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Creating the Story You Want to Tell

The most powerful words in English are, “Tell me a story.

Pat Conroy, My Reading Life

Most pieces of literature a student might choose will be too long for their performance. This challenge requires them to cut the original version of the story down to 10 minutes (or whatever the time limit might be). “Cutting,” a term used to describe this artistic process, can be overwhelming if the student does not understand the theory of creating their plot without changing the author’s intent. The fun in Interpretation is to create a PLOT with an ARC from the original literature that will fit the required time limits. The story’s arc builds to a climax where the protagonist experiences a change in some aspect of their life. The cutting process allows the student to own their story from beginning to end—this is where the magic lives. An outstanding example of a performance with a clear story arc that builds to a climax is “Not a Genuine Black Man” performed by Daniel William, 2015 national champion.


      • A plot is a series of events that makes up the interper’s story and leads to a climax, where something happens, which is vital for the story to be compelling. 
      • Note: It is advisable in a “cutting” NOT to use too many if any, subplots.
      • Don’t copy other versions of the story; have your student create their own story.

Following the Rules

Before we cover tangible ways to help your students cut their piece of literature down to a 10-minute performable cutting, we must caution you about the need to understand and follow the NSDA rules and for any adaptations made to a piece of literature. These rules on adaptation and all of the rules specific to Dramatic and Humorous Interpretation and the other events can be found in the NSDA High School Unified Manual.

Adaptations to the material may only be used for the purpose of transition. Any word changes (to eliminate profane language) and/or additions (for transition) must be indicated clearly in ink. Failure to indicate the addition of words will be subject to disqualification. Changes to the script may only be used for transition or to eliminate profane language. The voice of a script may not be changed. For example, changing “She moved to California when she was 13” to “I moved to California when I was 13” is not permitted. Combining small fractions of sentences or singular words to create humorous or dramatic dialogue, scenes, moments, and/or plotlines not intended in the original literature is prohibited. For example, it is not permitted to take one word from page 13 (e.g., home), a phrase from page 211 (e.g., ran away from), and a name (e.g., Tyler) from page 59 to create a dialogue between characters or events that do not exist in the script. For example: adding “Tyler ran away from home.” when this did not occur and was not said in the script is not permitted. Transitions only may be used to clarify the logical sequence of ideas. They are not to be used to embellish the humorous or dramatic effect of the literature.

Here are two ways to think about the creation of a PLOT for your Interpretation.

The first, Freytag’s Pyramid, helps students make sure their cutting has crucial story elements. The second, Story Structure, helps students eliminate unnecessary plot points that cloud the cutting’s focus and adds excessive time. 

Most great stories, whether they are a Pixar film or a novel by your favorite author, follow a certain dramatic structure.

Joe Bunting, “Freytag’s Pyramid: Definition, Examples, and How to Use this Dramatic Structure in Your Writing”

 1- Freytag’s Pyramid:

English teachers often use Freytag’s Pyramid to teach students plot structure for analysis or as a guide to writing stories in a creative writing class. Because of their potential familiarity with Freytag’s Pyramid, you will find it a useful beginning tool to teach students that their cutting should follow the elements of a complete story. Here is a link to a detailed explanation of Freytag’s Pyramid:

All Interpretation cuttings for any event would work by using the following essential elements below described in Freytag’s Pyramid.

Freytag Chart



The opening of your story, including the introduction of the characters and the settings.

Inciting Incident

The event or plot point that captures your audience’s attention and propels the protagonist into the action of the story. The Inciting Incident might also provide hints of future conflict.


The major conflict in the story.

Rising Action

A series of events that complicates your characters’ problem and increases the drama, suspense, or humor.



The big showdown where your characters encounter their opposition and either win or lose. At this point, everything in the story changes. 


Falling Action

A series of events that unfolds after the climax and leads to the end of the story.


The end of the story, in which the problems are resolved (or not resolved, depending on the story, sometimes referred to as the denouement, catastrophe, or revelation)

Storytelling is a bond, an invisible agreement, a transaction of great worth between a weaver with words and one who treasures the weaver.

Leland B. Jacobs, “Creative Writing and Storytelling in Today’s Schools

 2- Story Structure:

Ironically, this simple story structure popped up in a class I took at the Seattle Children’s Theatre. The instructor was trying to get a group of second graders to tell a story spontaneously, and she used this pattern to help her students create a dramatic structure at their young age. Presto! It worked! 

Universal to both fiction and nonfiction, the narrative arc (also called the “story arc”) refers to the story’s structure and shape. This arc is made up of the events in an interper’s story—the sequence of occurrences in the plot determines the peaks and plateaus that set the pace. Every interper needs to create a plot ARC with their literature where something happens.

When an interper is trying to craft their story, using this simple plot pattern can help the student complete the story arc.








In every Interpretation, something has to happen.

Use either method or both to create the story your student wants to tell in their interp. 

After the student reads the entire piece of literature, have them tell you each element of the 10-minute story’s sections version of their story using only one sentence for each element. If they can’t, their plot is too complicated. Once the plot is simplified minus the subplots, have them choose the story’s sections for each phase of their plot. Then have them read it aloud. Please realize this version could be 30 or more minutes long. From this point, the two of you have to edit the story further while maintaining the plot structure or the narrative arc. The time spent cutting a piece depends totally on the length and complexity of the literature. The choices the student makes from their original source will eventually create their 10-minute cutting. Remember they need to leave time for their introduction (approximately 45 seconds).