Abridging (AKA: Cutting) Literature

Abridging (AKA: Cutting) Literature

To create a cutting of a larger work, you must first be an effective reader and learn something about storytelling, as well. This section will guide you through 3 steps that can be repeated for best results:

Step 1: Develop a deeper understand of the story and how elements of the plot work together.

Step 2: Confirm elements of plot and text that you want to keep or remove.

Step 3: Assemble selected chunks and fragments of the larger story to form an 8-9-minute version of the story (AKA: an abridgment/cutting).

Step 1: Read Actively & Critically

The follow tips should help you read actively (with more thought, emotion, and creativity) and critically (with more attention to detail and the mechanics of storytelling).

By reading the story aloud and applying a basic understanding of “the dramatic arc,” you will:

Active reading is a process by which readers actively and creatively make meaning from a text, as opposed to passively and objectively receiving one meaning. Much of what you can do as a reader is improved by what you must do as an engaging performer. Think! Interact with the material. Dialogue with the text by asking questions, making predictions and connections, or labeling. Mark selections you find confusing, powerful, sad, humorous, or otherwise emotionally affective. These tools for critical investigation of texts are essential in performance where the body and voice enriches and layers the meaning of the text.

Annotate & Highlight sections of text you want to keep or cut (remember a ten-minute performance is approximately 1300 words). Label chunks of texts that you might like in your cutting. Think about what parts are essential to the story you want to tell. This should make it easier to quickly reference important plot points you want to include in the cutting.

Observe Character Development: You might also make notes on what characters are feeling/communicating during the delivery of individual words and phrases. This might include applying personal experiences or imagery to stimulate an emotional response that comes from memory, not merely language.

Question & Predict

  • What are the motivations of the characters?

  • How do the elements of plot and range of emotions form a dramatic arc for the story?

  • How might select elements form a 10-minute dramatic arc?

  • What would it feel like to experience what that characters experience?

  • How would you think or act if you were them?

Connect, Conflate, Reduce, and Simplify: Abridgement requires the reader to glean the most important information from a text and almost disregard the rest. To be a better abridger, observe how a scene or storyline is left and returned to later. When making a jump from one section of text to another, think about the how rough the transition will be. Note shifts in time and location, moments of flowery description, the contributions of minor characters; consider reducing the complexity by combining scenes, time periods, characters, or similar elements. Also, read following section on dramatic components.

While reading, mark important plot elements (climax and dramatic components noted below) For larger works, start with the absolutely necessary plot and work to bridge the gaps. Use the tips below to guide your reading toward the sections that might compose another, shorter dramatic arc.

  • Listen for the voice of a main character; avoid the omnicient narrator who is removed from the action

  • Pay attention to when characters or relationships change

  • Identify when and how conflicts evolve, especially incidents of escalation and resolution

  • Note emotionally affective sections (find the funny, sad, exciting, disturbing, and different)

  • Disregard stories that aren’t long enough or have plots too complicated for 10 minutes (unless you’re putting together a POI or Poetry program)

  • Mark the elements of plot that will build your 10 minute dramatic arc (exposition/teaser, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution)

Step Two: Abridge the text

The abridgement of material to fit a 10 minute span is called a cutting. Remember that sometimes the greatest stories in the world are too complicated to fit into a 10 minute performance. Also, remember that sometimes bad stories can make for a good 10 minute performances. The hinging variable is the cutting. Imagine the plot of a story as a tapestry, woven with a mix of different types of thread. Each color of thread carries its own part of the story (character, element of plot, environment, etc.). From the original plot/tapestry, interpreters can unravel, rip and splice these threads, potentially discarding the colors (characters, events, relationships) to reweave the material into a more compact story.

Assemble plot elements

Like the larger work you have abridged, your cutting should have some semblance of a dramatic arc. More simply, you can think of your cutting as generally having 5 basic parts.

  1. Teaser – A teaser is a 30-90 second long selection of the text wherein you attract the audience’s attention and get them invested in the characters and storyline. Jump directly into performing the literature, briefly introducing characters and setting up basic plot. A teaser is like an attention getter for the story; so leave the audience with a cliff hanger, shocked/intrigued, questioning, and wanting more.

  2. Introduction – You’ll read more about this 1-minute original statement in the next section.

  3. Build – Develop 1-2 characters and set up plot that works toward a climax.

  4. 7/8 minute moment – This is approximately where your climax should hit. Look for a significant change in a character or for the story to turn in a sharply different direction.

  5. Resolution – Wrap it up with some falling action.


  • You may wish to photocopy the sections you found important during your first reading so you can highlight and write on your script.

  • Expect to endeavor multiple readings of the material and several drafts of the cutting.

  • A 10 minute script tends to be around 1100-1300 words.

Step Three: Assemble the Cutting

Type the Manuscript (this step must be completed last): By typing your speech out you begin to process the text at a deeper level. Think of this as your first intensive read over the script. A typed copy of the script will be easier to cut (do a word count and aim for 1300 words), rearrange, organize in your binder, and share with your coach. It’s recommended that you format your typed script with 2 columns and the page orientation adjusted to “landscape.”

Be Creative and thorough: While you cannot alter the text by rewriting parts of the text, you can be creative in putting the text together. This is much easier to do once the script is typed out completely.

  • rearranging scenes and playing with time

  • repeating lines for emphasis or as transitions

  • deleting characters and giving their lines to other characters

  • use a scalpel to delete unimportant words, long descriptions, or anything unnecessary

Now that you know how to craft a cutting, learn about writing introductions.