One of the very best things that I’ve been introduced to by my screenwriting teacher Gavin Williams (twitter@gavstatic) is the ‘But…Therefore’ approach to plotting. And I would never have come across it because the advice comes from two writer’s whose work I have no interest in – Trey Parker and Matt Stone. They are the creators of South Park which I detest with a passion.
However, their writing advice is some of the very best advice on plotting that I have ever come across, and I’ve read the books and most of the internet when it comes to learning how to plot a story. The ‘But…Therefore’ method is the best in my opinion, and while I was introduced to the idea for screenwriting, I think it should can apply to prose as well.
In my last post for Book (Re)Writing I talked you all through How to Lose the Plot , where I sat with index cards and wrote down a basic idea of what happens in each chapter. A beat sheet of my plot, where I learnt just how much my plans for the later books have resulted in me making additions to ‘From the Ashes’ in order to lay the foundations for the later books.
Essentially, I discovered that a large proportion of my first book ‘From the Ashes’ is there purely to make ‘To Light and Inferno’ and ‘Into the Flames’ work. NOPE!!! My first book should be there to be my first book, and surprise, surprise I’ve got stuck writing book three. There are many reasons, some of which have nothing to do with writing, that explain why I’ve stopped. One of them is most definitely the plot.
I have a plot, but as I alluded to in my previous post, if you have to imagine my plot as a pathway, you’d have to imagine a steep mountain pass requiring specialist equipment to traverse. I certainly don’t want an easy plot, but the reason I stopped because of plot is because I had lost control, and the story was going in a completely different direction than I have ever intended. The story is fine, however it is going nowhere; what I’ve written so far will be used elsewhere in different stories. They aren’t a waste, but they aren’t want I want. I have a plan of where the series is going to end, and that will never change.
But on the path I’m on I won’t get there, therefore I will have to change the methods I use to get there.
Enter in the ‘But…Therefore’ method. The principle of the method is using the beat sheet method, which I have already done to my book, and look at the transition from scene to scene. One scene happens to drives the plot forward, the next scene should then be a ‘but’ this happens as an obstacle, and then ‘therefore’ the characters need to do this, ‘but’ this then happens, ‘therefore’ the characters…
‘But’, ‘Therefore’, ‘But’, ‘Therefore’, ‘But’, ‘Therefore’. Those are the only two words that should be used to describe how one scene moves into another, and in quicker paced scenes, how paragraphs (sentences even) moves into the next.
If the description you have of a transition is ‘and then’, figure out a way to change it to a ‘but’ or a ‘therefore’, because an ‘and then’ slows down the plot and makes it lazy.
So when I looked at the transition of my book, what did I find. Surprisingly a lot less ‘and then’ than I had imagined. I had a quite a lot of ‘but’ and ‘therefore’. I mean admittedly looking at the transition from section one into section two is a ‘and then’ this section happens and it is a massive weak link in the book, but overall once I was able to see the plot of my first book (excluding the plots I’ve added for my second and third book) I do have a pretty decent-ish plot in there.
‘But’, let’s put it this way, as the titles might suggest my books have a lot of symbolism within them associated with Phoenixes. My book is more like a beast, a dragon.
Dragons are the enemy.
‘Therefore’, there is a lot more other work that I have to do on my book as well, which will be the subject of later posts, but having done the beat sheet in How to Lose the Plot and then applied the ‘But…Therefore’ Method I have a much better set of ideas and weapons to use against the monster that is my book, ‘From the Ashes’.
And I highly recommend the method to anyone else.