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What ‘South Park’ has to teach us about Plotting

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Who would have thought I would learn one of the best tricks for plotting from “South Park?” More specifically, from Matt Stone and Trey Parker. A while back the two creators were brought into a university class room to speak on plotting. This is when they dropped a major bombshell.

When plotting, if you can right “and then” between your scenes, then you have a weak story. What does that mean exactly? Here, I’ll demonstrate.

Jeff goes to the store and buys some milk. AND THEN he goes home.

It’s simple, but I think illustrates their point. You see, there is no conflict there. Nothing really exciting happens. Having your scenes linked by just one set of actions after another, that have no basis on the prior scene, then it will all fall flat.

So how do you save yourself from this terrible disaster?

That’s when they pull out the “But/Therefore” advice.

Now, if you can look at that same scene and plop in either “But” or “Therefore,” you’re starting to build conflict and interesting scenes. They begin to play off each other and propel the plot forward.

Taking our previous milk run story, what happens when we change it up?

Jeff goes to the store and buy some milk. BUT, all the milk is expired. THEREFORE he goes to complain. BUT, the manager doesn’t care. THEREFORE he gets angry. BUT, buries his anger and goes home. THEREFORE, when his dog pees on the carpet he overreacts.

You can see how that structure screams to have an interesting story attached to it. It wants to propel the action forward. I could very easily keep that story going, as mundane as it is, and still have more than what I did before.

Jeff goes to the store and buys some milk. AND THEN he goes home. AND THEN he complains to his wife about the milk being bad. AND THEN the dog pees on the carpet. AND THEN he cleans it up.

I think you get the point.

This is definitely going to be on my many edit passes. Checking to make sure that each scene is linked to each other appropriately — not literally with a BUT or THEREFORE. I’ll even make sure certain actions within a scene can follow this structure. In any good character interaction, this structure could work very well.

It was my good writing friend, Gary Henderson, that reminded me of this video. You also can read more about the structure on this blog — http://blog.janicehardy.com/2012/05/best-advice-on-plotting-ive-ever-heard.html

Or you can go straight to the video with Matt and Trey — http://www.mtvu.com/video/?vid=697767

It’s a powerful tool, and I can’t wait to use it.

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2 Comments

  1. beatbox32 says:

    So simple, yet genius. Thanks for sharing.

  2. mjgriffor says:

    This makes so much sense. i wish i had thought of it. Thank you for sharing

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