Can you believe South Park began its 21st season this week? I can’t – not because it makes me feel so goaddamned old, but that creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have managed to keep it fresh through 278 episodes.
First off, I’m not a die-hard South Park fan – I’ve probably watched three episodes in the last fifteen years but, while I enjoyed it to begin with, I can’t bring myself to watch episode after episode of it or The Simpsons and, unlike one of my best friends, I get bored after about two Family Guys in a row.
Today we’re going to take a real quick look at A/B/C Stories although, with a runtime of twenty-one minutes, the season 21 premieré, White People Renovating Houses only features a Story A and Story B whereas most hour-long shows feature a Story A, Story B and Story C.
Story A is the main narrative and dramatic core of a movie or episode and therefore features your main characters presented with a problem they must overcome – Intention/Obstruction as Aaron Sorkin would say.
It is seen through the eyes of the protagonist. In procedurals, this will be the main characters solving the case of the week… a murder in a cop show, a monster in The X-Files.
Story B is a parallel storyline (or “thread”) which can follow primary or secondary characters. Its job is to add depth. In a procedural, it may be a detective’s home life (think Luther’s divorce) or may provide a different perspective of events through different eyes. B Stories are vital, if for no other reason than enabling you to cut away from the main story thread.
Story C (also called a “runner“) can serve two purposes – it often provides light relief or can are about ongoing series arcs which pay off further down the line. There can also be D, E and F and even AAA stories, but ABC is the most common.
In Die Hard, Story A is obviously John McClane stopping the terrorists in the Nakatomi Building while Story B sees John trying to win back his estranged wife’s love. Story C is the cop’s story (the guy who calls John ‘Roy Rogers’) and the FBI’s bungled involvement.
Back to South Park S21E01, which doesn’t have a Story C. We open with Story A (though it could be argued A and B have been flipped in this ep) with Cartman et al having fun and laughing their butts off instructing Amazon’s Alexa to say rude, childish words, until they are interrupted by Cartman’s girlfriend, Heidi. She wants to talk about their relationship but Cartman gets angry and blames her for humiliating him in front of his friends.
Across town, in Story B, TV host, Randy is trying to help the community by renovating people’s houses and present his show, the perfectly realised “White People Renovating Houses”.
Randy is interrupted by an angry mob of Confederate flag-waving white nationalists who are taking om the liberals by protesting the fact their jobs are being replaced by Amazon, Google Home and Siri.
After several encounters with Heidi – who just wants to talk and resolve their problems, she tells Cartman “we have to communicate to respect each other’s opinions” and (after he tries to silence her as he does Alexa device) that he “wants to be heard but doesn’t want to listen.”
Heidi’s two lines could easily be uttered by Randy when dealing with the white nationalists, and hey presto – Randy and the white nationalists’ Story B exactly mirrors Cartman and Heidi’s Story A.
You with me? When writing your Story B, it must mirror and add depth to Story A. If it doesn’t you’re gonna need to read more about ABC Stories and probably a rewrite. Good Luck!
South Park continues next Tuesday, 19th September on Comedy Central.