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More Writing Ideas and Inspirations (9)
I've mentioned monologues before in this series, so regular readers will know how much I like them, but while monologues tend to be used more in writing for theatre, the technique is also useful in other ways. Monologues are:
- An opportunity to discover a character's 'voice'
- A way of finding out what's going on in a character's head
- A means of deciding what sort of language, phrases, or dialect a character uses
- A way to discover if you actually like the character enough to write about them
They can also be used as short stories. Now, I'm aware that some literary magazine editors aren't keen on this style, but that doesn't mean it isn't right. I think if it fits the style of your piece, then it's fine. My story 'Collecting for Evie' uses this technique quite well.
Waiting for Godber
This first example is from a longer duologue (two-hander, in theatre terms), and was inspired by the writer/director John Godber (of Hull Truck Theatre), the title being a fairly obvious play on 'Waiting for Godot' by Samuel Beckett. It's a kind of story-within-a-story, and at this point, the main character is relating something that's happened in the past:
Met her at the Reading Rock Festival in 1979. The Scorpions were on and she was in front of me jigging about on some bloke’s shoulders, only he was so pissed he could hardly stand, so when she fell off, it was me that caught her. Broke my bloody leg. She came to see me in hospital. Said she felt guilty, wanted to make it up to me, so…and for a while we were okay. No kids mind, she didn’t want to lose her figure.
It all went wrong one year I was doing panto in Cumbria. Twelve bloody weeks sweating my bollocks off in a lion suit - Wizard of Oz - and I could only get home every other week, but she says, “Oh that’s fine pet. Don’t worry about me. I‘ve got something lined up.” Told me she'd joined this local am-dram company, which I thought was odd cos she’s never shown much interest in acting, but it kept her occupied. By the time I got back off the tour she was well into it, and I thought fine, she’s happy, enjoying her work.
Turned out it wasn’t the work she was enjoying.
So this story reveals why the character, an ageing actor, is in a particular state of mind at this point in his life.
Playing With Matches
One of the things that used to happen to me quite a lot in my writing is that I'd find some of my work would have a familiar 'voice' to it. Many of my early stage plays had a very definite John Godber style to them, whereas this piece has more than a hint of the Alan Bennett to it. I seem to have managed to shake off this habit over the years, but it's interesting to look at from the standpoint of knowing that I have a much more defined voice of my own now.
Anyway, this one is from an unfinished long monologue/story/play that so far, has gone through several completely different stages. I'm still undecided about what it actually is, and due to the Alan Bennett influence, I'll probably never do anything else with it. This extract is meant to be the character - Sylvia, an older, married woman - speaking in real time, ie the action is happening now, whereas other sections are seen retrospectively:
I haven't sat on a park bench since I don't know when. Used to wonder what people were up to. Sitting on park benches. It's actually very pleasant. Nice. I've my women's group tonight. We meet every Wednesday. It's kind of like the WI but we pride ourselves on variety and non-traditional themes within the wider context of gender-related issues. We've a slide show this evening. Twentieth Century Architecture of New South Wales. Mrs Wooton's doing it. She was there last summer apparently. Husband's in a wheelchair so I'm surprised she managed. Can't be easy.
The idea is that the character is commenting on many of the humdrum events of her very ordinary life. However, we gradually see how a series of seemingly unrelated events come together in a way that changes her life.
After lunch, Gabriel went out to his van to get Mary's regular order while she was hobbling up the stairs on her way to the loo. Now I don't quite know how to explain it, but I had a sudden urge. I opened the back door and ran after him up the garden path. He'd just unlocked his van and was standing grinning at me. I stood there for a moment facing him and it seemed like my heart was thumping so loud half the street must have heard it and if our Mary had a mind to, she could've looked out the bathroom window and seen me gazing up at this huge Greek God and I could hear her voice in my head saying Oh, our Sylvia, what d'you think you're playing at? Get yourself home you soppy old tart.
One of the differences in this second example is how Sylvia's voice changes. The longer sentences and lack of pauses help to show her excitement at seeing Gabriel.
Interior Signs - Lou Hazelwood
This next one is from a collaborative piece of work I did with artist and photographer Lou Hazelwood called Interior Signs. I wrote the words and she did the video. Some of the pieces, like the one below, haven't made it to the video stage yet. (The video opposite is one of the finished films).
This one was called 'As a...' (As a declaration of violence, I must always remember your name).
It's funny the stuff you hide away, don't talk about, don't think about. It made me wonder - that maybe I never would've, you know, thought about it properly, if it hadn't been for Pete. Because with him, of course, there came a point when I had to say something. You know, about the situation. I mean, I hadn't lied or anything. He knew I was married. Just not...not the extent of...things. But when you're, you know, involved with someone, especially someone as open and honest as he was, you have to be the same, don't you? You have to explain. I mean, they'd have bumped into each other eventually anyway and he'd have realised.
What I was trying to get at with this piece was that particular way of talking that people have when they're speaking about something sensitive or intimate. I won't say where the inspiration for it came from as it's still a bit painful, but I think I achieved some sense of what I was feeling at the time in writing this.
Off the Record
This last one is a monologue I wrote for a performance when I was at university. The brief was to write and perform a piece of work individually. In cases like this, students were often encouraged to choose something that related to a social issue and present it in a way that would say something about that issue. However, I was more concerned with the actual writing. My plan was to write the thing in Geordie dialect. This was harder than I imagined, and it would probably have been easier to write it in plain English, learn the script and then simply perform it in my own voice - ie Geordie. But no, I had to do it the hard way!
Wor lass’ll be gannin mad. Although, acshully, it is hor fault. Aall this. She introduced iz to Vivien in the forst place. Daft sod. ‘Course, she’ll say it’s mey fault. ‘Cos it was me thet complained aboot Angela. That’s what started it. See, wor lass, she can’t dae nowt by horsel…has to drag that Angela roond ivrywhere. They share a flat. Hev done since they left school. But they’re elwis t'gither. Wor lass teks hor tae the bog an' aall sorts. They dae that, divven’t they? Wimmen? But it’s gettin ridiculous. Ah sez ti hor, ye’ve got me noo…Ah’m tekkin ye oot…ye divven’t need hor hingin roond. She’s like a bloody Klingon - winnit let gan.
And the translation, if you need it:
My girlfriend’ll be going mad. Although, actually, it is her fault. All this. She introduced me to Vivien in the first place. Daft sod. ‘Course, she’ll say it’s my fault. ‘Cos it was me that complained about Angela. That’s what started it. See, Carol, she can’t do anything by herself…has to drag that Angela around everywhere. They share a flat. Have done since they left school. But they’re always together. Carol takes her to the toilet and all sorts. They do that, don’t they? Women? But it’s getting ridiculous. I said to her, you’ve got me now…I’m taking you out…you don’t need her hanging round. She’s like a bloody Klingon - won’t let go.
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Writer, Musician, Hermit, Time-Traveller
There's a very definite movement in Scotland for Scottish writers to write in Scots (in its various guises), such as the one known in Aberdeen as Doric.
While I think this is highly important as a means of preserving the original dialects, spellings and traditions of the language, it's not an easy task. As I learned while writing ’Off the Record' unless you have a very good reason for including such specific language, it's a hell of a lot easier to leave it out, and simply give a hint of it in the writing.