And Then vs But/Therefore

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the 9th installment of From the Writing Desk. Progress on AGK is chugging along fine, I’ll tell you more about it in the next episode. This episode, I want to discuss about something related to story structure.

I’ve noticed that my stories tend to feel like a series of chapters being strung together. Some of them felt like fillers, like they have no real point in the story. Or I feel like I’m just dragging the characters through the scenes that I’ve plotted out. This was a huge reason why I stopped working on the previous fantasy novel (working title – Warden of the Blades) I was writing.

So I did a little research, and remembered a video I saw about how good the Witcher 3’s side quests were, which in turn led me to one of the videos by Every Frame a Painting called F for Fake (1973) – How to Structure a Video Essay. (I really recommend watching it, even if you don’t have an interest in filmmaking or don’t plan on reading the rest of this post.) It was from watching the video again that I realized what the problem with my story was.

“If you tell a story that’s and then they, and then, and then, you’re in big trouble.”

– John Sturges.

A rather sizable portion of the book I was working on was a series of events that happen one after the other without really having a good connection to each other. It felt like a series of vignettes loosely tied together. The main character went to a city, and then he met with a friend, and then he went to a village to find a kid, and then he brought the kid along, and then they meet with a group of underground rebels, and then… You get the point. Sure, there was a reason why he went to find the kid, but it didn’t feel solid enough. He just went with it because he was told to do it, by me through an in world character. No wonder I felt like I was dragging the character through the story.

So how to fix this problem?

 “What should happen between every beat that you’ve written down is either the word therefore or but.”

– Trey Parker

The thinking behind this is to make every beat, or scene, link to one another in an interesting and logical manner. In a way, it engages the reader and makes the story interesting. A scene either causes the subsequent scene or the next scene takes a turn away from the path the previous scene was following. Therefore. But. It sounds simple, right?

However, therefore/but alone isn’t enough to make the story good if the beats themselves aren’t great. So while therefore/but is a great tool to use, using it alone isn’t going to make your story suddenly good. The beats themselves have to be good too. However, using therefore/but can help make your story more engaging.

I hope you can take something away from this and use it in your writing. In any case, happy writing!

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