Storytelling? Storytelling is hyped-up by communicators (especially in charities and non-profits) – but it’s nothing more than a joke.

And there’s fish involved too. And a goat.

Who both have the same parent.

And it could all have a sad ending.

First, the goat…

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‘A tourist is backpacking through the highlands of Scotland, and he stops at a pub to get a drink. And the only people in there is a bartender and an old man nursing a beer. And he orders a pint, and they sit in silence for a while. 

And suddenly the old man turns to him and goes, “You see this bar? I built this bar with my bare hands from the finest wood in the county. Gave it more love and care than my own child.But do they call me MacGregor the bar builder? No.”

Points out the window. “You see that stone wall out there? I built that stone wall with my bare hands. Found every stone, placed them just so through the rain and the cold. But do they call me MacGregor the stone wall builder? No.”

Points out the window. “You see that pier on the lake out there? I built that pier with my bare hands. Drove the pilings against the tide of the sand, plank by plank. But do they call me MacGregor the pier builder? No.

But you fuck one goat …”

Storytelling is joke telling. It’s knowing your punchline, your ending, knowing that everything you’re saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal, and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understandings of who we are as human beings.’

 Now imagine an email that goes like this…

“Subject: Locating a missing fish
Dear supporter,
The orange clownfish (Amphiprion percula) is widely known as a popular aquarium fish.  Like other clownfish (also called anemonefish), it often lives in association with sea anemones…”

Does that ring any bells? It’s the email that the Dad in Finding Nemo would have sent if he was represented by an organisation of bad joke-tellers and bad story-tellers.

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Finding Nemo is a story about the power of story. The reason why Nemo’s dad finds his son is through sharing his simple, moving story across the oceans, until it eventually reaches Australia.

Nemo’s Dad’s story, and the film itself, and the goat joke, share the same principles. They’re personal – told by and about individuals, not faceless groups. And they use the power of anticipation to pull the audience from one end of the story to the other.

The goat and the fish are even more intimately related that that – as I said earlier, they have the same parent. The goat joke reproduced above is told by Finding Nemo’s writer/director Andrew Stanton in this TED talk about storytelling. (And if you read this far because you wanted to know what the hell I was on about at the beginning, he’s going to give me a storytelling gold star!)

‘When you’re telling a story, have you constructed anticipation? In the short-term, have you made me want to know what will happen next? But more importantly, have you made me want to know how it will all conclude in the long-term? Have you constructed honest conflicts with truth that creates doubt in what the outcome might be? An example would be in “Finding Nemo,” in the short tension, you were always worried, would Dory’s short-term memory make her forget whatever she was being told by Marlin. But under that was this global tension of will we ever find Nemo in this huge, vast ocean?’

So what is the sad ending? In microcosm, the power of anticipation is the key factor in clickbait. (And if you don’t know what clickbait is, you simply will not believe it! Check it out here!) Clickbait is possibly devaluing the currency of anticipation. It uses unresolved tension as shiny wrapping around a cheap toy. So maybe this heralds a future where we are crying out for communications that blether on for paragraphs about extraneous detail, barely ever get to the point and then don’t even have a proper

…However, for the time being until that Ballardian hell arrives, Finding Nemo (the story, and the story within the story) demonstrates that a story which uses anticipation-power, as well as the personal touch, can be rewarding and effective.

THE END