So, I was mindlessly scrolling TikTok this morning, as you do, when I happened upon a video of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, talking about story beats. Now, I used to be a HUGE South Park fan when I was an undergrad, so I stopped scrolling, intrigued.
And, guys, I’m so glad I did.
If I’ve edited your work, odds are I’ve ranted about cause and effect for story structure. It’s the idea that the events of your story should be connected, that one thing should make the next thing happen, should make the next thing happen, and on and on from beginning to end. Like a string of dominos. If I can’t tell how one event stems from an earlier event, something is broken in the that string.
This is what Stone and Parker were talking about. But I loved how they described it and just HAD to share it.
Instead of using the image of dominos, they explain cause and effect using these phrases: and then, therefore, but then. Let’s explore them more below!
And then …
And then should be avoided. It’s a way of connecting plot points without any real connection, like: “This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.” What that describes is a series of events that are episodic. There’s no relationship between those events. This is not what keeps readers (or viewers) invested, not what drives a plot or character’s journey forward. What, then, does drive a story forward? How can we connect the events of our books to one another to keep readers invested?
Therefore is one of the two “good” ways to connect events in a story that Stone and Parker discuss. It describes the relationship between events in a story like this: “this happened, therefore this other thing happened.” See that? Immediate connection between events, that domino slamming into the other domino to make it fall.
Let’s look at an example:
In Pride and Prejudice, a rich, single man moves into the neighborhood, THEREFORE, the Bennet family and their five eligible daughters visit, THEREFORE, the rich, single man falls in love with one, THEREFORE, his bestie convinces him to abandon her, THEREFORE, her sister gets pissed, THEREFORE and on and on to the end of the book.
Each event clearly happens because of the event before it!
But then is the next connection between plot events that Stone and Parker discuss. It’s more conflict driven, as you can guess. It’s where we see roadblocks thrown up, where the characters’ goals don’t go as planned. There’s still a connection to past events, though. Let’s look at an example from Pride and Prejudice again:
A rich man’s friend visits him at his new home to keep him company BUT THEN his friend falls in love with a woman from an unsuitable family, THEREFORE, the rich man tries to keep his friend distanced, BUT THEN he falls in love with the woman’s sister, THEREFORE he proposes to the sister, BUT THEN she refuses him because he was an arse about it.
We see here how the rich man’s expectations don’t align with the actual consequences of his actions. That’s the BUT THEN–an unintended consequence of the previous events in the book.
As you can see, therefore and but then are just ways of creating connected narratives in your novel, of connecting the beats in a logical way that will keep readers invested and keep your narratives cohesive instead of episodic.
Write down the beats and major events of your story. Are there clear THEREFORE and BUT THEN connections between those beats? If not, consider how a lack of connection might make those beats fall flat for readers and how you might revise to create more cohesion and meaning between the events in your story.
If you want to watch the Parker and Stone video, here it is!
2 thoughts on “Plotting, Brought to You by South Park”
Oooh, this is good! Thank you!!!!
Yeah! I’m hoping to write more blog posts this year. So if you have any requests for subjects, let me know!