April 5, 2015

Simplest Way to Make Your Films More Interesting: Use 'Therefore' & 'But' Instead of 'And Then'

While Tony Zhou's most recent video essay is about creating better video essays, the lessons within are just as powerful for traditional storytelling. To advance your story in a more interesting way and keep the audience's attention, using "therefore" and "but" instead of "and then" can make a huge difference:

Orson Welles was clearly ahead of his time in a lot of ways, and F for Fake has a ton of fantastic lessons. While you might think taking advice from Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park is a little strange, they've been successful storytellers for nearly two decades now. It's one of the better pieces of storytelling advice I've come across, and it's also one of the simplest. It's really easy to just keep adding to your story with events that simply add up to: "and then this thing happened, and then this other thing happened." Stories can be much more interesting, however, when you're saying "therefore" and "but" between the events:

"But" or "therefore" gives you causation between each beat, and that's a story. Not "and then." 

Here is the extended version of the NYU talk used in the Tony Zhou video essay:

They also talked about these storytelling techniques in much more detail in The Making of South Park: 6 Days to Air. Here's a clip from that:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLe20LdqKbw

Obviously good storytelling, in any form, is about more than just this technique, but it is one of the easiest ways to make sure that you're not just gluing scenes together that don't really belong, and therefore don't move your story forward.       

Your Comment

9 Comments

Funny -- I forced my girlfriend to watch F for Fake not even 8 hours ago today... She loved it... *SPOILER*... until she figured out she was duped.

"Therefore" and "but" are gold nuggets of writing advice. I've read my fair share of screenplay books (from Truby and McKee to Snyder and Aristotle) but none of them had the immediate potency of Parker's "But" and "Therefore." Causation is absolutely critical to building a strong narrative. I've never consciously used "Meanwhile" but I find my natural storytelling inclinations push me in that direction anyway; cut to something of interest to remedy boredom.

Couple those 3 key words with the law of diminishing returns (ie. your reversals/stakes/setbacks/challenges must always increase, never decrease in severity) and you've got a strong foundation for a gripping narrative.

***Hard Earned Advice***: When your reader/producer/creative exec gives you the note, "Your scenes feel episodic," they really mean you have no causation to justify your scenes. So use the advice on this page!

Great post, Joe.

April 5, 2015 at 1:30AM

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"She loved it... *SPOILER*... until she figured out she was duped." So she doesn't love it now?

April 6, 2015 at 11:29AM

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Enrique Godinez
Director/Producer/Actor
479

Correct. :/

April 7, 2015 at 1:53PM

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But why exactly?

May 10, 2015 at 3:22AM

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Enrique Godinez
Director/Producer/Actor
479

And then?

April 5, 2015 at 1:49AM, Edited April 5, 1:49AM

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Edgar More
All
1163

Another great post Tony. I wish I had watched these during film school :)

April 5, 2015 at 6:45AM

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Richard Anderson
Assistant Editor/Editor in Training
74

Does somebody could be charitable enough and make the Stone/Parker lecture available somewhere else ? The video cannot be played in Canada. Thanks!

April 6, 2015 at 9:36AM

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It's amazing. I learn more about filmmaking here than in actual class.

April 8, 2015 at 2:52PM

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Daniel Cho
DP, Gaffer, Grip
158

Film critic HULK explained it wonderfully in his "101 screenwriting" book. If you didn´t read it, go ahead! (the best screenwriting book I ever read).

April 27, 2015 at 3:57AM, Edited April 27, 3:57AM

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