FW#12 😬 What Fundraisers Can Learn About Storytelling From South Park (Srsly!)

published3 months ago
4 min read

The fundraising writing newsletter about your donor communications
South Park boys at school
Image Cred: Comedy Central

Welcome to the 12th issue of the newsletter all about your donor communications. I'm glad you're here! In this issue, I'll dive into a brilliant storytelling tip from the guys behind the long-running animated sitcom South Park.

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Chicago, Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Hi ,

Full disclosure: I’ve never actually seen a South Park episode in its entirety.

Frankly, I can only handle small doses of this satirical animated sitcom.

Some clips are fall-on-the-floor hilarious. Like the time a group of gnomes explains their business model to the boys. You’ve probably seen a few faulty plans like this one. (Warning: in typical South Park fashion, it includes some cussing.)

And other South Park clips? Well, the only thing that falls on the floor is my jaw. So I won’t link to any of those. (You’re welcome!)

But with 309 episodes and dozens of awards, including five Primetime Emmys, there’s one undeniable truth: the South Park team knows how to tell a story!

Recently, I watched the documentary 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park.

I was blown away.

The film centers around the co-creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, as they lead their team to make an entire episode in just 6 days. What a whirlwind!

Parker and Stone drop a few storytelling and writing gems. Seriously. Bright, shiny good ones!

I’m going to share one with you in the context of your fundraising storytelling. This tiny tweak will help you tell a story more concisely and dramatically.

The Rule of Replacing “Ands” in our Storytelling

At one point in the documentary, Trey Parker is frustrated. He’s up against a deadline, still has 5 more scenes to write, and has written too many words already.

This means he needs to tighten up the story to fit the show’s tidy 22-minute run time. Not an easy task.

At that moment, the writing technique that is top-of-mind for Parker is called “The Rule of Replacing ‘Ands.’”

Parker explains a simple way to help increase drama and prevent a story from becoming episodic.

Many of us fall into the pattern of telling a story as a series of events: This happened. Then this happened. Then that other thing happened.

We forget that a good story creates tension, then releases it... creates tension, then releases it...

To prevent dull storytelling, Parker suggests replacing “ands” with “buts” and “therefores.”

“Whenever you can... that makes for better writing,” he says. Doing so helps to convey cause and effect to show the complications and conflict in the story.

Here’s an example I wrote to show you episodic writing:

See if you can feel the droning on of the events:

Four-year-old Abraham from Ethiopia started having a difficult time seeing the chalkboard at school. His learning suffered and his grades fell.

Then his teacher, Ms. Kia, spoke to Abraham’s parents, who noticed his worsening eyesight at home. His mother Aida said that he would sometimes fall over when he played soccer or ran around the yard with his siblings. Then Abraham’s parents realized that it might have something to do with his vision.

With no eye clinic nearby, his worried parents ended up having to unenroll him from school because of his worsening eyesight. And then Abraham’s parents learned about a vision screening program coming to the village in a few weeks.

Well, that was painfully boring. 😴😴😴😴😴😴😴 It reads more like a police report than an engaging story.

Now, let’s break the story into beats.

Instead of having a sequence of events (“ands” and “thens”), I will insert “therefore” and “but” statements to help create cause and effect to heighten the drama.

You’ll see that I won’t always use the words “therefore” and “but” because that would feel like a back-and-forth tennis match.

Rather, the concepts of “therefore” and “but” are what will guide me through the story beats.

Ultimately, this technique will help plot the story, so it’s filled with twists and turns.

The example rewritten using beats to plot the story's cause and effect:

Beat 1:
Four-year-old Abraham from Ethiopia loves soccer, writing, and playing with his siblings.
Beat 2: (But)
But he had difficulty seeing clearly.
Beat 3: (Therefore)
Abraham squinted to see the chalkboard at school, and sometimes he’d fall over at home while playing. His parents were worried.
Beat 4: (But)
His eyesight worsened because there were no eye clinics nearby for him to seek treatment.
Beat 5: (Therefore)
Sadly, Abraham had to drop out of school.
Beat 6: (But)
His parents were relieved to learn about a vision screening program from XYZ Charity coming to their village.
Beat 7: (Therefore)
Now Abraham will be able to get the treatment he needs to see his world clearly again.
… and so on.

If this story is for an appeal, the upcoming beats should position the donor to solve the problem. Or, in the case of a donor newsletter, the upcoming beats would tell the story’s happy ending, thanks to the donor. 😃

Want to see Trey Parker's explanation of The Rule of Replacing "Ands"?

Watch this 2-minute clip. He and Matt Stone visited students at NYU and gave them this piece of writing advice. Gold!

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For Fundraising Excellence, Rely on Expertise, Not Opinions by Simone Joyaux (The incredible Simone was working on this blog post when she suddenly passed. Her legacy lives on! 💗)

Department of Rolling Eyes 🙄

...because you've probably been on the receiving end of a thin and thoughtless creative brief or plan.

twitter profile avatar
Tom Fishburne
May 2nd 2021

Thanks for being here, ! I'll be back in 2 weeks with more tiny tweaks that can make your fundraising writing more successful. 🎉

All my best,

image of Julie Cooper

Julie Cooper
Fundraising Copywriter
JB Cooper LLC


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