How to Memorise a Monologue: The Ultimate Guide to Word-Perfect Memory

How to Memorise a Monologue
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How to Memorise a Monologue

Need to learn how to memorise a monologue quickly and accurately?

Great! You’re in the right place.

Because in today’s guide we’ll be covering the fastest ways to memorise anything word-perfect in four short and practical parts:

  1. Preparation – 10 ways to set your memory up for success;
  2. Basic Repetition – 8 simple steps to mastering rote repetition;
  3. Targeted Repetition – 10 steps to evolve your toolkit with spaced repetition; and
  4. Mnemonics – 3 powerful memory-boosting tricks to greatly speed up your learning.

The best news? All the principles below are quick, simple and timeless.

They’ll work for you now, no matter who you are or how pressing your deadline.

And they’ll work for you for the rest of your life, no matter what you may need to memorise.

So, if you’re ready to start, let’s begin!

Time’s a-ticking and that monologue ain’t learning itself.

1. PREPARATION

Preparation in Monologue Memorisation

The brain is a machine that works best under certain conditions. The better you are at creating them, the quicker you’ll memorise anything.

With that in mind, here are 3 principles and 10 methods to help you memorise any monologue faster:

1. MEMORISATION TAKES TIME.

  • Start learning early – The changes that create stable memories need days, not hours, so avoid cramming whenever possible.
  • Work little and often – Learning for 20 minutes, twice per day, for a week will yield much better results than one long 5-hour session.

2. MEMORISATION IS HARD WORK.

  • Pick your best time – Whether you’re a night owl or early bird, schedule memorisation for when know you’ll have plenty of energy.
  • Minimise distractions – Find a quiet spot, switch off your WiFi, turn off your phone and ask friends and family not to disturb you.
  • Eat healthy snacks – Though it’s only 2% of your bodyweight, your brain uses 20% of your energy. To keep it working, keep it fed.
  • Drink plenty of water – With a litre of blood flow per minute, even minor dehydration has major effects on the brain. Keep a glass or two ready.
  • Relax – Stress makes memorisation much harder. If you feel anxious, breathe. In for 4 seconds. Out for 6. Repeat until calm.
  • Rest every ~25 minutes – Quality is as vital as quantity. Avoid burn-out with a brisk oxygen and circulation boosting walk every 25-minutes.

3. SLEEP IS ESSENTIAL TO LEARNING.

  • Nap between sessions – A 20-minute nap between learning sessions is proven to both restore energy and boost recall.
  • Get your 7 – 8 hours – A good night’s sleep is vital to creating (and retrieving) stable long-term memories. Get your 7 – 8 hours each night.

I know you want to get started. But don’t run this race without shoes. You’ll just make your journey longer and harder than necessary.

2. BASIC REPETITION

Basic Repetition in Monologue Memorisation

When it comes to memorising monologues, the basic cover-and-learn method is simple and popular. And while it’s not the sharpest learning tool in the shed, it’s better than nothing (and may be all you have time for).

But if you’re going to use it, you may as well use it properly. So here’s a simple 8-step process to get you on track:

  1. Familiarise yourself with the whole – It’s easier to memorise things with emotion and context. To find them, read the whole monologue (and, if possible, understand the story and character behind it). Imagine you were directing a performance – look for rhythm, tone, intention and transitions. Also, look up any words you don’t know.
  2. Split the monologue into sections – Use paragraphs, verses, emotional shifts or other natural breaks. If there aren’t any, split it as neatly as possible into 7 – 10 line chunks. Now think of each section as a mini-monologue to memorise before moving on.
  3. Write out the section you’re working on by hand – You don’t have to do this, but it is always time well spent. There’s something magical about writing things down. It lets you slow down, engage with and personalise the content. And it’s been consistently proven to boost retention and recall.
  4. Start and end with the whole – It’s important to keep rehearsing the whole. So, for your first and last runs in a session, start from the beginning of the monologue and get as far through as you can from memory (if you’ve just started, this won’t be very far!). This will help you keep linking the pieces together.
  5. Cover and test – First, cover the section you’re working on with whatever’s to hand (you can even fold up the bottom of your sheet). Now, reveal a cue line and test yourself on the next line of text. Then, use the test line as the next cue and so on. When you make a mistake, go back two or three lines and continue. When you finish a section, run through from the start of the previous one. Then move to the next section.
  6. Don’t forget to take breaks – Remember the fundamentals. Take regular breaks, stay well fed and hydrated and go for the occasional walk to refresh your body and mind.
  7. Use your whole brain and have fun! Keep mixing things up as you learn. Visualise yourself in character or on stage. Use your hand or whole body to act out the scene as you go. Get into costume. Speak aloud and use funny accents. Go super fast or stupidly slow. Perform what you’ve learned for family and friends. Slip lines into everyday conversation and see if anyone notices. Bring play into each session – it won’t just improve memorisation, it’ll keep you enjoying the process.
  8. Be patient – Monologue memorisation is tough, for everyone! A quick way to make it harder is to be tough on yourself for ‘not learning fast enough’. Take your time, stick at it and don’t worry if you forget the odd line (even seasoned professionals make mistakes!).

If you perfect the process above, you’ll already be memorising monologues faster than 95% of your peers.

But we both know that you can do better.

Because the problem with basic repetition is that it’s not very smart. And it also ignores some important memory quirks we can use to make monologue memorisation faster and easier than you ever imagined.

So how can we make Basic Repetition smarter? And what magical methods can we use to make your memory truly magnetic?

I’m glad that you asked.

Let’s move on to part 3 and part 4 to find out.

3. TARGETED REPETITION

Targeted Repetition is a modified version of Basic Repetition that will greatly reduce the time you need to memorise monologues.

What does it look like? Simple. Instead of copying a monologue onto paper, we’re going to copy it onto flashcards.

“Flashcards?” I hear you cry, “I hate flashcards. How are they possibly going to help?”

I hear you, it’s hard to see how such a small change can make such a big difference.

But trust me on this. Let’s run through the steps and come back to the Why at the end:

  1. Familiarise yourself with the whole – See step 1 of Basic Repetition.
  2. Break the monologue into sections – See step 2 of Basic Repetition.
  3. Copy the section you’re learning onto flashcards – Each flashcard gets a cue line on the front, and a target line on the back. For a 20-line monologue, you should end up with a deck of 19 flashcards (since the last line won’t be a cue-line for anything).
  4. Start and end with whole – See step 4 of Basic Repetition.
  5. Test yourself on the first flashcard – It doesn’t matter what order your flashcards are in. Just try to remember the target line based on the cue.
    • If you get it right – Put the flashcard down to one side in a new pile.
    • If you get it wrong – Move the flashcard to the back of the deck.
  6. Keep going for up to 25 minutes until…
    • You run out of cards – use the time left to create and add flashcards from the next section.
    • You run out of time – Take a break of 5 – 10 minutes to go for a walk or grab a snack.
  7. Repeat the process – When you’re ready for another session, repeat from step 5.
  8. Don’t forget to take breaks – See step 6 of Basic Repetition.
  9. Use your whole brain and have fun! See step 7 of Basic Repetition.
  10. Be patient – See step 8 of Basic Repetition.

You’ll notice that Targeted Repetition is very like Basic Repetition. But it has three major advantages:

  1. By eliminating easy lines quickly, it forces you to spend more time on the parts you most struggle with;
  2. By delaying forgotten cards to the back of the deck, it forces you to go beyond short-term memory; and
  3. By eliminating the importance of order, it lets you memorise multiple monologues at once (just merge multiple decks together and bingo!).

Though minor on their own, these advantages combine to greatly increase your memorisation potential per minute.

And once you get the hang of it, you can take Targeted Repetition even further using Spaced Repetition (systems that improve memorisation by scheduling individual cards at longer and longer intervals as you learn them).

The full details of Spaced Repetition are beyond the scope of this article. But when you’re done here, read this article on FASTER TO MASTER to learn more.

For now, let’s move on to the 4th and most powerful part of this guide – the magnetic might of mnemonics.

4. MNEMONICS

Thanks to evolution, your brain is a doorman with very strict entry policies.

What are the criteria for VIP entry? To maximise odds of admission a memory must measure up in at least one of three ways. It must be:

  1. Visual – your doorman has a thing for pictures and places;
  2. Emotional – if surprise, fear, anger or lust are involved its chances go up immeasurably; or
  3. Connected to an existing memory – It’s always easier to get in if you know someone on the inside.

But how can you convince your brain that line 32 from your latest monologue fulfils even one of these criteria?

The answer is using mnemonics – little tricks that help you dress memories up for the part and sneak them to the front of the line.

A quick warning: like driving, these methods take time, effort and practice to master. But, like driving, they will quickly become second nature and when they do, you’ll be able to get where you’re going a heckuva lot faster than walking.

If you’re in a hurry right now, or aren’t prepared to make the effort up front: stick to parts 1, 2 and 3. They’re not perfect but they are much better than nothing.

But if you’re ready to really take things to the next level – let’s begin.

THREE MNEMONICS USEFUL FOR MEMORISING MONOLOGUES

There are many types of mnemonic. But when it comes to memorising monologues, here are the three you’ll find useful:

  1. Acronym Mnemonics – Using the first letter from each word as a way to remember a line;
  2. Image Mnemonics – Encoding lines or sections as images and then linking those images together; and
  3. Memory Palaces – Using spatial memory to unlock almost limitless monologue memorising potential.

Curious? Great. Let’s explore each of them quickly in turn.

But first, a quick time-out to learn a small but invaluable trick called The Link Method.

THE LINK METHOD

The Link Method is a powerful way to hijack your visual memory and learn long lists of items incredibly fast.

Take a look at the following list of items: dog, tree, house, key, stone, shoe, phone, pen, sun, bird, apple, tyre.

To start using The Link Method, first form a mental image of a dog and a tree interacting that is:

  • Vivid; and
  • Impossible or ridiculous.

To make your image stand out, play with:

  • Substitution – Have one thing take the place of the other;
  • Size – Picture “gigantic” things;
  • Quantity – Picture “millions” of things; or
  • Action – Have one thing act on the other.

So, for example, for tree + dog you might see:

  • A tree peeing on a dog;
  • An enormous dog chasing a tree that’s been thrown for it;
  • A tree with millions of dogs instead of leaves;
  • A tree chasing a dog that has one of its sticks in its mouth.

Go crazy – in fact, the crazier the better! What would your inner child imagine?

Got it? Ok, now do the same thing for the next pair of items in the list (tree + house). And the next (house + key) and so on. The whole thing should take less than 2 minutes.

Done? Great, now, starting with dog, try recall your entire chain of mental images.

Too easy? Let’s go one step further, starting with tyre can you recall the entire list backwards?

If you got stuck, go back and reinforce the mental image for the weak link in the chain. Otherwise, I bet you’re feeling pretty impressed with yourself right now – well done!

Now, I get it:

  1. You may have found making mental images actually quite difficult; and
  2. It’s hard to see how memorising a simple list of objects will help you memorise monologues.

But trust me:

  1. With practice you’ll find it easier and easier to memorise ever longer and more difficult lists; and
  2. We can make small changes to this method to make it a powerful way to memorise just about anything.

(TIP: Use this awesome little random things generator to practise The Link Method with random collections of everyday objects. It’s a great way to warm up your imagination and strengthen your link making skills.)

So with The Link Method in hand, let’s turn back to our three monologue memorisation mnemonics, starting with…

ACRONYM MNEMONICS

Acronym Mnemonics are a simple and effective way to remember the word-for-word contents of individual lines.

You won’t need Acronym Mnemonics for every line of a monologue, but if there’s a couple you’re really struggling with, they could be a lifesaver.

How do they work? To create an Acronym Mnemonic, simply take the first letter of each word in a line and write them one after the other.

So, for example, line 3 of Hamlet’s famous “To Be or Not to Be” monologue would go:

  • FROM: “The Slings And Arrows Of Outrageous Fortune
  • TO: “TSAAOOF

(N.B., Jot your own acronyms down next to the relevant line on your handwritten copy or flashcards)

Now, how you would choose to memorise “TSAAOOF” is up to you. Sometimes (like “rofl” or “lol”) the acronym will spell something memorable that needs no more modification.

In this particular example, I saw the following pattern:

  • TS – sounds like an arrow being released from a bow;
  • AA – is the sound someone makes as an arrow flies toward them; and
  • OOF – is the sound that it makes when it hits them.

So now, whenever I can half-remember the line I’ll think “TS-AA-OOF”, which I can quickly decode into the line’s word-for-word contents.

Silly but effective. Capeesh?

Let’s try something more challenging. How about the first line of Samuel Jackson’s “Ezekiel 25:17” monologue in Pulp Fiction?

  • FROM: The Path Of The Righteous Man Is Beset On All Sides By The Inequities Of The Selfish And The Tyranny Of Evil Men.
  • TO: “TPOTRMIBOASBTIOTSATTOEM”

Gulp! Tricky, right? Again, how you would break that line up is up to you. For me, it goes something like:

  • TPOT => Teapot;
  • RMI => Army (ar-m-y);
  • BOAS => Boa constrictor snakes;
  • BTI => Beverage Testing Institute;
  • OT => Otter;
  • SAT => SAT examinations;
  • TOE => Like those on your feet;
  • M => Judi Dench from James Bond;

Next, I can use The Link Method to quickly remember the list:

  • A Godzilla-like teapot terrorises a city with whistling and boiling water while the army desperately tries to contain it;
  • A youthful boa constrictor tries to enlist in the army (unsuccessfully since he doesn’t have any arms to hold a weapon);
  • A scientist at the Beverage Testing Institute is demonstrating how to dip tiny boa constrictors into drinks to test their alcohol level;
  • And so on…

Remember: in reality, we’re flashing mental images, not telling a story. Once memorised, it only takes moments to recall and decode the chain back into the cue letters and then into the original line.

Now, first things first: don’t panic! If this looks like much more trouble than its worth that’s because to start with it probably is. But remember:

  1. Most lines won’t be nearly so difficult; and
  2. With practice, the whole operation will become second nature.

There was a time when driving on the freeway, checking you mirrors and holding a conversation all at once would have left you exhausted. Nowadays, I bet you’d do all of them without breaking a sweat.

In this case, breaking the line above down then splitting, encoding and memorising it took me less than 45 seconds. And decoding and speaking the line are simple enough to do live and in parallel. That’s far quicker, and in much less time than I’d need to memorise and re-memorise the line many times over the course of several days.

What’s more, once I’ve used it enough times, the right words will be firmly embedded in my long-term memory. I won’t need the mnemonic any more. That’s one of the best parts about mnemonics, they’re helpful to get through the door. Once you’re in, it doesn’t take long before you forget that you even needed them in the first place.

One last thing. You can jot down Acronym Mnemonics for every line of your monologue if it’s helpful, but don’t feel you have to. If a line is easy for you to remember, for whatever reason, then there’s no need to take a sledgehammer to a walnut. Instead, target your use and adjust your effort in line with the difficulties you face!

IMAGE MNEMONICS

When memorising a monologue, Image Mnemonics are a great way to remember connections within and between lines or sections.

And now that we’ve mastered The Link Method, they should be quick and easy to cover.

Image Mnemonics Within Lines

To illustrate the approach within a line, let’s go back to “Ezekiel 25:17”:

  • The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

Now, let’s highlight some key ideas that might help us remember the line:

  • The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

Next, if you feel comfortable filling the blanks, see if you can learn the line using The Link Method to chain the ideas above.

Feeling extra confident? Speed things up by reducing the number of ideas you include in the chain.

Image Mnemonics Between Lines

Already know the contents of the lines? We can use the same idea to memorise the sequence of a monologue as well.

Let’s take verse 4 of William Blake’s poem The Tyger to illustrate:

What the hammer? what the chain, (HAMMER)
In what furnace was thy brain? (BRAIN)
What the anvil? what dread grasp, (ANVIL)
Dare its deadly terrors clasp! (TERROR)

See where I’m going with this?

(N.B., it doesn’t matter which word you pick as your keyword, so long as it stands out to you and helps you remember the whole line. That said, the longer the line, the easier it will make things if you pick a word near its start.)

One great approach to monologue memorisation is to build Image Mnemonics into Basic or Targeted Repetition. To do so, simply write the keyword next to each line in brackets. Now, as you begin to test yourself apply The Link Method. Create or recall your chains and voila: a simple and graphic way to remember any monologue’s sequence.

Image Mnemonics Between Sections

And finally, we can use the same approach to link and connect larger ideas between sections.

So, to remember the 6 verses of The Tyger we might take one idea from the first line of each verse and get:

  1. Tyger Tyger, burning bright, (TIGER)
  2. In what distant deeps or skies. (SKIES)
  3. And what shoulder, & what art, (ART)
  4. What the hammer? what the chain, (HAMMER)
  5. When the stars threw down their spears (SPEARS)
  6. Tyger Tyger, burning bright, (TIGER)

Apply The Link Method again and you’ll be able to remember the order of any monologue, passage or poem in moments.

And what’s more, you won’t just know it top-to-bottom, you should even be able to recite it backwards.

MEMORY PALACES

In the last few sections, you’ve come a long, long way from the lowlands of Basic Repetition.

But there’s one more invaluable weapon in every memory master’s arsenal: The Memory Palace – a powerful way to store and organise information by tapping into your astounding spatial memory (your memory of places).

We only have time to cover the basics today, but if you’d like to learn more, check out this summary of Dominic O’Brien’s How to Develop A Perfect Memory then head over to my friend Anthony Metivier’s site, Magnetic Memory Method, to get his excellent free PDFs and video series on the topic.

When making Memory Palaces for your own projects, it is always better to draw on places that you know well and like. Your home and those of your friends and family, your office or your favourite cafés, museums and places of worship are all great places to start.

For now, though, here’s a simple Memory Palace for us to work with. It’s based on the layout of a friend’s apartment. It’s a space I know well and can visualise easily and also simple enough for you to play along with.

Basic Memory Palace - Faster To Master

To choose the order of the rooms (1 – 6) I’ve used two important Memory Palace principles. That is to:

  1. Create a linear route that doesn’t cross itself – It’s OK to walk through walls in Memory Palace world.
  2. Finish at an exit – If I needed to, I can now walk out of the apartment and expand the journey into the hallway.

Let’s use our basic Memory Palace it to memorise the rest of Blake’s Tyger.

First, let’s finish choosing keywords for each line of the poem:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, (TIGER)
In the forests of the night; (FOREST)
What immortal hand or eye, (HAND)
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? (FRAME)

In what distant deeps or skies. (SKIES)
Burnt the fire of thine eyes? (EYES)
On what wings dare he aspire? (WINGS)
What the hand, dare seize the fire? (FIRE)

And what shoulder, & what art, (ART)
Could twist the sinews of thy heart? (SINEWS)
And when thy heart began to beat, (HEART)
What dread hand? & what dread feet? (FEET)

What the hammer? what the chain, (HAMMER)
In what furnace was thy brain? (BRAIN)
What the anvil? what dread grasp, (ANVIL)
Dare its deadly terrors clasp! (TERROR)

When the stars threw down their spears (SPEARS)
And water’d heaven with their tears: (TEARS)
Did he smile his work to see? (SMILE)
Did he who made the Lamb make thee? (LAMB)

Tyger Tyger, burning bright, (TIGER)
In the forests of the night; (FOREST)
What immortal hand or eye, (HAND)
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? (FRAME)

(N.B., Aside from special cases like this repeating last verse, you should avoid duplicating keywords in your chain.)

Next, let’s walk through the apartment and use The Link Method to connect the first keyword from each verse to a room:

  1. Living Area + Tiger – I might picture a huge tiger tearing apart the sofa in the middle of the room.
  2. Kitchen + Skies – For some reason, the kitchen ceiling has been torn off showing the sky above.
  3. Master Bedroom + Art – The walls of the master bedroom are covered in tiny replicas of one of my favourite paintings.
  4. Bathroom + Hammer – A large hammer with hands and legs is busy smashing its head against the walls, trying to break all the tiles.
  5. Second Bedroom + Spears – Someone’s replaced the bed in this room with one made entirely of spears – painful!
  6. Hallway + Tiger – All the wallpaper in the hallway has been replaced with tiger fur and the exit is through a large tiger’s mouth.

Finally, let’s use The Link Method one last time to flesh out the chains associated with the keystone images from those first lines:

  • Tiger > Forest > Hand > Frame;
  • Skies > Eyes > Wings > Fire;
  • And so on…

Even If you’re totally new to mnemonics, it shouldn’t take longer than half an hour to run through the process. As you get more practised, that time will fall to under a couple of minutes.

The result? You should now be able to picture yourself following the journey through my friend’s apartment.

As you do, each room will trigger the first line’s primary keyword, and each keyword the next and so on.

Without even trying, you should be able to recall the entire structure of the poem.

And with a little more effort, the contents of each line.

Why use a Memory Palace when I could have just linked all the keywords in a list of 24 items?

Three reasons:

  1. A Memory Palace is real – Spaces occupy a very special part of your brain. They’re so tangible that even many years later, they feel real. That means the chance of me losing this memory are low, whenever I need to find The Tyger I know exactly where it will be waiting.
  2. I don’t need to follow the pathWant me to start at verse 3? Or perhaps give you verses 2, 5 and 6? When you’re familiar with it, visiting any room in your memory palace becomes easy. There’s no need to start from one end of a list. The creates valuable flexibility when memorising a really long monologue or script is huge.
  3. A Memory Palace can always expand – Want to add more verses? No problem, let’s go out of the door, down the hallway and into the street. Need more detail in-between verses? Easy. Break each room into stations (e.g. Living Area >> TV + Sofa) re-link your keywords and boom.

Unfortunately, that’s all we have time for today. But rest assured, when it comes to Mnemonics and Memory Palaces you’ve just scratched the surface.

WRAPPING UP AND TAKING ACTION

There you have it! The ultimate guide to how to memorise monologues.

Will you march through the marshes of Basic Repetition? Will you forge through the foothills of Targeted Repetition? Or will you scale the peaks of Mount Mnemonic?

Whatever combination you choose, hopefully, you’ve learned something today that will help.

For now, why not put what you’ve read into action and:

  1. Set your habits, schedule and study area up for monologue memorising success;
  2. Identify opportunities to improve or upgrade your Basic Repetition strategies;
  3. Order some flashcards and schedule time to try out Targeted Repetition;
  4. List and sketch 5 places you know that might make good Memory Palaces;

And finally, if you enjoyed what you read here today, check out these summaries of Lorrayne and Lucas’s The Memory Book or Dominic O’Brien’s How to Develop a Perfect Memory.

Still curious? These reading lists of 30 books on memory improvement or these 70 books on how to learn anything faster are full of wisdom on getting smarter, faster.

Whatever you decide, I hope to see you again soon.

And until then, good luck, go well and be awesome!

Arthur
Arthur
Arthur is a learning-freak, slow-thinker, and writer who loves helping curious, busy people digest chewy topics fast. One of his passions is language learning. Send yourself his Free Ultimate Language Learning Guide today to save you or a friend thousands of dollars and hours on your journey to fluency.

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