A Storytelling Lesson from South Park

South Park Art at MacWorld 2012

A while back I gave some tips for tightening stories. One of them was to watch out for “and then” syndrome. That is, if you find yourself saying “and then” a lot, what you have “may not actually be a story, but just a long sequence of events.”

Then this weekend I came across this video of South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone making the very same point. Only more eloquently. (And profanely, of course.)

The video, which is just two minutes, wouldn’t embed correctly for me, so if you don’t want to follow the link, here’s the essence (they talk in “beats,” which are essentially the key points of your story):

“If the words ‘and then’ belong between those beats … you’ve got something pretty boring. What should happen, between every beat that you’ve written down, is either the word ‘therefore’ or ‘but’ … that gives you your causation.”

They’re discussing screenwriting, of course, but the rules are the same for any story. Don’t just string together a bunch of random events. Make sure they’re part of an overall narrative that propels the action forward.

Of course, all bets are off when you’re on the couch, glass of wine in hand, recounting the day’s events to your significant other. Sometimes you need a little therapy, free from the need to craft a tight story.

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