Creative Writing - Dramatic Monologue - what is it and how do you write it?
The Dramatic Monologue
What are Dramatic Monologues?
Dramatic monologues are usually long emotional speeches that express the feelings, actions, motives and views of the speaker or character either as a solo performance or as an individual part in a play. Dramatic monologues should not be confused with a soliloquy. Soliloquies are when someone talks to themselves about their thoughts and feelings concerning a situation, soliloquies imply that there is no audience. Dramatic monologues indicate that there is an audience whether that audience is a single person, en mass or a movie camera. An actor auditioning for a play, TV or film can use dramatic monologues to show the director how skillful they are as actors.
A long solo speech
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Writing a dramatic monologue
In order to write a dramatic monologue as a one-act play, the writer must consider the start, middle, length and finish, similar to a short story. At the same time the writer must give attention to the gravity of the tone and emotion being expressed. There is only one character, one voice, one thought process so the writer needs to ask ‘what is the speaker trying to say and do, what message is being delivered to the audience? How will I get that message across?’
Direction is very important, in setting the scene i.e. ‘single chair on an otherwise empty stage’, give directions to the actor on how to make his or her entrance. For instance - is the actor on the stage already sitting in the chair or is the actor going to make an entrance? Perhaps the actor is waiting in the darkness at the back of the stage. Does the actor start the monologue from way back there in the darkness gradually moving in to view so creating tension? The writer should give the actor guidance as to how to tell the story, is it a slow, thoughtful drawl or is it to be delivered quickly, with excitement? What about the ending, is it a thought provoking ending or a conclusion, or are you going to leave it ‘up in the air’ – a ‘cliff-hanger’. Are the audience going to have to use their imagination about how it all ends? Does the stage just darken? Does the actor walk back into the dark or just leave the stage? Does the actor stay seated and hang his or her head low?
Successful monologue writers know their characters well, both emotionally and personally. They know what motivates them and how they think because they have created and developed the character, intimately. If the writer can express this in-depth knowledge through the monologue, giving appropriate directions, then the actor will have no trouble delivering the dramatic monologue and the audience will have no problems understanding the message. It is important to note that if a speech takes too long and doesn’t have any substance, the audience will get lost and lose interest, just like political speeches!
Dramatic monologues should build-up to a climax. They should intensively affect the reader, actor and audience. They should evoke the passion or suspense of the moment helping them to reach the climax at the same time without questioning the effectiveness of theme.
Bruce Willis - Monologue
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How do I start?
My first monologue was to do with an old tree. I was at university and I was given a picture of an ancient tree and asked ‘what does the tree think or feel?’ After a while I began writing from the point of view of the tree, thinking about all the things that could have happen to that tree since it was a sapling. The animals that had climbed it, or flown onto its branches, the people that had broken its branches (limbs) without a thought for the tree. How it had a stood strong in all weathers, how it had avoided destruction by fire, war and the dreaded chainsaw massacre. I told of its pain at all it had seen and all the things that had been done around it, how the men came and killed all the other trees. I decided that the audience was a young sapling listening respectively to the old more experienced tree. Like a grandfather telling his young grandson his life story. It was an incredible journey and it didn’t take me long to realise how effective and thought provoking this kind of thought process was for creative writing. You can do it with any object it is called Anthropomorphism is the correct term or Personification.
You can use this similar process to create monologues. For example, take a picture of an old man – what is going on in his head, who is he? Where is he? What has he done? What’s he thinking about? Turn that into speech – let him tell his thoughts to an audience of one – you! Add some sarcasm, humour and drama and there you have it. Keep working it, re-writing it, adding to it, condensing it until you have produced a dramatic story that will capture the audiences’ imagination. Then add your stage directions and character profile i.e. turns head, nods slowly, stares into the distance, leans forward and looks straight into the camera- you know the kind of thing that gives your monologue some substance.
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© 2010 Leni Sands