Todd VanDerWeff makes a brilliant case for why most writing fails. We too often use “and then” as the connective tissue in a story.
Riffing off of Tony Zhou’s video essay F for Fake (1973) – How to Structure a Video Essay, VanDerWeff describes the three words that structure all great narrative fiction and nonfiction stories: but, therefore and meanwhile.
Here’s how each of these words works in storytelling.
But: This introduces the idea of opposition. The hero has done something, but the villain has done something to oppose it.
Therefore: This introduces the idea of progression. The hero has done something, and therefore the world adjusts to her actions (usually with some new struggle the hero must overcome).
Meanwhile: This introduces the idea of parallelism, of two things happening at the same time, so we can always cut to something else. The hero is saving the world. Meanwhile, her friend is off dealing with the fallout.
These aren’t just good words for fiction writers; they’re good concepts for all writers to keep in mind.