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Storytelling Advice from the Creators of South Park: The But & Therefore Rule

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I look for storytelling advice and wisdom anywhere I can find it. What can I say? I’m utterly fascinated with the human response to stories as well as the human compulsion to create them. In this case, the advice is coming from the legendary creators of the now classic animated comedy South Park.

The advice is given in what looks like a college class that the co-creators have been invited to visit (there’s not a lot of context). It centers around a problem that many writers have. Namely, a boring story. A story that lacks a sense of cause and effect, of tension and rising action.

So what’s the solution?

The “But & Therefore Rule” by Matt Stone and Trey Parker

Get More:
www.mtvu.com

Recap!

The rule is simple:

When you have a set of story beats (or an outline in other words) and you can put the words “and then” in-between each one–“you’re fucked” as Trey would say. That’s boring.

However, if in-between each story beat you can put the words “but” or “therefore” then you have a story in which the events taking place are reacting to each other. The story/plot builds momentum and tension based on everything else that has happened previously, not because of the arbitrary whims of the writer.

In Conclusion

I have to admit that upon my first viewing of this video it sounded a lot like those spammy ads you come across all over the internet “check out this one weird trick to lose weight and build muscle fast” and all of the innumerable iterations of that theme. So this idea, of a “simple cheat”, immediately sparked doubt. But then I gave it a try.

I ran an outline I was working on through this little filter and within minutes I had discovered several problems (and solutions) to issues in the plot that had been nagging at me for days. I can honestly say it’s a great writing filter to run all of your outlines through to make sure you don’t end up boring your readers/audience to tears. I highly recommend it! And, if you do give it a try, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

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4 Responses to Storytelling Advice from the Creators of South Park: The But & Therefore Rule

  1. GetFreeGames.Org February 10, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

    This was a great article, and Parker/Stone are just brilliant. Thanks for posting this :)

    • Nathan B. Weller February 10, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. The more I reflect on this bit of advice and apply it to my own work the more profound it becomes to me.

  2. Michael May 17, 2016 at 7:16 pm #

    Consider: “We lit firecrackers between our bare toes AND THEN our feet caught on fire AND THEN we went to the hospital with burns.”

    How does “therefore/but” help?

    • Henry August 10, 2016 at 10:50 am #

      “We lit firecracker between our bare toes, but our feet caught on fire therefore we went to the hospital with burns.”

      Now this anecdote has a shape: we wanted to do something fun together (goal); we were hindered (obstacles); our fun was put to an end (outcome).

      This helps you avoid episodic writing.

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