A great TED Talk by Andrew Stanton of Pixar, that expresses some of the following ideas about storytelling:

  1. Storytelling originates from the punch line backward, like a joke, expressing events in a sequence that leads to an inevitable but surprising conclusion.
  2. Story affirms our humanity and gives meaning to our lives.
  3. A story is obliged to “make me care.”
  4. The purest story-telling is (paradoxically) wordless–it is emotion.
  5. Stories drive forward with short and long tensions: what will happen next and what will finally happen?
  6. The audience wants to work, be engaged in the process and have an experience for themselves.
  7. Characters are based on “conditionality” and the story challenges those conditions; Stanton expresses this as “like the main character.” I see this a little differently. While we might not like our characters, we must love them, which means treat them as complex and real. It adds up to the same thing.
  8. Characters have a drive that is inherent.
  9. Create wonder at life.
  10. Focus consistently on a theme.
  11. And finally, build story from your core–what you really care about, the heart of yourself.

You might notice at the end of this talk, Stanton tells the anecdote about himself and his birth, but the cut away is to the animation of Nemo’s father—not Nemo.

The Father protects the egg.

When we return to Stanton, he talks again about himself ,but we can see he’s gotten very close to real emotional territory, the engine of  creative energy.

The emotional core of “Finding Nemo” is the space between father and son as imagined by the son.

If we look at Nemo specifically but think of stories more generally, perhaps story is wish fulfillment. In this case, a fantasy of relentless care and protection by parent for child against all odds. We know that kind of care is seldom (if ever) realized in real life but is truly a core longing we share, and a universal emotional base for a story.