Last Updated: Thursday, June 09, 2022

Transform Task - Discover your story

What is this?

​​Task 2 from the Transform Toolkit - to get the best results, find a story that people really want to tell.

Who is this for?

​The toolkit may be of use to educational authority workers, school managers and practitioners, learners, parents, members of the community and artists.


You can download all the documents associated with this resource as a Zip file, or view and download the individual documents in the 'Explore the resource' section of this page.

Zip file: Discover your story - all downloads (1.56 MB)

Explore the resource

Why 'discover your story'?

   To find your story you have to know:

  • what you want to say
  • why you want to say it
  • how you are going to say it

The best results come from finding the story people really want to tell. It is best not to impose a script or a story you think would be good, but to let the story emerge. This can be daunting to begin with. However, once you start working with people the stories and themes you want to explore will come out. You just need courage and a willingness to start the process without knowing the end product.

The focus should be on giving the stories a unifying context. Previous groups created a number of exercise ideas that opened up individuals to telling stories that are of real significance.

What are the intended outcomes?

  • People have invested their personal stories.
  • A central metaphor has been found and a common theme decided.
  • The Transform team have found and connected the personal stories to the place.

How to discover your story - creative exercises

This is where you and the team can create the exercises and framework for the performance elements. You may use some of the creative exercises here or invent your own. The important thing is that the exercises are creating content and skilling-up the performers/makers.

The most important element is the people you have in the room. The room should be filled with creative minds from as many art forms and walks of life as possible. Artists do not have a monopoly on creativity so other peoples’ opinions and ideas about what it is you are exploring are vital. That said, allow the artists to lead and shape the development as they are trained to do so.

By trying and using creative exercises you will begin to create your content. They can be used in any order and in any way. Your group might not respond to all the exercises. However, they are there as a guide and can be adapted to suit your participants.

Hint/Tip: As you work through these exercises, themes may emerge and you may find your work being focused under a title or an idea. You may also find some of the material coming from these exercises could be used within your end performance. Be sure to document (film, write down, photograph, record) any good ideas, discussions or performance pieces and keep them in a file. When you come to put your piece together you can draw upon this material.

Creative exercises

Note: The exercises allowed previous groups to start finding ideas; they were not necessarily about creating content for the performance piece, more about exploring what a performance was going to be. However, as a result of these exercises, groups found that themes emerged, and the responses could be developed or polished to be used in the end performance, as seen from some of the video clips.

As you start to focus your sessions, and a theme or themes have been agreed on, you will be looking for different ways to tell your story. Different groups introduced lots of activities and explorations to create the content of the shows. This included movement, moving and still digital images, art installation, text, music, song, design and events.

Download the exercises

Full details of 'Discover your story' exercises.
Word file: Discover your story - creative exercises (41 KB)

iPod therefore I am

This exercise is a stylised way of telling stories without using the spoken word. It allows participants to tell stories without having to take on characters.

  1. Ask participants to identify a song they would like to share with the group.
  2. Ask them to tell why the song is significant – that is, it evokes memories, emotions, what it means to them personally and why.
  3. Get them to summarise the story (significant words, feelings, thoughts, pictures) behind the song and write them on some flashcards.
  4. Create a mini performance - Like Bob Dylan’s video ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ where you play the song and the story and lyrics are revealed through flashcards.

Hint/Tip: This exercise allows every participant to tell their story, even if they do not want to speak out in front of a large audience. It can be done individually or within a group.

‘I Pod Therefore I am’ could be developed where the flashcards become projections on a wall creating a backdrop to your performance.

Video: iPod therefore I am

This exercise is a stylised way of telling stories without using the spoken word and allows participants to tell stories without having to take on characters.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip on Glow (log-in required).


This exercise can be used to generate ideas for further development. Participants could:

  1. Draw an outline of their body on a large piece of paper by lying down on it.
  2. Fill that outline in with words, colours, and/or images. (You may want them to respond to the different areas of the body in different ways. For example, for the heart, the head, the hands, feet, shoulders.)

Hint/Tip: At this stage, any words can be put down. Whatever comes to mind should be noted to help keep the exercise moving. There is no right answer as it is a personal response.

  1. Think of a time when they used different parts of the body or when the heart or head came in to play. They could try thinking visually and/or specifically. (You are aiming for emotional connections and metaphors).
  2. Aim to avoid the cliché; try to capture mood, a narrative, a ritual, a sense of presence that connects with them in the room.
  3. Share their ‘Outline’.

Hint/Tip: You can do mini versions of this exercise with hands or feet by filling the outlines with a story about touch or a journey written in the outline of the feet. Place the cut-out feet across a space and encourage the others to physically take the steps and experience other people’s stories and journeys.

One thing leads to another

Every community involved in previous Transforms had one thing that everyone had an opinion or attitude towards.  In Dumfries it was seagulls, in Fife it was mining, in Orkney it was getting off the island, in Port Glasgow it was the space where the shipbuilding used to be, in Barrhead it was their local football team. This exercise allows you to find out the ‘one thing’ that your group has an opinion on. Participants could:

  1. Make a group then write five things that define their local area and then take them through a process of eliminating four of them so they are left with the “one thing that…...” You can decide how you wish to eliminate ideas - different methods work for different groups. For example, on a scale of 1-5, which point is the most important, annoying etc. Or fold them up, put them in a hat and randomly select one.
  2. Groups share their ‘one thing’ and explain why or how they eliminated the others.

Hint/Tip: You will find this exercise leads to all sorts of discussion about what and how individuals perceive and define their community and environment. Take as long as you need over this section as you may find themes emerging that could shape/focus your piece.

  1. Turn responses from ‘one thing…’ into stimuli for improvisations, movement interpretations, musical responses, and/or photographs. The possibilities are endless, and of course the irony is, it is never just one thing.

Hint/Tip: An alternative to this is an exercise where you ask: “If your local area was a person, describe them.” You could describe how they walk, speak, and react to situations.

You will have all sorts of responses. The group will be creating characters without realising it. Name the characters and note down their different characteristics. Get them to make the various characters they have created to interact with each other in all sorts of situations, for example, a job interview, the park bench, a dinner, a political debate. As they do this, the group will be creating multi-faceted characters. Record the interactions by using film, notes, photograph, sound recordings and use the actions of the characters to make a movement piece or tell a story.

Video: People and place

Developing a well-rounded character can sometimes be a challenge. This exercise allows participants to create a character in a simple but effective way. Watch the ‘Fisherwoman’s’ clip to see how one of the characters of Fife emerged.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip on Glow (log-in required).

20 questions

As part of a Transform project, National Theatre of Scotland toured a telephone box around Fife and rang it. People answered and were asked 20 questions that prompted amazing responses. Some of these were turned into stories that were shared in a performance.

  1. Make a list of questions that prompt personal responses.
  2. Interview people and get them talking.
  3. Record the interviews and turn them into a soundscape or dialogue for a scripted piece.

Hint/Tip: The soundscape created by mixing the answers could be the underscore for a movement piece or photography slideshow.

Video: 20 Questions

This is an exercise which focuses on asking questions. A telephone box was toured around Fife and rung. People answered and were asked 20 questions that prompted some amazing responses. This video shows a selection of recorded telephone conversations.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip on Glow (log-in required).

Download a possible supporting document for this exercise.

PDF file: 20 questions (202 KB)

Post it

This is an exercise to use with groups or in places where lots of people pass through/gather. You will need a large wall or room to stick your notes to.

  1. Using Post It notes, give everyone five or seven notes and a pen.
  2. At the top of each note, write a subject that will elicit a response.

Hint/Tip: Our notes had headings such as ‘Teenage kick’, ‘Confession’, ‘Loss’, ‘Something you did that changed things forever’, ‘Guilty pleasure’, ‘A lie you told’, ‘A moment you wish you could relive’.

  1. Ask everyone to take their time. Support them by explaining that the comments will stay anonymous, but the group will share what is written on the Post It notes.

Hint/Tip: Some people might write some really revealing stuff, especially when dealing with the ‘Loss’ Post It. You may want to reiterate to the rest of the group that we should all be respectful of others’ revelations when reading them.

  1. Post all the Post Its on the wall under the individual headings, for example, a ‘Loss’ section, a ‘Guilty pleasure’ section etc.
  2. Invite the group to peruse and read as if in a gallery. You can play some music while they are doing this. You will find people are deeply moved to laughter and tears.

Hint/Tip: Make sure you facilitate an exit from this experience, to shake off the exercise and leave it in the moment. It is best not to allow people to question who posted what story. Instead, encourage them to all feel ownership of the gallery.

  1. Take all the Post It notes and use them as material to tell your stories. Develop the stories into improvisations or film the participants looking at the ‘gallery’. You might want to put this to music and edit it into a film that could be projected during your performance.
  2. Create an interactive gallery that your audience can take part in during the performance night. It can/will develop and evolve over the course of the event.

Video: Post-It

This is an exercise to use with groups or in places where lots of people pass through/gather. This exercise has good visual impact and is a great way of collecting people’s thoughts and feelings on a specific subject. This video depicts a Post It note gallery in action.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip on Glow (log-in required).

How to 'Discover your story' – Create content

Create content

Below are more exercises that may help you create content. There is no order to these exercises as you will find different groups working in tandem as the momentum of the project picks up.

  • Walk This Way
  • Automatic Writing
  • Verbatim
  • Devising

Note: These exercises are a selection National Theatre of Scotland used when creating Transform projects. You can draw upon the expertise of those who are in your group, for example, specialist subject area teachers, learners, parents, community members. It is important to have a wide variety of ages and abilities working on your project. These exercises should develop your own and others’ creativity.


  • Have you reached your outcomes for this task?
  • What else must you consider now?
  • What have you discovered from tackling this task?

Download 'Discover Your Story' exercises

Full details of 'Discover Your Story' exercises.
Word file: Discover Your Story - Create content (42 KB)

Support materials

PDF file: Transform - quick guide (1.2 MB)
PDF file: Transform FAQs (256 KB)

Walk this way

National Theatre of Scotland used several techniques that challenged participants to view their immediate and wider environment in new ways. One of the most successful techniques was asking participants to experience the world differently. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Slow motion: slow down your walk and observe all the things that would otherwise pass you by. Look for detail, colour, texture, and feeling. Build a narrative around things you notice happening. Be aware of how you react to moving slowly through your environment. Do you feel frustrated or anxious to get to where you are going? Do you feel calm, peaceful, or in touch with the area? How does your state relate to how you think others are feeling? How do people react to you? What do you hear?
  2. Try walking blindfold, being led or with ear protectors on. Write down how it felt and how the other senses were stimulated.
  3. Try doing this exercise through a gauntlet/obstacle course and get the people guiding you to make noises or gestures (depending on what sense you are stimulating) to help you reach the other side. Once through the gauntlet, get the person to write and draw what they saw/heard during this experience.
  4. Upside down: using small make-up sized mirrors place them under or over your eyes. Try and navigate your way around the room or street by looking into the mirror. What happens to your awareness once you stop this exercise

Hint/Tip: The above ‘Walk This Way’ styles are ways of travelling around the space. Each one gives a different feeling and meaning to a piece that can be used within a performance to add dimension and style. You could use one or all of them.

Video: Walk this way

This video shows an example of slow motion walking from ‘Transform Orkney’.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip on Glow (log-in required).

Automatic writing

There are several approaches to stimulating automatic writing. The idea is that you offer some stimulus and encourage the participants to let their thoughts flow freely through the pen and onto the paper.

  1. Give the group a clear set of instructions that allows them create characters, plot and narrative. Ask them to consider what are they writing about and why. These instructions will allow them to project their thoughts and feelings onto a space and write with a specific idea in mind. They can pass the story on to each other like a game of consequences?
  2. Try not to give the group too much time as thinking about the task too much can stop the group from committing words to paper. Remember, it is automatic writing.
  3. Give the group a sentence or series of words to write when they hit a block. This allows the flow to continue. The words or sentences should relate back to the themes you are exploring. For example, if the group hit a block when writing about a moment in time that changed everything, ask them to write numbers. When they read the piece back, it will be punctuated by counting (thus helping us live the moment in time).
  4. You may wish to prepare for this exercise further by giving your writers something concrete to respond to, as this is often a good way to stimulate the imagination.

Here are some examples of how National Theatre of Scotland developed this exercise. Remember this is just one way – you will know what is best for your group, so adapt to suit yourself:

  • Film or photograph somebody in a space. It might be in a field of barley, a room, on a horizon, in water, through a window. Use your imagination but keep in mind what fits in with your theme/ideas.
  • Take the person away from the space and bring in your group of ‘writers’. Tell them someone was here, describe where they stood/lay/sat. Do this in factual tones and words. Do not tell the story, you are only giving information to allow the writers to create their piece.
  • Ask the writers to write some text about the space. Look for detail and imagine how the person moved or related to the space and what they might have been doing. Do they want to leave, stay, escape? Have they just arrived, are they performing a task or are they still?
  • Have the writers share their views of the space and what happened, then bring the person or photograph into the space. Have them all refine and change their responses. It is important at this point that they do not look to create the factual, as the fantasy and what is possible is more important.

Hint/Tip: This exercise is a successful way of writing monologues or sections of script without realising it. The writing could be edited into text for a performance piece so keep everything your participants write.


National Theatre of Scotland used a lot of verbatim testimony and interviews in its Transform pieces. You may want to gather information in several ways:

  • Record individuals
  • Record groups discussing a topic
  • Seek out newspaper and news items discussing topics relevant to your show
  • Check out relevant blogs
  • Seek out quotes from the internet and inspirational speeches

You do not have to be a slave to verbatim. Edit freely to condense or heighten your language or register for performance.

Hint/Tip: This exercise is best used once you know what your theme is so that the materials you have fit in with the piece. Remember to refer back to your earlier material from your development and ideas stage as there may be good recordings and clips that can be used.

Video: Creative Writing

This video shows the process of writing, from page to stage.

Can't view this video? You can also view this clip on Glow (log-in required).


Almost every experience National Theatre of Scotland created was done so with the idea that the outcome could potentially feature, in some form, in the production. As your material grows, you will design and devise ways in which you can shape it into theatre.

Be bold; make imaginative leaps; be alive to what is the hot topic, current trend or driving force as it often lends you a gift of being immediate. Nothing is impossible; simple but dramatic effects can be achieved if the idea is strong enough. Here are some examples of how NTS shaped content into the shows:

  • ‘BOLT’: The young people were in a conversation about how the older generation had let them down. They made a list and it became the finale of the show where the list was read out with a prefix of “you should have told us…...”
  • ‘One All’: The biggest employer in Barrhead was the toilet makers Shanks - a song about the factory was found and became a rousing tune played live by a specially formed band.
  • ‘Do a Dance No One Can See You Do and Put it in a Little Bag’: the title for this show came from a piece of automatic writing. It was literally translated in to a part of the show by building a huge bag, putting disco lights and a silent disco in it. People danced.
    Watch the video clip 'Think outside the box', available on Glow (log-in required).
  • ‘You Tell Us What Was, We’ll Tell You What Is’: Participants found old lockers in an abandoned factory. They became part of the set and an installation.
    Watch the video clip 'Use what you find', available on Glow (log-in required).
  • ‘Mixter Maxter’: Participants found an abandoned general store. They used the history of the space to engage people in a fiction and also used the idea of the space being a secret hide away in the show.
  • ‘The Carnival of Impossible Dreams’: Elgin was full of urban rumours and mythical tales. Many of these were used as the content of a script and they were told as if by a travelling group of storytellers.
  • ‘Hunter’: The young people were keen on horror mysteries and disappearances from a tight-knit community. NTS used the entire town to tell a fictional story that allowed them to indulge in a fantasy that culminated in a night in the town’s only nightclub.
  • ‘Flit’: The school had a deaf choir. NTS built sign language in to the whole show and found a new form of telling the story. The physically and mentally disabled can take part in any of the events if planned.
    Watch the teacher talking about self-esteem and not knowing who was deaf or not.
    Watch the video clip 'Be inclusive', available on Glow (log-in required).
  • ’99…100’: Participants met a 99-year-old lady and celebrated her birthday. Her thoughts and the blowing out of the candles on her cake formed the finale.
    Watch the video clip 'Find interesting people', available on Glow (log-in required).
  • ‘Nothing to See Here’: The primary learners liked quiz shows so NTS created a show from scratch and made it as a live, interactive experience.
    Watch the video clip 'Media influences', available on Glow (log-in required).


Hint/Tip: As you can see, it is VITAL that you keep a record of everything you make and discuss. When you come to piece your performance together you can, in some cases, pick the exercise up, put it to music and it is a section of your show.

Download video transcripts

Word file: Transform Toolkit - iPod therefore I am - transcript

​​Word file: Transform Toolkit - People and place - transcript

Word file: Transform Toolkit - 20 Questions - transcript

Word file: Transform Toolkit - Post-It - transcript

Word file: Transform Toolkit - Walk this way - transcript

Word file: Transform Toolkit - Creative Writing - transcript

Word file: Transform Toolkit - Think outside the box - transcript

Word file: Transform Toolkit - Use What You Find - transcript

Word file: Transform Toolkit - Be inclusive - transcript

Word file: Transform Toolkit - Find interesting people - transcript

Word file: Transform Toolkit - Media influences - transcript