But / Therefore

Apr 11, 2023

We can take these beats of your outline, and if the words “and then” belong between those beats, you’re fucked, basically. You’ve got something really boring. What should happen between the beats of what you’ve written down is either the word “therefore” or “but.” That gives the causation between each beat, and that’s the story  — Paraphrased from Matt Stone and Trey Parker (South Park) Lecture at NYU

This is the best and simplest storytelling advice I’ve come across.

The episodes of South Park are short, so the writers don’t have extra room for scenes that don’t move the plot forward. The writers write episodes every week, so they don’t have room for complex storytelling sessions and rewriting. The but / therefore rule is so simple you could apply it in your head.

But, it’s advice that’s not just useful for writing scripts — focusing on causation distills any presentation into only the essentials (which, in turn, often makes it easier to follow). In fact, the most complex topics often need narratives the most — it’s easy to get lost in the weeds when you’re talking about things like Quantum Mechanics (Richard Feynman obsessed over narratives). It’s tough to filter out exactly what matters.