Thursday, September 9, 2010

Writing Monologue Tips

Please read this advice this morning before you attempt the post below it.

"Some of the most famous and memorable moments in theatre history – moments including phrases like, “to be, or not to be” or “now is the winter of our discontent,” which are internationally renowned – are from dramatic monologues.

Since Shakespeare’s time, the dramatic monologue has grown and developed to have countless uses in the world of theatre (as outlined in the article, What is a Monologue?), but the general definition remains the same: a monologue is a speech, usually somewhat lengthy, delivered by a single actor in a play or film.

But how do you go about writing a powerful and effective monologue? What follows is a look at the crucial elements to consider when you are working on your next theatrical monologue, whether dramatic or comedic.

Keep Your Character’s Voice Distinct and Consistent

Since a monologue involves a single character speaking for an extended period of time, you need to make certain that your character’s voice is distinct to his or her personality, and that it remains consistent, not only throughout the monologue itself, but also from before the monologue, and continuing through the remainder of the play.

This is not to say that your character’s monologue cannot reflect a change in attitude. Your character, for example, may be incredibly kind to her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend to her face and then turn around and perform a monologue about how much she hates her. What the audience needs to know is that this shift is intentional. If your intentions as the playwright are not clear, your writing will come across as inconsistent and your audience will quickly lose interest.

Pay Attention to the Rhythm and Shape of Your Monologue

Even though a monologue may be only a short part of a much longer play, it needs to have a shape and rhythm of its own. A monologue in any form is a story, so like any story, it should have (generally) a beginning, middle, and end. When writing your monologue, consider where its high point, or climax, is, and always make sure that every line is helping the audience get to and from that point effectively.

Without shape, your monologue will probably make it seem as though your character is either ranting or rambling. Use concise language and selective editing to keep your monologue from becoming dull or seemingly pointless – losing your audience’s emotional investment, even for five minutes, could keep them at a distance for the remainder of the play.

Know Your Audience, Know Your Audience, Know Your Audience!

This is by far the most important element of writing any monologue, and cannot be reiterated enough times. As you are writing (and later revising) your monologues, make certain that you know who your audience is. The word “audience” in this case is not referring to the group of people who will sit and watch a production of your play. Rather, the “audience” of your monologue is the person (or people) to whom your character is speaking when they deliver each specific monologue.

Knowing who your character is speaking to will shape your monologue significantly. It will give your character a distinct voice (imagine, for example, how differently you would address your mother and your best friend), a distinct attitude, and will help your audiences in production to understand what your characters’ intentions are.

Imagining that your character is speaking to “the world” or “to society” is not good enough – next time you are working on a monologue, try to revise your work with a specific audience in mind for your character, even if it’s just an experiment, and note how much stronger the piece becomes."

--Andrea Beca

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