Three Tips for Editing a Solo Show

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”   -Stephen King

Whether you reference your editing process as killing your darlings or killing your babies, either way, it feels like a murderous rampage of your thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

You finally found the courage to confide all of these vulnerable truths, and you divinely discovered such a creative way to express yourself, and now you have to slice and dice it all.

It feels like too painful a prospect.

Yes, editing is brutal.

However, no one wants to sit through two and half hours of your life story no matter how fascinating and inspiring it may be.

Your audience is human. They need to go to the bathroom. They need a snack. They need something else to focus their short attention spans on.

So, it is of dire importance that you determine which excerpts of your solo show script hit the stage and which ones hit the cutting room floor.

Before you begin to cut away the fat, you must first determine just how much extra weight you have to lose. To do this, set your timer and conduct a master read of your entire solo show script. Say the lines out loud and do your best to emulate your performance pace so that your runtime is as accurate as possible.

On average, most purely comedic solo shows tend to range from 20-minute shorts to 60-minute, full-length shows. Whereas, a more dramatic solo show will typically run anywhere from seventy to 90 minutes, or thereabouts.

Editing your story into a strict time frame is notably one of the most challenging aspects of creating a one person play. Therefore, I have given three useful tips to ensure that your final draft captures the integrity of what you wish to convey, while still being as succinct as possible.

1) Be patient enough to do tiny, tedious trimming.

Start small.

Take one page at a time and read each sentence out loud. Sometimes just hearing the words come out of your mouth reveals a clunky passage you may wish to simplify. Keep reworking and rereading it aloud until it rolls off your tongue smoothly.

By doing this sort of close examination, you may also realize that you are listing adjectives and examples rather than taking the time to find one word or reference that describes the sentiment perfectly.

The circuitous nature of your writing may also be an indication that you have not asked yourself what it is you are really trying to say. So, take a moment to clarify your intention with each passage of your solo script. Once you have clarity on your objective, then prioritize being clear and concise.

Finally, you simply might not trust the power of your words, nor the excellence of your acting, and therefore you try to compensate with longwindedness.

Have faith that if you merely tell your story in a truthful and timely manner, your message will be received by your audience.

2) Be brave enough to do bold, BIG cuts! 

Once you have done the tiny and tedious edits I spoke of above, it may be time to do some bigger cuts if your runtime is still too long.

This is where truly difficult decisions must be made because you are no longer just substituting words and tightening sentences, but in this phase you may be dropping entire storylines, losing characters, and cutting fun fluff that you truly do not need.

In this stage of editing, imagine that each story in your solo show must defend its purpose for staying. Every character has to have a damn good reason to stick around in your script. Each punchline has to elicit a belly laugh.

With each examined excerpt, ask yourself; does it move the story forward? Could the story possibly move forward if it were missing? Is it entertaining and interesting? Will it benefit my audience? Do I need to say it to deeply express myself?

At the end of the day, if you just really, really like it, but you know deep down it is not serving the overall story, then do yourself and your audience a favor and kill your darling.

Remember, you can always bring it back if it continues to haunt you once it’s gone.

3) Be humble enough to let others into your process.

Editing alone in your creative cave is a very valuable part of the process so that you honor your own voice first and foremost. But, there comes a time when you are simply too close to your own story.

You cannot decipher what is compelling and what is navel gazing. You no longer know if a joke is funny or if you just read it so many times that it lost its comedic edge. You have lost perspective on how impactful your journey really is and devalue your own triumphs.

When we arrive here, we want to find a trusted few to invite into our sacred creative space, share our solo story, and receive their constructive criticism.

At this point, we have spent enough quality time with our own thoughts, feelings and opinions about our script, that we can confidently allow another set of eyes and ears to weigh in and weed out those final edits.

Hopefully, by incorporating these editing tips you will complete a fantastic final draft of your one person play that will convey your message in fewer words, while leaving your audience wanting more!

Jessica Lynn Johnson

Founder & CEO of Soaring Solo LLC

Enjoy these Solo Theatre Resources to further guide you on your solo journey!


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