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View Full Version : Good Plotting Tip from Matt Stone and Trey Parker



Drachen Jager
09-10-2011, 02:38 AM
It seems almost stupidly obvious, but I've never seen it phrased this way before.

Between scenes, insert the words, "And then..." if they fit, something is wrong with your scene.

They suggest that, "Therefore" should fit, giving a flow, or "But", when the next scene throws a wrench into the works.

This creates a much tighter flow between scenes, each of which builds on the last or throws a curveball, instead of one scene happening, and then something else happens, and then something else happens and so on.

For the full video (where they do a much better job of explaining it) see below.

http://brassbolts.blogspot.com/2011/09/and-then-vs-but-and-therefore.html

Celia Cyanide
09-10-2011, 03:48 AM
That is awesome, I love those 2!

Miss Plum
09-10-2011, 04:40 AM
That's how I've explained the problem with "episodic" writing. If you can describe the plot by saying A, then B, then C, then D and so on, it's episodic. It should be A, so B, so C, so D, etc. Each event should lead to the next.

Margarita Skies
09-10-2011, 05:29 AM
Thanks for sharing this with us! :Thumbs:

bearilou
09-10-2011, 05:51 PM
*searches for the LIKE button*

It is intuitive and yet put so simply really has made it stick for me.

Ari Meermans
09-10-2011, 06:03 PM
This is the single most effective writing tip I've ever read. I've purchased many books on the craft that go chapter-after-chapter dancing around this point but don't give you that palm-to-face experience like this simple tip does.

JSDR
09-10-2011, 08:01 PM
Thanks dude. Awesome, simple, easy to remember!

leahzero
09-10-2011, 08:13 PM
Ooooooh, can I play devil's advocate?

This isn't bad advice for simple, linear narratives. And since they're delivering it to a writing class (?), that's fine. Covers the basics for beginners.

But sometimes "and then" is apropos, e.g. when staging a mystery/thriller/suspense where the connections between events aren't yet known, or when constructing multiple plot lines that later converge, or when shifting back and forth chronologically, etc. Which are all things MTS and literary fiction do frequently.

Straightforward advice for straightforward narratives, yes, but not something that should necessarily be generalized.

Drachen Jager
09-10-2011, 08:20 PM
I think it's a good rule for writers. Like any other good rule for writers it's fine to break it, so long as you understand you're breaking a rule and you have a plan to make the benefits outweigh the downside.

So, yeah, I think you can generalise rules like this, with the understanding that we're adults and know that any rule can be broken, if it's broken for a purpose.

Celia Cyanide
09-11-2011, 01:09 AM
This is the single most effective writing tip I've ever read. I've purchased many books on the craft that go chapter-after-chapter dancing around this point but don't give you that palm-to-face experience like this simple tip does.

Exactly! It's such a perfect way to remember something we probably already know, but can't quite put into words.

I think their plotting is excellent. Sometimes, when I watch the epic 3-part South Park episodes, I get so caught up in the plot that forget it's supposed to be a comedy show. The story really draws me in.

HapiSofi
09-11-2011, 07:15 PM
Ooooooh, can I play devil's advocate?

This isn't bad advice for simple, linear narratives. And since they're delivering it to a writing class (?), that's fine. Covers the basics for beginners.

Bit condescending, there. This isn't Pat the Bunny (http://www.amazon.com/Pat-Bunny-Touch-Feel-Book/dp/0307120007/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1315752242&sr=8-1)-level advice. There's very little fiction to which it doesn't apply.


But sometimes "and then" is apropos, e.g. when staging a mystery/thriller/suspense where the connections between events aren't yet known,

This isn't about what the audience knows; it's about what the writer knows, and the logical and consequential relationships between scenes. Exposition is a different issue.


or when constructing multiple plot lines that later converge, or when shifting back and forth chronologically, etc. Which are all things MTS and literary fiction do frequently.

First, that isn't "and then"; at minimum, it's "meanwhile".

Second, plots with multiple/converging storylines, shifting chronology, etc., need this kind of basic checking more than straight linear narratives do. Clarity and consequential linkage are good things.


Straightforward advice for straightforward narratives, yes, but not something that should necessarily be generalized.

Oh, nonsense. Straightforward advice doesn't just apply to straightforward narrative. There's no morphological relationship. Almost all good writing advice is straightforward, and it applies to complex narrative every bit as much as it does to the more linear sort.

I get the impression that you're uncomfortable with this test for plots. Want to talk more about it?

kuwisdelu
09-11-2011, 09:33 PM
First, that isn't "and then"; at minimum, it's "meanwhile".

I was going to ask where "meanwhile" comes into the picture.

Eva Lefoy
09-11-2011, 11:04 PM
Well, so what you're saying is - your main point - is it's best to have the character's previous story actions and choices inform, directly lead, and in most cases - if entirely possible - cause the next situation or sequence of events to happen.

And the thing about space, the colour of space, your basic space colour, is that it's black.

Phaeal
09-12-2011, 04:11 PM
Pat the Bunny is dreadfully episodic. Although you might say that it's making a bold statement about the essential phenomenological disjunction of subjective experience in the post-Dick-and-Jane world.

bearilou
09-12-2011, 05:00 PM
Although you might say that it's making a bold statement about the essential phenomenological disjunctivity of subjective experience in the post-Dick-and-Jane world.

I need a brain-explode gif.

Shadow_Ferret
09-12-2011, 06:23 PM
It seems almost stupidly obvious, but I've never seen it phrased this way before.

Between scenes, insert the words, "And then..." if they fit, something is wrong with your scene.

They suggest that, "Therefore" should fit, giving a flow, or "But", when the next scene throws a wrench into the works.

This creates a much tighter flow between scenes, each of which builds on the last or throws a curveball, instead of one scene happening, and then something else happens, and then something else happens and so on.

For the full video (where they do a much better job of explaining it) see below.

http://brassbolts.blogspot.com/2011/09/and-then-vs-but-and-therefore.html

This just shattered my entire dream of ever becoming a writer. Everything I write can be summed up as "And then..." :(

But then, I think everything I read can be summed up with "and then..." so maybe I just don't understand what they're saying.

James D. Macdonald
09-12-2011, 07:51 PM
I was going to ask where "meanwhile" comes into the picture.


"Meanwhile" is back at the ranch.

Snitchcat
09-12-2011, 08:14 PM
Interesting way to express cause and effect in a story, complex or simple.

Thanks for posting that. :)

Phaeal
09-12-2011, 10:03 PM
"Meanwhile" is back at the ranch.

Patting bunnies.

PrincessofPersia
09-12-2011, 10:58 PM
This just shattered my entire dream of ever becoming a writer. Everything I write can be summed up as "And then..." :(

But then, I think everything I read can be summed up with "and then..." so maybe I just don't understand what they're saying.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought this was a tad academic.

bearilou
09-12-2011, 11:12 PM
I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought this was a tad academic.

I have it in my head to grab a book and go through it, reading with just that intention of seeing it in action. Or not.

Thing is, I was reviewing something I'd written recently in a flurry of activity and noticed that it was really very simplistic in flow. It was 'this happened. then this occurred. then this...'

As compared to something I'd given a little more thought to while writing it down, making sure there was flow and that it moved cleanly, and couldn't really apply 'and then this and then that and then...' On occasion it did, but it wasn't quite as prevalent as in my other one which it existed almost completely.

*continues to think on it and how it would be applied*

shelleyo
09-12-2011, 11:26 PM
This just shattered my entire dream of ever becoming a writer. Everything I write can be summed up as "And then..." :(

But then, I think everything I read can be summed up with "and then..." so maybe I just don't understand what they're saying.

Every scene everywhere (except those done in a funky order) actually can have "and then" between them.

What they're saying is that you should be able to substitute "therefore" or "but" between scenes and have it work.

One scene should be a direct result of the last (with therefore between them), such as one scene directly causing the action in the next. Snively Whiplash ties Nell to the tracks, therefore Dudley must race across town and the pit of snakes to save her.

Or it should be in conflict with the last (have but between them) because one scene is a complication resulting from the last. Dudley rescues Nell, but Snively is setting a trap that they'll fall prey to the minute they walk away from the tracks.

If a whole thing goes and the only thing that fits between scenes is "and then" there'll be a lack of causation and conflict, and it'll probably end up pretty boring.

I think this is something many writers do instinctively without focusing on it, so it can take a minute to parse when they explain it. :)

Shelley

PrincessofPersia
09-12-2011, 11:26 PM
I have it in my head to grab a book and go through it, reading with just that intention of seeing it in action. Or not.

Thing is, I was reviewing something I'd written recently in a flurry of activity and noticed that it was really very simplistic in flow. It was 'this happened. then this occurred. then this...'

As compared to something I'd given a little more thought to while writing it down, making sure there was flow and that it moved cleanly, and couldn't really apply 'and then this and then that and then...' On occasion it did, but it wasn't quite as prevalent as in my other one which it existed almost completely.

*continues to think on it and how it would be applied*

The problem is that "and then" can always be applied. Whatever the reason (or lack of one) for the next scene occurring at that time, it is Scene A, and then Scene B. Scene B may or may not be required, but it comes after Scene A, so "and then" inherently applies.

Making some line where it becomes "therefore" is purely academic and arbitrary. It's just semantics. I can read any story and say "This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, and then it was over." I understand that they're saying you should be able to work backwards and say that Scene C happened because of Scene B, which happened because of Scene A, but that seems painfully obvious.

bearilou
09-12-2011, 11:34 PM
Making some line where it becomes "therefore" is purely academic and arbitrary. It's just semantics. I can read any story and say "This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, and then it was over." I understand that they're saying you should be able to work backwards and say that Scene C happened because of Scene B, which happened because of Scene A, but that seems painfully obvious.

Not sure...are you saying it seems painfully obvious that scene C must have happened as a result of scene B which must have happened because of scene A in general reading or in retrospect in looking back at the sequence of events?

Frankly, the moment someone says 'it should be obvious', I'm instantly suspicious. Things are not always as easy as 'all you got to do is' and 'it should be obvious to the reader'.

Because it's not.

PrincessofPersia
09-12-2011, 11:39 PM
Not sure...are you saying it seems painfully obvious that scene C must have happened as a result of scene B which must have happened because of scene A in general reading or in retrospect in looking back at the sequence of events?

Frankly, the moment someone says 'it should be obvious', I'm instantly suspicious. Things are not always as easy as 'all you got to do is' and 'it should be obvious to the reader'.

Because it's not.

No, I must have phrased it poorly. What I'm saying is that it seems obvious that Scene C should necessarily flow from Scene B. Making sure that happens isn't always easy, and simply throwing a magic phrase between them isn't going to make it much easier IMHO.

ETA: Whatever happens in Scene C, it should have a reason. That's what I think they're trying to say, but I don't think this exercise is an effective way to realise that. Just my opinion, of course.

shelleyo
09-12-2011, 11:43 PM
No, I must have phrased it poorly. What I'm saying is that it seems obvious that Scene C should necessarily flow from Scene B. Making sure that happens isn't always easy, and simply throwing a magic phrase between them isn't going to make it much easier IMHO.

I think their point is that the phrase will only show you if you're doing it right. If no therefores or buts fit between the scenes, something's probably wrong.

I really think most writers, especially those that read a lot and have written a little bit, do this without thinking. It could be really helpful for those who have problems with story structure, or beginners who feel like they're kind of all over the place when telling a story.

Shelley

bearilou
09-12-2011, 11:47 PM
ETA: Whatever happens in Scene C, it should have a reason. That's what I think they're trying to say, but I don't think this exercise is an effective way to realise that. Just my opinion, of course.

AH! Gotcha. Thank you.

Well, see, here's the thing. If it is obvious for you, then no, it probably wouldn't be an effective way. In this stage of your writing you probably have no need for that kind of examination of structure.

But for me to take the time to see if it fits, to see if it works, to learn to recognize it, won't be ill-spent. I've had quite a few ah-HA moments on this board since I've been here and my knowledge of writing, the act of writing with a scene/structure/plot/story in mind and breaking it down into technical specifics, has been a real eye-opener for me. It's how I learn and I've really learned more from it than 'just do it', which is the advice given so much of the time, but hasn't worked out really well for me so far.

edit: Which is what shelleyo just said. oops.

PrincessofPersia
09-12-2011, 11:47 PM
I really think most writers, especially those that read a lot and have written a little bit, do this without thinking.

This is exactly my point. It's an academic exercise for something we do anyway.


It could be really helpful for those who have problems with story structure, or beginners who feel like they're kind of all over the place when telling a story.

Shelley

If it helps, do it. I'd never tell someone not to use a technique that worked for them, and I don't mean to come across as looking down on anyone who likes this method.

PrincessofPersia
09-12-2011, 11:53 PM
AH! Gotcha. Thank you.

Thank you! One of my issues is assuming everyone understands what I'm thinking. :D



Well, see, here's the thing. If it is obvious for you, then no, it probably wouldn't be an effective way. In this stage of your writing you probably have no need for that kind of examination of structure.

But for me to take the time to see if it fits, to see if it works, to learn to recognize it, won't be ill-spent. I've had quite a few ah-HA moments on this board since I've been here and my knowledge of writing, the act of writing with a scene/structure/plot/story in mind and breaking it down into technical specifics, has been a real eye-opener for me. It's how I learn and I've really learned more from it than 'just do it', which is the advice given so much of the time, but hasn't worked out really well for me so far.

I have had my own ah-HA moments on this board, which is why I continue to come here. It's a great resource, and most of the people here are phenomenal for advice, support or a mix of the two.

Not to repeat myself, but if it works for you, then by all means keep doing it. Just because it doesn't do anything for me doesn't mean I think it's totally worthless.

Just as a side note, I hope no one took offence at what I said. I enjoy the discussions on this board, but I understand that I can sometimes come off as gruff.

lastlittlebird
09-13-2011, 12:16 AM
Awww... I can't watch the video in my region. I tried looking on Youtube but couldn't spot it, anyone have another link?

BigWords
09-13-2011, 02:37 AM
I think I'm doing something wrong - most of the longer works I have done are

A, which is contradicted by B, which is contradicted by C, which is contradicted by D, which is contradicted by E, and so on.

MarkEsq
09-13-2011, 05:17 PM
I think I'm doing something wrong - most of the longer works I have done are

A, which is contradicted by B, which is contradicted by C, which is contradicted by D, which is contradicted by E, and so on.

I think that means you are doing it right. . . the way I read the advice, it says there needs to be a connection between your passages/chapters. They can lead to each other, contradict each other, or otherwise bugger around with each other. But as long as there is some connection, a thread that pulls the reader along, you are doing the right thing.

I think. :)

Drachen Jager
09-15-2011, 12:39 AM
That was my impression. Essentially IMO they're saying, "Don't include a scene just because it's cool/funny/whatever unless you tie it in with the scenes around it." The tighter you get the cause/effect the tighter your story will be. Now of course, stories don't HAVE to be tight, but it certainly helps if you want to sell lots of books.


I think that means you are doing it right. . . the way I read the advice, it says there needs to be a connection between your passages/chapters. They can lead to each other, contradict each other, or otherwise bugger around with each other. But as long as there is some connection, a thread that pulls the reader along, you are doing the right thing.

I think. :)

TNK
09-15-2011, 10:04 AM
Awww... I can't watch the video in my region. I tried looking on Youtube but couldn't spot it, anyone have another link?


I can't watch it either. :e2cry:

Drachen Jager
09-17-2011, 09:07 PM
I can't watch it either. :e2cry:

If you guys use Firefox, there is an easy hack around the region encoding. It takes only a minute and then you can watch Daily Show clips and other US only content without hassle.



(copied from Reddit)
For Canadian viewers, if you are using firefox, install the following addon:
http://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/967 then:
1) In Firefox, Go to tools->modify headers
2) From the drop down box on the left select add
3) Then enter: "X-Forwarded-For" in the first input box without the quotation marks
4) Enter: "12.13.14.15" in the second input box without the quotation marks
5) Leave the last input box empty, and save the filter, and enable it
http://imgur.com/Feb4.png
6) Click the 'Configuration' tab on the right then proceed to check the 'always on' button.
Close the Modify Headers box and it should work.

lastlittlebird
09-17-2011, 11:26 PM
Thank you!

Marumae
01-29-2012, 11:59 PM
Wow, Great Advice! I would argue against this being common sense for a lot writers, because I think a lot of writers (mostly newbies and inexperienced ones) come up with stories instead of plots. I know I do.

Example someone used on another topic on plots,

"The King died and then the Queen died." A story

"The King died, therefore;the Queen died of Grief." A story with a plot.

you see what I mean? The first sentence tells us what happened, the second one brings us along for the action. It's easy as hell to come up with a story, but to make it work all together? That's a plot and I see a lot of writers make this mistake, professional ones too.

So I think Matt and Trey did a pretty good job, this is probably (for me) the best writing advice I've ever heard :) besides "Just Fsking Write."

Silver-Midnight
02-18-2012, 06:35 AM
Wow. Finding this both helped and hurt me. I think my latest UF was done with the "And then" type of thing. However, that's mostly because I just kept throwing in obstacles instead probably actually plotting. Ack.

Kitty Pryde
02-18-2012, 06:55 AM
I saw Matt+Trey talking about this in the little South Park documentary they did. Their very short version of this rule is "change all the ands to but or so". It is really interesting advice for moving the plot along in an engaging way. But on the other hand, those guys have come up with some terrible and disjointed plots with that rule!

Silver-Midnight
02-18-2012, 07:57 AM
I saw Matt+Trey talking about this in the little South Park documentary they did. Their very short version of this rule is "change all the ands to but or so". It is really interesting advice for moving the plot along in an engaging way. But on the other hand, those guys have come up with some terrible and disjointed plots with that rule!

That's the truth.

Celia Cyanide
02-18-2012, 07:57 AM
But on the other hand, those guys have come up with some terrible and disjointed plots with that rule!

They've also come up with some great ones. And they have gotten consistently better since the show started.

Silver-Midnight
02-18-2012, 08:44 AM
They've also come up with some great ones. And they have gotten consistently better since the show started.

Also true, but some of their episodes I didn't really like as much as others truthfully. I mean I look at "South Park" differently than I would a novel, at least a non-comedic one. "South Park", for me at least, can get away with a lot more, logically speaking, than a novel could. However, again, not trying to offend anyone, but that's just me.

Kitty Pryde
02-18-2012, 08:50 AM
They've also come up with some great ones. And they have gotten consistently better since the show started.

I dunno! Season 15 is dubious. Kyle sees all movies and films and music and pop culture as giant crapping butts, so he becomes depressed, so he is diagnosed with Aspergers, so Cartman decides he himself has "ass-burgers", but he thinks that means he should store actual hamburgers in his ass, but it turns out that everyone likes them, so he starts a burger franchise but he won't reveal the secret ingredient (ass), but when everyone finds out, chaos ensues. Meanwhile Kyle goes to an Aspergers clinic, but it turns out everyone there is faking it, so they teach him to be an alcoholic but they do it as a spoof of The Matrix. So they end up getting really drunk and staging a shootout. Those episodes were particularly dodgy. I've been a SP fan since childhood, but they don't always plot in a pleasing or coherent fashion.

WriteMinded
02-19-2012, 10:09 PM
A helpful little tip.

Y'all are engaging in over-think.

Nightd
02-22-2012, 06:21 PM
wish I can see this video.

not viewable in Canada and haven't been able to find it on youtube or elsewhere =(

Solunar
02-22-2012, 06:31 PM
Awesome! Really like this tip. Thanks for posting it. It feels like something I already intuitively do, but haven't identified. Having it stated so obviously makes it easier to create snappy plots.

Drachen Jager
02-22-2012, 08:24 PM
wish I can see this video.

not viewable in Canada and haven't been able to find it on youtube or elsewhere =(

If you have Firefox, get the Modify Headers add-on.

Action = Add
Name=X-Forwarded-For
Value=12.13.14.15

Once you have that set up, turn Modify Headers on and you'll be able to watch most region blocked videos (including this one)

artemis31386
02-23-2012, 08:43 AM
Good tip from those two. It all boils down to style but I think its a good tip nonetheless.

Silver-Midnight
02-23-2012, 09:50 AM
I dunno! Season 15 is dubious. Kyle sees all movies and films and music and pop culture as giant crapping butts, so he becomes depressed, so he is diagnosed with Aspergers, so Cartman decides he himself has "ass-burgers", but he thinks that means he should store actual hamburgers in his ass, but it turns out that everyone likes them, so he starts a burger franchise but he won't reveal the secret ingredient (ass), but when everyone finds out, chaos ensues. Meanwhile Kyle goes to an Aspergers clinic, but it turns out everyone there is faking it, so they teach him to be an alcoholic but they do it as a spoof of The Matrix. So they end up getting really drunk and staging a shootout. Those episodes were particularly dodgy. I've been a SP fan since childhood, but they don't always plot in a pleasing or coherent fashion.

Wait. I thought that was Stan, not Kyle, that all of that happened to.

Nightd
02-25-2012, 12:59 AM
If you have Firefox, get the Modify Headers add-on.

Action = Add
Name=X-Forwarded-For
Value=12.13.14.15

Once you have that set up, turn Modify Headers on and you'll be able to watch most region blocked videos (including this one)

THANK YOU very much! Can see it now.

Nightd
02-25-2012, 01:10 AM
But sometimes "and then" is apropos, e.g. when staging a mystery/thriller/suspense where the connections between events aren't yet known, or when constructing multiple plot lines that later converge, or when shifting back and forth chronologically, etc. Which are all things MTS and literary fiction do frequently.

Straightforward advice for straightforward narratives, yes, but not something that should necessarily be generalized.

I was trying to think of the best way to say this, but you've summed it all up for me.

Celia Cyanide
02-25-2012, 01:36 AM
Wait. I thought that was Stan, not Kyle, that all of that happened to.

It was actually Stan, yes. Kyle was working with Cartman making hamburgers.