Episode 12: The Secret Life of Zanussi Cumberbatch

Episode 12: The Secret Life of Zanussi Cumberbatch

This is an episode from the Kickstarter launch of Storyteller Tactics, written with Secrets & Puzzles and Voyage & Return

👉 See previous episodes.

👉 See the tactic cards released so far

Orson always wanted to be a writer.

He had a photo of Hemingway on the desk in his student bedroom. 

Two years out of uni, Orson got a job that paid him to write: as a content writer for a web agency. OK, he thought, it’s not coffee and cigarettes outside a cafe in Paris, but I am writing for a living!

Pretty soon, Orson realised there was a catch. He had stumbled into a strange new world where nobody wrote anything for anyone to read. The audience was an algorithm. 

Clients wanted clicks. Orson’s agency knew that search algorithms liked sites with lots of articles. So they got Orson to write them. Quality didn’t matter; quantity, keywords and clicks were king.

Orson was reduced to writing timeless classics like “The History of Lorry Security Devices” and “International Perspectives on Containerised Refrigeration.” The most exciting part of Orson’s working life was coming up with new pseudonyms for each article. His favourite: Zanussi Cumberbatch.

Orson took the photo of Hemingway off his desk and put it in the drawer, to make space for a shiny new monitor. Zanussi Cumberbatch put all his time and energy into writing stories that no human eyes would ever read.

But he’s still a writer, right?

I used two tactics in this week’s episode:


Secrets and Puzzles

Nothing gets our attention like the promise of a secret that’s about to be revealed. This story device has worked from Pandora’s Box through to clickbait, because we are deeply curious creatures.

Puzzles are great attention hooks too. How can a world exist where writers get paid to write content that nobody is ever going to read? Well, you must keep reading to find out - and that means I’ve got you til the end of my story.

See the Secrets and Puzzles tactic

Voyage and Return

Like Alice in Wonderland, Robinson Crusoe or Neo in The Matrix, our hero is thrown into a strange new world. The old rules no longer apply. Our hero has to learn fast to survive. What they learn - about the world and about themselves - gives them a chance to get back home. Speaking of which…

See the Voyage and Return tactic

Next week: The Sudden Death of Zanussi Cumberbatch.
(*My thanks to Joel Stein for letting me borrow and dramatically embellish the Zanussi story)

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