Sunday, September 13, 2015

Tips: South Park Plotting

My favorite method for structuring a story is the "therefore, but" formula used by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park.

Each plot point of your story has to be connected by a "but" or a "therefore." If instead of those you use an "and then," that's a sign of weakness in your story. For example:

Charlie wants to escape his hometown, where he has been bullied all his life.


He runs away, boarding a ship to America.


The bullies also board the ship to America.

And then,

Charlie finds out he is the son of the fairy king Utykelodin.

Ideally we want to replace that last "and then" with a "but" or a "therefore."


Charlie rows a lifeboat out to a remote island.

But this isn't a story about a boy who survives on an island. This story is about Charlie the half-fairy prince discovering his powers. So what to do? You could create a new plot point—that's sometimes the answer—but it may seem forced. It is likely that the South Park method has revealed a flaw in your story. So let's revise from the beginning:

Charlie's mother tells him he is the son of the Fairy King.


Charlie boasts about it to the kids around town.


The townsfolk hate half-blood fairies.


They try to burn Charlie at the stake.


He boards a ship to America, vowing never to tell anyone of his heritage again.


The townsfolk have followed him on board. 


Charlie must use his fairy powers to survive the voyage.

While it's not a perfectly plotted story yet, it's stronger than it was before. When one plot point flows from the next, it pushes the pace and engages the reader. The story builds upon itself, raising tension, until it reaches its conclusion.

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