The But & Therefore Rule

Matt Stone and Trey Parker are the creators of South Park.

They want each episode to have a sense of cause and effect, tension and rising action. To do that, they’ve studied the science of effective storytelling. They noticed that boring stories build off the words “And Then” while entertaining ones used “But & Therefore.”

They tested the epiphany with a giant whiteboard in their writer’s room. While storyboarding ideas, they removed stories where they wanted to put the words “And Then” between each section. For example, the story read: “Jimmy went to the mall, and then he realized he was tired when he stepped inside, and then he got a coffee, and then he walked back to the parking lot, and then he drove home.” 

Borrrrring. The story lacks tension without “But & Therefore” moments. 

However, swapping the “And Then” moments with “But & Therefore” ones improves the story. It reads like this: “Jimmy went to the mall, but realized he was tired when he stepped inside. Therefore, he picked up a coffee. But since he was tired, he had parked in an illegal spot. Therefore, by the time he returned to the parking lot, his car had already been towed.” 

Now, you have conflict. Jimmy’s car is gone and his day has changed for the worse. 

Visualize your stories with a whiteboard, an outline, or Post-It Notes. Identify the relationships between scenes in your stories and replace the “And Then” examples with “But & Therefore” ones.

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