It's not a book, not a video, not a game, and it's not an illustration. It's all of them.

I'm very excited by this shift from format to stories, because it brings a completely new level of unlimited story telling. For instance, if you want to write a book about Social ROI, why do it just in text? Would it not be better to create a nonlinear collection of topics told using text, illustrations and a 10-episode podcast each 20 minutes long?

The shift is also going to change our education system (although that will take another 10 years before they catch up). Today, your education is based on the format. A journalist is taught to be a writer. A photojournalist to be a photographer, and a graphic journalist to be a graphic artist. The act of story telling is just a minor addition to that.

But in the future, your education must be centered around being a storyteller first. Storytelling, as a real education and title, is going to replace many of those format-first educations.

We still need the niche experts, the animators, the designers, and the other experts. But everyone needs to have that basic education as a story teller.

I don't know if Gabriel's "The Story of Flewn" is going to be any good. It certainly looks interesting, and that's why I'm backing it (and it is already fully funded).

But what excites me is that it's the story of Flewn. Not the book, not the game, nor the movie ...It's the story.

Want to know more about the future of publishing, read, "The Future of Books in 2015".


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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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