The Best Way to Memorize Your Cues in a Scene: 7 Steps Using the Link System

Updated: Jan 6


Sometimes actors don't so much have a problem memorizing their lines. The real difficulty lies in memorizing their cues. How many times has this happened to you: frustrated at rehearsal, you yell, "Line!" But the stage manager only has to say a word or two before you remember the rest of the line perfectly. What gives? What can actors do to get those cues down? I'll show you my step-by-step method for doing just that using something called The Link System.


To demonstrate how to do this, I'm going to use a portion of Act IV from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.


Step 1: Pick out a keyword in each of your cues.

Take your scene, and look at your partner's lines. Find your cues (the last part of your partner's lines before you have your next line.) Pick out a keyword or keywords in each of the cues. It should be a word that stands out or is emphasized when your partner speaks it. It should be able to stand as a representative of that cue.


So let's say you're playing Eliza Doolittle and you're trying to memorize your cues in this scene. The keywords you would pick out from Higgins's lines would be these ones that are in bold:


HIGGINS: [in despairing wrath outside] What the devil have I done with my slippers? [He appears at the door].


LIZA: [snatching up the slippers, and hurling them at him one after the other with all her force] There are your slippers. And there. Take your slippers; and may you never have a day’s luck with them!


HIGGINS: [astounded] What on earth - ! [He comes to her]. What’s the matter? Get up. [He pulls her up]. Anything wrong?


LIZA: [breathless] Nothing wrong – with YOU. I’ve won your bet for you, haven’t I? That’s enough for you. I don’t matter, I suppose.


HIGGINS: You won my bet! You! Presumptuous insect! I won it. What did you throw those slippers at me for?


LIZA: Because I wanted to smash your face. I’d like to kill you, you selfish brute. Why didn’t you leave me where you picked me out of – in the gutter? You thank God it’s all over, and that now you can throw me back again there, do you? [She crisps her fingers, frantically.]


HIGGINS: [looking at her in cool wonder] The creature IS nervous, after all.


LIZA: [gives a suffocated scream of fury, and instinctively darts her nails at his face]


HIGGINS: [catching her wrists] Ah! Would you? Claws in, you cat. How dare you show your temper to me? Sit down and be quiet. [He throws her roughly into the easy-chair].


LIZA: [crushed by superior strength and weight] What’s to become of me? What’s to become of me?


HIGGINS: How the devil do I know what’s to become of you? What does it matter what becomes of you?


LIZA: You don’t care. I know you don’t care. You wouldn’t care if I was dead. I’m nothing to you – not so much as them slippers.


HIGGINS: [thundering] THOSE slippers.


LIZA: [with bitter submission] Those slippers. I didn’t think it made any difference now.

[A pause. Eliza hopeless and crushed. Higgins a little uneasy.]


HIGGINS: [in his loftiest manner] Why have you begun going on like this? May I ask whether you complain of your treatment here?


LIZA: No.


Step 2: Pick out a keyword in each of your lines just following a partner's cue line.

Look at your lines, specifically the ones that just follow the cue lines your partner says. Again, pick out a representative keyword that stands out or is emphasized.


Here is the example scene again, with your keywords additionally bolded:


HIGGINS: [in despairing wrath outside] What the devil have I done with my slippers? [He appears at the door].


LIZA: [snatching up the slippers, and hurling them at him one after the other with all her force] There are your slippers. And there. Take your slippers; and may you never have a day’s luck with them!


HIGGINS: [astounded] What on earth - ! [He comes to her]. What’s the matter? Get up. [He pulls her up]. Anything wrong?


LIZA: [breathless] Nothing wrong – with YOU. I’ve won your bet for you, haven’t I? That’s enough for you. I don’t matter, I suppose.


HIGGINS: You won my bet! You! Presumptuous insect! I won it. What did you throw those slippers at me for?


LIZA: Because I wanted to smash your face. I’d like to kill you, you selfish brute. Why didn’t you leave me where you picked me out of – in the gutter? You thank God it’s all over, and that now you can throw me back again there, do you? [She crisps her fingers, frantically.]


HIGGINS: [looking at her in cool wonder] The creature IS nervous, after all.


LIZA: [gives a suffocated scream of fury, and instinctively darts her nails at his face]


HIGGINS: [catching her wrists] Ah! Would you? Claws in, you cat. How dare you show your temper to me? Sit down and be quiet. [He throws her roughly into the easy-chair].


LIZA: [crushed by superior strength and weight] What’s to become of me? What’s to become of me?


HIGGINS: How the devil do I know what’s to become of you? What does it matter what becomes of you?


LIZA: You don’t care. I know you don’t care. You wouldn’t care if I was dead. I’m nothing to you – not so much as them slippers.


HIGGINS: [thundering] THOSE slippers.


LIZA: [with bitter submission] Those slippers. I didn’t think it made any difference now.

[A pause. Eliza hopeless and crushed. Higgins a little uneasy.]


HIGGINS: [in his loftiest manner] Why have you begun going on like this? May I ask whether you complain of your treatment here?


LIZA: No.


Step 3: Put your partner's keywords and your keywords in a list in the order as they appear in the scene chronologically.

Note that if you were playing Higgins, your list of words would be different.


Our example list as Eliza would be:


Slippers

There

Wrong

Nothing

Throw

Smash

Quiet

Become

Becomes

Care

THOSE slippers

Those slippers

Treatment

No


Step 4: Take the first two words on the list and come up with a representative image that associates the two words together. Do the same with the second and third words, then the third and fourth, and so on until you reach the end.

This is where things get a bit tricky if you're not used to creating mnemonics. It just takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it. This method in particular is called The Link System. In order to remember all the items on the list, you link the words together using associative images.


So let's start with the first two words: "slippers" and "there". We've already run into a problem. It's easy to come up with images for words that are actual objects. For "slippers" we readily can conjure up an image of fluffy pink bunny slippers. But what about for "there?" The word is more abstract. It's not obvious what image would fit.


Tips for creating representative images for abstract words:

  • Free associate - Think about the word and see if anything comes to mind. Do any idioms or cliches pop up? What are some of the common contexts where you find the word? Can you create any images out of those things? Do a Google image search for the word and see if anything striking comes up.

  • Play with the sound of words to create puns - Think of other less abstract words that sound similar to the actual word. Use that punning word as a substitute and make an image out of that instead.

  • Use readily available cultural symbols - We have many useful cultural symbols: the dollar sign represents money, a red heart represents love, an American flag represents the United States, lions represent bravery, etc.

  • Make connections to pop culture or other streams of knowledge - Maybe the word sounds like the name of a famous person. Use that person in your image.

Okay, so back to "slippers" and "there." "There" sounds similar enough to the word "tear" as in "tearing something apart," and "tear" is easier to build into an image. Let's picture our pink bunny slippers again. Now let's tear the ears off of the bunny slippers. To make it more memorable, we can picture the bunnies grimacing and struggling in pain. Or picture blood coming from the torn ears. Be specific; use your senses. Are the slippers made of cheap material? Do they feel soft and squishy?


Next is "there" and "wrong." We're going to use "tear" again as a pun for "there." Picture a red "wrong way" sign. Then picture a tear in the sign; the metal is actually ripped. To make it stand out more, maybe the sign is rusty and ominous looking.


"Wrong" and "Nothing" - When I think of "nothing" I think of a hole, an abyss, or the number zero. Picture a deep, dark pit in the ground. Then picture the red "wrong way" sign falling down into the pit.


"Nothing and "Throw" - Free associating on "throw" I think of throw pillows, throw up, throw away. Let's picture that deep, dark pit again to represent "nothing." We see two people standing on opposite sides of the pit. They're throwing a baseball back and forth between them across the chasm.


"Throw" and "Smash" - "Smash": I think of Super Smash Bros., smashing something with a hammer, or mashed potatoes. Imagine a baseball being thrown and it landing in a big bowl of mashed potatoes.


"Smash" and "Quiet" - Picture an annoying librarian shushing the various patrons in a library. Then see someone smash her in the face with mashed potatoes.


"Quiet" and "Become" - "Become" sounds like "Beckham." Picture David Beckham getting his picture taken by a horde of photographers. There's flashing lights and lots of noise. The annoying librarian desperately tries to shush and quiet all of them.


"Become and "Becomes" - David Beckham is joined by his wife Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice."


"Becomes" and "Care" - Imagine the Beckhams hugging a giant Care Bear. (If you don't know what a Care Bear is, look it up.)


"Care" and "Those Slippers" - "Those" sounds like "toes." Imagine the Care Bear wearing a pair of slippers where the toes are revealed. Maybe the slippers are bedazzled. (Make them stand out.) The Care Bear wiggles its toes excitedly.


"Those Slippers and "Those Slippers" - Picture the slippers and the wiggling toes again. (Just the feet this time.) See another set of slippers and wiggling toes. the toes wiggle at each other.


"Those Slippers" and "Treatment" - See one pair of slippers with wiggling toes again. Then see some red and white striped peppermint candies falling on the feet. (Get it? "Treat mint.")


"Treatment" and "No" - "No" sounds like "nose." Picture a disembodied nose with peppermint candies stuck in the nostrils.


Step 5: Practice imagining your representative images until you can recite the list of words in order correctly.

Now that you've linked all of your words with associative images, go through them again until you're able to remember the entire list of words in order. You'll be surprised how fast and easily you'll be able to do this. You may even have the list fully memorized right now.


Step 6: Rehearse the scene and see if you remember the cues.

Drop all the associative images and just practice the scene as normal. You'll find your cues come to you a lot more easily than before.


Step 7: Revisit material in spaced intervals.

I've talked about this in other posts before. We remember things better when we space out our learning; this phenomenon is called The Spacing Effect. To take advantage of this, revisit your cue list or your scene in spaced intervals. How far apart you space your intervals generally depends on when your "test" is. Do you need this scene memorized by a particular date? Adjust accordingly.


For example, if you need the scene memorized in a day or two, you can try practicing with these intervals:


1st repetition: Right after learning

2nd repetition: After 15-20 minutes

3rd repetition: After 6-8 hours

4th repetition: After 24 hours


Want to learn more about memory training and The Link Method? Check out Harry Lorayne's book How to Develop a Super Power Memory


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