Today we are going to focus on writing a monologue. I'm going to assume that you all read some plays over the week since our first lesson, and have also been checking out the structure of your favorite TV shows. And while we will be discussing dramatic structure a great deal on this blog, we are going to focus today on how it all comes together in the creation of a monologue.
First off--- what is a monologue? A monologue is a long speech given by a character in a play, sometimes to other characters onstage, sometimes directly to the audience. A soliloquy is another example of a long speech, though usually given by an actor alone onstage.
For the purpose of our exercise, we are going to be writing monologues for a single character, and our monologues are going to be complete pieces in of themselves, with a beginning, middle, and end. Yes, a monologue can be a play all by itself.
How do we write a monologue? Well, first, you need to remember that all drama is about conflict. When you have a single character, the conflict is within the character herself, or perhaps the character and some external limitation.
Let's look at an example, shall we? And if we're going to look at an example of a great monologue, let's look at a great example from one of my playwrights, Anton Chekhov. Here is a link where you can read his monologue (which is its own play) called "On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco": http://method.vtheatre.net/doc/tobacco.html
(Note: This piece is in the public domain, and this is the only place I could find the full text online. Aside from a few spelling errors, it is pretty close to the versions I'm familiar with.)
Now, I'm not expecting you to read this first and then come back and read the rest of my blog, but, if you do not, you will have to be ready for some spoilers coming.
The reason I like to use this monologue as an example for writing monologues is, other than being quite funny, it is an excellent example of conflict. Our character, Nykhin, informs us he is going to give us a lecture on the harmful effects of tobacco. However, the monologue is not about tobacco at all, is it? We learn quickly that our lecturer is prone to digressions, and the very digressions are what make up the bulk of the monologue. Hence, we have some conflict already: we are told we are going to hear a lecture on tobacco, but what we really hear is our lecturer share his comically sad existence with us, ultimately purging himself, until the very end, when he entreats us to tell his wife he gave a very fine lecture on tobacco.
Certainly, one does not need to mimic Chekhov in tone or subject when writing a monologue. But there are lessons one can take from this piece when writing their own. Here are some examples:
1. Character: right away from the first stage directions ("worn-out flock coat", "bows majestically to the audience"), we as an audience get an idea of who this guy is. The spoken text that follows takes us on a journey with him.
2. The Dramatic Arc: Nyukhin tells us he is going to lecture on the harmfulness of tobacco even though "I myself smoke, but my wife told me to lecture on the harmful effects of tobacco, so what's to be done?" In that small line in the beginning, we get the first indication that our lecturer might possibly be a bit hen-pecked. As he continues with his lecture, and things seem to be moving in the right direction... "When I lecture I blink my right eye. Take no notice. It is simple nervousness. I am a nervous man". This digression gives the author permission to go into WHY he is a nervous man, and thus, the rest of the story builds... the boarding home, his daughters, his wife's nest egg, etc. So this action continues to rise, with the character purging himself, until, near the end, we learn he is a broken man with broken dreams, who longs only for "peace". Of course, Chekhov ends the piece with the Lecturer becoming aware his wife is looking at him from backstage, so he hastily concludes with a last remark about the harmful effects of tobacco.
This trajectory is very effective for a monologue. We meet a character, get an initial first impression, the character reveals more about themselves and their life, the focus changes, grows to a climax and then... we are back to the beginning, knowing our character will never change.
3. Stakes: stakes are tremendously important in any dramatic writing, especially a monologue. In order for us to remain engaged by one person talking to us from stage, the stakes to rise and rise and rise.... (if you don't like the word "stakes", you can also think of it as "complications").
So, what I would like to give you for an assignment is this: read through the Chekhov monologue, noticing some of the things I have talked about. Then, I would like you to try writing your own monologue. Make sure it is about something that is interesting to you. It's fine to draw things from your own life, but I would suggest that as a jumping off point, and then letting you creativity take the stakes higher. Your first monologue needn't be as long as the example I've given you: you can have a good monologue with a beginning, middle and end in one or one and a half pages, even. And think about this as your write:
1. The character should reveal something about themselves that perhaps they are not even aware of themselves, and
2. A goo way to create conflict is to have a character start out believing one thing, but by the end realize they have shifted to the exact opposite belief.
If you would like to share your monologue with me (I can't promise an immediate response, but I will try to read them as quickly as possible), you can e-mail them to me at email@example.com
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If you would like to read a sample of a monologue I wrote called "Falling (And Not Getting Up)", click here: http://www.brookpub.com/default.aspx?pg=sd&st=FALLING+(AND+NOT+GETTING+UP)
Thank you for joining me today at Theater is a Sport. I hope you enjoyed your second playwriting lesson!
To go directly to LESSON 3, simply click HERE
Until tomorrow, please remember: theater is a sport (and, banging your head against the wall CAN be enjoyable)