Finding Pieces for Interpretation

No idea how to start looking for an interp? Running out of ideas and want some pointers? Trying to help new students along at the beginning of the season? Yeah, I’ve been there. One issue that always pops up for new speakers is how to find interp pieces. Based on five years of competing in interps and three years coaching and judging, let me offer you some advice on interp-hunting, with examples and ideas woven in.

Interp Hunting Strategies:

  1. Don’t be afraid of popular works. It’s totally fine if your works have been published within the past twenty years. It’s also fine if they’re authored by Asimov or Gaiman or King or whomever. You don’t have to stick to classics, so look back through your pleasure reading over the past few years for suggestions.
  2. Pick People’s Brains. The more specifically you word your request, the more likely you are to get useful feedback. (So, “What are your favorite funny short stories?” instead of “What are your favorite books?”) Messaging or emailing specific people is also more likely to get you responses than a general call for suggestions. Contact people who write, people who read a lot, librarian friends – anyone who you think knows about books. If you know alumni in your league, ask them what pieces they wish they’d done.
  3. Do some brute-force searching. This is where you sit in the children’s section of the library or the “plays” section of the bookstore and browse relentlessly. Plays, graphic novels, and kids’ books are the easiest categories to skim. This tactic is not much fun, but you’ll feel very literary and, even better, may find something useful. It’s worked for me before.
  4. Start early, then test and discard. Starting early in the season is something speech kids seem to be bad at. Starting cuts in August or September can help you out because sometimes it takes messing around with a piece for weeks to realize that it’s not working. I’ve discarded so many pieces that could have been good but just weren’t doing it for me. Don’t be afraid to start early and drop projects fast.
  5. Watch other people’s speeches. But don’t copy them directly! An example: in high school, my duo partner had an idea for our duo based on a speech he’d seen someone else do. This other person had long since graduated, didn’t live near the pool of people we competed with, and was performing solo what we wanted to perform as a duo. The speech ended up being very different from the one we’d originally taken our inspiration from.
    Again, don’t copy them directly. It’s cheap, it’s rude, it’s not what you want to be known for.
  6. Don’t be afraid of weird stuff. I have a friend who did interpretations of Pippin, Coraline, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and The Bicentennial Man. She did quite well, even with her stranger pieces. Interpret children’s books! Folktales! Interesting sections from nonfiction pieces! Cool first person nonfiction! Your only limits are the culture of your league, the rules you’re working with, and your own comfort level.
  7. Check anthologies. There are anthologies and collections about everything. EVERYTHING. They’re frequently short stories or self-contained segments of longer stories, which makes cutting easier. Find some interesting ones, skim until you find a story that catches your eye, and go from there.

And now, in case you’re still lost, some suggestions! Some of these might not work for you. Some of them might not fly in your league. Some of them are just here to give you an idea of what to look for in a possible interp. Take what you like, leave what you don’t, and keep browsing until you find something that works.


The Heart of a Star from Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman
This has a lot going for it – it’s short, self-contained, has a framing device that sets it up to be told orally, is told mostly though dialogue, and conveys a lovely sense of wonder. Downsides: it’s in a collection with a whole lot of blood and breasts (an issue for people in more conservative leagues), and it’s more impactful if you’re already familiar with the characters. Maybe some NSDA student will give it a try?

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
This is such a beautifully written, powerful little book. It is also a beast to cut. (I tried, senior year. My first cut was 18 minutes. The one I brought to the first competition was over thirteen minutes and  totally bare-bones.) It’s a personal favorite, though, and I know someone with a better mind for dramatic interps could make this work nicely.


Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones
I adore this book. I adore it so much I made a hasty HI out of it my senior year, but I think it would work much better as a duo. There are a small number of interesting main characters, lots of witty dialogue, some witty narration, and at least one good moral for good measure. There’s also a lot of opportunity for synchronization – Calcifer the fire demon and the moving castle itself come to mind.

Suggestions by others:

While writing this, I picked the brains of a writer friend. She suggested the following, which I have not read but might lead you to something:
-Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire by Neil Gaiman
-The Too-Clever Fox by Leigh Bardugo
-The Consultant by Cat Valente

That should be more than enough to get you started, so hop to it!

The tips above are available by themselves in hand-out form at this link (opens as a .pdf.) You’re welcome to use them under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

If you’ve got suggestions, leave a comment! If I like the suggestion, I’ll edit the post and give you credit.



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