Hello, dear readers. So you want to write a monologue? We assume that’s why you’re here. And you’re in the right place! In this article, you’ll learn all about what exactly a monologue is, its purpose in literature and media, and how to write your very own.
Tune in to learn the secrets behind a great monologue.
Firstly, what exactly is a monologue? And what is its purpose? There are different types of monologue that you may wish to know about before deciding which kind you will write. Let's dive in.
A monologue is a lengthy, uninterrupted speech, spoken by a single character in theatre plays, novels, movies, television, or essentially, any media that uses actors. That is why, for the purposes of this article, we will use the terms ‘audience’, ‘listener’, ‘viewer’, and ‘reader’ interchangeably to refer to the intended audience of your monologue.
We’ll also use the terms ‘watch’, ‘listen’, and ‘read’ interchangeably, to refer to the concept of written material enjoyed in any format.
The word ‘monologue’ comes from the Greek words ‘monos’ and ‘logos’, meaning ‘alone’ and ‘speech’ respectively.
Monologues tend to be used to give the audience more information about the story or the character’s thoughts, personality, or motivations. They give a glimpse into the character’s thought process when making a decision, which helps us, the audience, make sense of that decision.
A monologue also invites viewers, listeners, and readers into the speaker’s mind and gives them a glimpse of their true nature. Just in the same way, we can’t truly get to know someone unless they let us in on their innermost thoughts and, sometimes, secrets, our knowledge of a fictional character would remain limited if it weren’t for monologues giving us some insight.
Monologues can also be used to move the story forward. Indeed, telling part of a story through speech instead of scenes can save time and explain in more detail what has happened, in a way that imagery or dialogue couldn’t.
A monologue is also a great way to pack a lot of information into a scene, in a way that dialogue might not allow, due to the back and forth of the speech between characters and perhaps, at times, the unwillingness of the characters to reveal some information to one another.
Generally, the information given in a speech usually cannot be given in dialogue - at least not in the same way - and this is the reason why monologues exist. Remember this, as it will be important to take into consideration when you come to write your monologue, as we will come to explain in a later section.
Here are the following types of monologues:
A soliloquy is a type of monologue given by a character who assumes nobody is listening to them. They are speaking to themselves, rather than to another character or the audience.
Soliloquies give a privileged insight into a character’s thoughts, and can therefore be used to explain some of their choices, motivations, or actions.
Since the character delivering the soliloquy is unaware that anyone can hear them, they tend to reveal pretty personal and private information in these monologues. Of course, the audience can hear them, and sometimes another character might also be listening secretly.
The famous To Be Or Not To Be by William Shakespeare is an example of a soliloquy. Hamlet delivers this speech without intending for anyone to hear it. It’s a lament of his feelings.
A dramatic monologue is quite the opposite of a soliloquy. Indeed, this type is a speech given by a character, with the intention of another character and/or the audience of hearing it.
When you watch the President’s speech on TV, for example, you are watching a dramatic monologue.
A character will usually deliver a dramatic monologue to reveal specific intentions.
An interior monologue gives the audience access to the character’s stream of consciousness. The character is aware that the audience is listening, and they are delivering the speech to confess their thoughts and feelings to them, or to give the audience an essential part of information.
The difference is that, unlike a dramatic monologue, the character isn’t speaking directly to the audience.
They fill in the blanks and provide the reader, listener, or viewer with a clearer picture of what’s going on.
For example, you might hear an interior monologue in between scenes during a movie or a sitcom.
Fight Club is a great example of interior monologues. It is full of them throughout the movie, with Edward Norton as the narrator, giving us some insight into his thoughts, which, as it turns out, ends up playing an essential role in understanding the story. Without this ongoing interior monologue, the story wouldn't make sense.
Drama as we know it evolved from Greek theatre, which started as long ago as 700 BC. Originally, it consisted mostly of monologues and did not contain much acting or dialogue between characters.
It evolved into more complex setups: now more characters were being added in to play out the storyline, and dialogues between characters were helping to carry the story forward. But even then, monologues were invaluable in helping transmit parts of the story to the audience.
Imagine, for example, having to relay to the audience that years have gone by, and the man has departed on his travels, and the woman in the meantime got pregnant unexpectedly. All of this on a small stage in 500 BC. Of course, this could also be done using signs or acting, but it would be much easier to explain with a monologue, don’t you think?
Are you ready to get onto the juicy bit? It’s time to write your own monologue. Whether you’re writing for a theatre play, a movie, a novel, a speech on TV, or any other medium, the following tips will help you in your endeavor.
If you’re writing a monologue with the purpose of it being part of a bigger piece of writing, then timing is everything. If you don’t place it correctly, it could feel a little forced, or come across as fake to your audience. Or, quite simply, it might not deliver the dramatic effect you’d like it to.
You could place your monologue at the beginning or end of the scene or movie, or you could strategically place it at another crucial moment.
Thinking about your monologue’s purpose will help you decide the optimal time for your character to deliver their monologue.
Having a character deliver a monologue at the beginning of a scene, movie, act or chapter can help set the mood and tone for what’s to come. This can be useful if you want to implement a sudden change in tone, for example. Or if you want to introduce an unexpected side to a character.
Think of Henry Hill’s monologue at the start of Goodfellas. This iconic speech gives an introduction to one of the main characters, and immediate insight into his way of thinking, as well as his hopes and desires.
A monologue at the end of a scene helps summarize, emphasize the moral, or end on a particular note.
Think of Red’s parole monologue at the end of the immensely popular movie The Shawshank Redemption. It brings together the moral of the story by expressing the lessons Red has learned from his time in prison.
This monologue cleverly gives us insight into the meaning he has derived from his countless dialogues with other characters throughout the movie, as well as his experiences, all of which we have been witness to. This speech has a strong impact on the audience and leaves us feeling a particular way - as per the writer’s intentions.
Monologues, as we have mentioned already, are a good way to mark a transition between two ideas. If you’re using a monologue for this purpose, then there aren’t any rules around where exactly you should place it. This comes down to your judgment.
Placement is still important. It is essential to place it somewhere that makes sense. Even more so if it’s a monologue serving as a transition since placing it in the middle of a scene can really interrupt the flow if it isn’t done naturally. Don’t get us wrong, you can have a monologue in the middle of a scene - if it makes sense.
As has been mentioned earlier, a monologue must be used to do something a dialogue cannot. Otherwise, it will seem ill-placed and forced, and the audience will wonder why you’re using a monologue as opposed to another type of speech. So ask yourself, when your monologue is written - could this have been better communicated in a dialogue? If so, your monologue needs to be stronger.
A monologue can carry so much power. The best ones give us goosebumps as there are high stakes involved. Think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer delivering a long speech to her Scooby Gang about why they can defeat the big bad - even though this one is scarier and stronger than any other before.
Or take Sean Maguire’s speech about love and loss in the iconic Good Will Hunting. It is highly impactful - on the viewers, as well as Matt Damon’s character Will.
Another great monologue is Lester’s speech in American Beauty about how time stretches right before you die, which is delivered as he is about to die.
These monologues are notorious and will be remembered always, because of the emotions they elicited.
Be deliberate about your monologue’s purpose, and determine what it will be before you begin writing it. As discussed earlier, the purpose will also determine where it goes in your scene/movie if you are indeed writing one.
Knowing your monologue’s purpose will help it to fit seamlessly into the scene, and the overall evolution of the story will flow. It will also help you decide which type of monologue it should be - dramatic, soliloquy, or interior.
A clear beginning, middle, and end are essential parts of a monologue. You can almost think of a monologue as a standalone piece of writing. In fact, sometimes it is. Perhaps you’re here because you just want to write a monologue that will stand alone. In any case, the monologue should begin and end with a specific purpose.
Usually, the ending will be some sort of revelation on the speaker’s part. If the purpose of the monologue was for the character to have an internal struggle around which action to take, then the monologue might end with a decision.
If the monologue was telling a story about the character’s past, the end might explain how this impacts them today.
A monologue can be any length, as long as you follow the above rules. The length is less important than what the monologue is accomplishing and how well it is doing it. You could lose your reader/viewer within the first few sentences if the monologue is boring. Conversely, an enthralling and well-written monologue can keep the reader engaged for paragraphs or hours at a time (depending on the medium).
If your monologue is intended for an audiovisual medium, after writing it, it can be a good idea to perform it out loud the way you would like it to be performed by the actor - conveying the right emotions and taking the relevant pauses in speech. This is because a monologue can last for longer when spoken than it seems when being read in your head.
Of course, if you’re writing a monologue only, as opposed to a monologue that will fit into a broader picture (movie, book, etc.) then it’s likely to be somewhat longer since the entire performance rests on this monologue. Again, that isn’t a problem, it just raises the stakes in terms of keeping the listener engaged. Think about why they would want to listen to you if they don’t know anything about you/your character. And if they do know you, what more might they want to know?
You should spike the reader’s curiosity from the very beginning of the speech so that the listener will want to pay attention until the end. Here are a few ways you can do that.
Now’s the time to edit and rewrite what needs to be improved upon. Remember, writing is a process. You aren’t expected to get it right the first time. Many drafts will be required, and that’s okay. Have fun with your monologue. Workshop it. Get ideas from friends.
Here are some tips to check if your monologue can hold its ground. You can use these tips to check in at different stages of your writing process, or when you’re done writing and are ready to make some tweaks.
Ask yourself: if you take your monologue out of context, will it stand on its own pretty well? If the answer is yes, there’s a good chance your monologue is of high quality.
Since a monologue needs a clear beginning and end, as explained earlier, it can usually stand alone and make perfect sense.
Despite being able to stand alone, within the intended context it adds fresh details to the story. So this is another element of a good quality monologue. It reveals something new to the audience.
Maybe it’s some juicy info that they didn’t know about a character. Maybe it raises the stakes. Maybe it makes the audience care more. Whatever it is, it grips the listener and keeps them hooked until the end of the monologue.
Your characters must act in a way the audience expects them to. Think of how a real person would act. Sure, we sometimes act out of character, but mostly we stick to a fairly unchangeable set of values and act in largely predictable ways. Your characters should do the same.
It can help to design character profiles, going into quite a lot of depth around their traits, thoughts, likes and dislikes, hobbies, and so on. Even if you don’t plan to use this information in your story directly, it can help you know your characters like your back pocket. And this in turn will help you write realistic monologues because they paint your character’s thoughts in a way that seems natural.
Even if their monologue is revealing something completely unexpected, the audience won’t question it so long as the character development was leading to this, or if they believe it’s possible in any way.
The best way to know if your monologue flows naturally is to perform it out loud. If you can, hire an actor to perform it. This will allow you to take the place of the audience and really listen. Does it grab your attention? Does the character behave in a way and use words that they would be expected to? Is the tone consistent throughout? Does the ending feel natural or is it a little abrupt? Is it long enough? Perhaps it feels too long and some elements can be cut.
There’s no better way for you to know how your monologue will come across to an audience than by putting yourself in the audience’s shoes. Of course, reading it out loud to another person will also help, as they will have the objectivity that you won’t, from hearing the piece for the first time.
If you enjoyed the process of writing a monologue, you may want to write more. That’s great! If you want to get your creative juices flowing, monologues are a great choice because they are so rich and diverse, and there are many directions you can go with it.
It’s important to hone your craft and make sure that you’re improving your skills over time. Here is some advice for you to get better and better at writing monologues.
As they say, practice makes perfect. Keep writing, make it a daily practice. You can find time to write a little each day. Try using writing prompts - you can find these online, or in journals bought specifically for this purpose.
When you practice, you don’t have to practice only writing monologues. Just getting your creative juices flowing will help you. The more you tap into that side of your brain, the more it will become a habit, and the easier inspiration will come.
Speaking of inspiration, try to find it in mundane moments or objects. Pay attention to what’s around you and imagine writing a story about it.
Before, we said, “practice makes perfect”. Of course, there’s no such thing as perfection, especially in the world of creativity, since everyone’s taste is different and art is subjective.
Besides, we don’t recommend that you aim for perfection. Why? Because this will rob you of the joy of the process.
Writer Mark Ronson once said that he used to write with the anticipation of the piece being performed, always thinking ahead. Then when he got his piece to the stage and he was finally “there”, he had “made it”, he would realize that the most enjoyable part of the process was actually the writing.
Moral of the story is? Enjoy each stage when you’re in it. Don’t wish your time away. Don’t dwell on being imperfect or wondering how popular your piece of writing will be. That’s not the most important part. Because the truth is that when you find joy in your writing, this will be felt in your writing, as it will naturally improve.
Watch, read, listen to and mimic the pros. What are they doing? Find out about their daily rituals, and their practices around writing, listen to their advice, and take in their tips.
This applies to writing monologues or writing in general.
You can buy books, watch Ted Talks, listen to podcasts, and take a course; the list of resources to help you improve your writing is endless. Head to reputable sites created by the people who have been there, who are doing it, who are living it, and listen to what they have to say. Learn from their expertise.
There’s no better way to be exposed to good writing than to read good writing. Or watch well-written movies.
Pay attention to the dialogue. Study the writing and see if you can detect patterns. Read/watch the material over and over, join a study group, and dissect the whole thing. Not only is this loads of fun, but it will seriously help improve your writing.
So hopefully by now, you have the tools to write a strong monologue, so what are you waiting for? Get started! We believe in getting started before you feel ready, because the inspiration will come as you are writing, and practice makes perfect.
Remember, above all, to have a lot of fun with it. Having a goal for your monologue is valid, but it isn’t everything. Writing should be a fun and enjoyable process, so make sure not to omit that side of things, too.
Good luck writing your monologue!
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