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The Two Key Words For Crafting Plot

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

South Park's storylines have clicked for over twenty years.


South Park is one of the most controversial television shows of all time. It will celebrate its 21st birthday this year, though, so it must be doing something right. Regardless of what your feelings might be about the show, there is indeed something that South Park does exceptionally well. Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have the secret successful sauce, and the two key ingredients they put in is something we all should be using in our plot lines:


"But" and "Therefore."


In a 2011 presentation at NYU, the creators broke down why these two words are integral in crafting plot lines that keep your audiences engaged. Watch a clip from the presentation below, via YouTube:



One of the common flaws I come across in first drafts, whether it be with clients or in my own work, writers often link their scenes with the "and then." Using the "but" and "therefore" can transform your scenes, and ultimately, your entire work in progress.


According to Stone and Parker, they took a long time to learn this, but it's something they have in all of their writing rooms. When looking at the beats of your outline, if the words "and then" belong between the beats, you've got something that's potentially boring. Instead, what should be happening between each of those beats is the use of "but" and "therefore." For instance:


A scene happens, and then, this happens.


No. We don't want that. What we do want is:


A scene happens, therefore, the next thing happens,

but this happens, therefore, another thing happens. 


This is an example of cause and effect, and it's important to weave it into all of your scenes. This gives your story motion and causality that keeps your audiences locked in. They will want to know what happens next. This technique can lend itself to surprise, it keeps your protagonists in conflict and pushes them away from the resolution. But, since the protagonists wants to achieve that resolution, they will want to keep going. And so will your audience. 



Without but and therefore, what you're left with is an assortment of disconnected scenes that may only be interesting cosmetically. It will begin to read as if the protagonist is only walking from one place to the next voluntarily without any causality. The plot is on a stroll, which isn't exactly captivating.


Setting your protagonist up with beats that have but and therefore, you're connecting scenes with action that pushes your protagonist forward, regardless if they like it or not. It will introduce new complications, often unexpected, that raise the stakes and puts them in uncharted territory. 


Say what you want about South Park and its creators, but this is an invaluable yet simple tool that should be infused into every outline. Give it a shot, and let me know how it works out for you!



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Kyle V. Hiller is a freelance editor, published author. To inquire about his editing services, visit the services page. To read his work, check out The Recital and Project Anjou If you're just hanging out, subscribe to his newsletter below, where you'll get posts like this delivered straight to your inbox! Stalk Kyle on Twitter and Instagram, too.

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