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

Their advice 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.

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


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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  1. Hem

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

    • Nathan B. Weller

      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.

      • Alicia Hallbrooj

        Just a suggestion and I know a LOT of people would watch but making a south park episode about SLAYER fans would be hilarious 🤣. I have just recently came in contact with a lot of them and there so fun and fun to watch

  2. Michael

    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

      “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.

    • Darcy

      Yeah in this case you are describing scenarios that do in fact build on and lead to each other, so even though you’re using AND THEN, you could in fact use BUT and THEREFOR and it would read right, which is a sign these story elements are connected.

      If you had described a situation where “We lit firecrackers AND THEN we went home and studied AND THEN we made some prank calls” you are describing things that happen one after the other but that do not lead to or build off of one another in any meaningful way. You can’t insert a BUT or THEREFOR between any of those, which is a sure sign they are just things happening, not a story that is building upon itself.

  3. Andrew

    I get the “therefore” connections. But can you give some examples of “but” connections? Having trouble conceptualizing these.

    • Nathan B. Weller

      I think the best way to think of “but” connections is when someone–a character–has a specific action and/or effect they’d like to achieve BUT something unexpected to them happens. Resulting in a surprise for the character and perhaps the reader too.

    • Jabulani Mabaya

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

    • Jeremiah

      Think of “But” as the conflict/obstacle interfering with the action, and “Therefore” as the ending result of said conflict.

      “Nathen took his son camping (action), BUT he was stolen by Sasquatch (conflict), THEREFORE Nathan fights Sasquatch to the death to reclaim his captured son (result).”

  4. Amir

    I think this is great advice from Trey and Matt but it’s a little unclear of what is meant by a “story beat” … that’s the part that confuses me … would love to see some examples but I guess I’d have to ask Matt and Trey LOL

    • Nathan B. Weller

      I can’t speak for them specifically, but I’ve found that a lot of writers and instructors use “story beat” and “plot point” almost interchangeably.

  5. Laura

    I learned about the ABT storytelling arc during graduate school. It’s something I use all the time as I write articles for newsletters or develop presentations. It’s an easy structure to remember and it’s really effective at capturing an audience’s attention. Love the ABT method!


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