Cutting a Prose

A Prose can use exquisite source material and still fail. Success hinders on more than just the quality of the story. Performance, interpretation, and personal presence help account for how well a piece resonates with an audience. There is also the cutting to consider. A Prose cutting makes a shorter, concise, yet exhilarating version of the source material. Cuttings must be made with care though or risk the integrity of the piece. Prose has some specific considerations when it comes to cutting a great piece.

The One Story

Essential to any type of storytelling, finding the one story to tell is crucial. Because Forensics has time limits, being concise with a cutting is necessary for telling a coherent story. Ten minutes, or eight in some areas, is not much time. Straying into unneeded subplots, introducing characters that add nothing, or any other waste of precious time cannot happen. Even if the source material has a few stories intertwined, competitors need to determine if ONE tale can be taken and cut to fit time. (A subplot can be cut into the piece as long as it directly relates to the main story and does not take too much time.) If this can be accomplished, then a piece can be cut.

Structure, Development, and Unnecessary Information

Next, competitors need to cut that one story to fit time while adhering to rules of structure and development. The basic structure of any story goes as follows: first the exposition (introduction of characters, setting, etc.), then the conflict and rising action (the problem is introduced and action that drives the plot forward occurs), followed by the climax (the height of conflict and highest tension), then falling action (things begin to settle and a solution is sought), and finally the dénouement (the resolution/conclusion). Following this basic structure while cutting will create a strong piece for competition. A natural build already is in the overarching plot, the rising action supplies mini-builds for energy and suspense, and the plot will be organized for easy audience following.

Be warned though. Just following this structure outline does not ensure a great cutting. For instance, filling every minute of rising action with intense scenes actually lowers the impact of the piece’s climax--everything becomes one note. Be conscious of development. There should be tension, suspense, and mini-builds but remember that everything builds to one massive climax. Also, make sure to not cut any material that is necessary for the plot or for development. An audience should not have to guess about what is happening.

If non-linear storytelling is used for the Prose (use of flashbacks, out-of-order sequences, etc.), try to follow the plot as arranged by the author of the source material. They wrote the piece, thus have given much thought to the organization of the plot. Very rarely will rearrangement actually help or improve a piece--though if it does do so. To cut, eliminate sections of story not needed to tell the one tale.

Finally, the easiest way to begin cutting after establishing the basic structure is to remove any unnecessary information from the plot. Asking “what is needed” throughout the cutting process will eliminate anything suppressing the good of the ten minute version of the source material. Also note, sometimes a piece might have to scrap content a speaker enjoys, but which is not completely needed, to fit time. Understand that at first some parts might have to be left out. However, overtime, as a speaker becomes more in tune with the piece and performs quicker, parts can be added back.


Prose pieces are meant to follow a narrator and use minimal secondary characters. Fiction and non-fiction make use of this structure, and popping with a binder is simply awkward. Therefore, while cutting be aware to cut with this Prose style involved. Avoid messy back-to-back quips between characters. Focus on one character’s speech, interjecting sub-characters as needed.

Cut for the Page

Page turns usually indicate a new scene, change in an idea, a discovery, or something important within the story. While cutting a piece, remember this. It will make putting a book together easier. Knowing which scenes are vital to telling a moving story with energy will help make this task simpler. Figure out the structure and cut scenes into page-length, manageable portions if possible. Not only does this make for clever, nice looking page turns and for mini-builds of rising plot progression, this also creates perfect breaks in a story for practice; makes everything easier for a rehearsal standpoint.

Everyone has their own ideas of what makes a fantastic cutting. And every story will present a unique challenge for cutting. Not everything can be cut the same way. Short stories require tough decisions over what stays and what is out. Novels have pages upon pages of text to sift through to find the one story to tell. But at the heart of any tale-- fictitious or real--is an exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement. And a killer theme worth crafting into a personalized retelling to captivate an audience.