Monologues can be a powerful writing exercise, and in this blog, I’m going to share why that is, what they are and how to start writing them.
Before you begin, one of the best ways to get in the monologue mindset is to listen to some. There is a plethora of them on BBC Sounds and even more on the various podcast platforms, which is where Alexa Tewkesbury (my writing chum and co-host of our podcast, The Pen to Published Podcast) is hosting her The Murder Monologues.
Where’s the power?
Being able to write from one person’s perspective, with no interruptions from other characters, can be a really powerful way of getting a single person’s viewpoint across to the reader (or rather listener). This can be done with humour, satirical irony or written straight.
The power comes from the simplicity of voice, although this simplicity can be difficult to create. However, being able to tell a story or establish a situation through one voice will flex your writing muscles in ways they probably haven’t been flexed in a while, if at all.
Being able to shift from third person to first will force you to write in a certain way.
So, for example, instead of “She picked up the flowered mug, and poured more coffee”, you’d have to switch it to: “She used my flowered mug, and helped herself to more coffee”.
Monologues appear deceptively simple
Unlike regular fiction, you don’t get to hear anyone else’s opinion, just the narrator’s judgment and filter. This can cause a few hiccups when writing, as you don’t need to use descriptions that you normally would when creating fiction. You need to write the way you would speak.
Sounds easy, but actually when it comes to writing one, it can be tricky. All the rules for writing go out the window and you’re left with action, not description. It’s why monologues make such great writing exercises. They flex your creative muscles and challenge the way you set your words on a page.
So how do you go about writing one?
How to write them
As I mentioned at the beginning of the blog, one of the quickest (and most effective ways) of learning to write a monologue is to listen to as many as you can.
You might have been a fan of the Alan Bennett series, Talking Heads, which were re-recorded and new ones added, and then broadcast in 2020 at the height of the pandemic – rather ironic at the time, as each episode involved literally one person speaking and no other actors in sight. Each monologue told a story in just under 30 minutes, and some were quite dark and disturbing. Alas, they aren’t available to re-watch at the moment, but as I’ve already mentioned, there are plenty of others available on BBC Sounds, and by listening to them, you can get into the flow of how they need to be written.
Also, don’t forget Alexa Tewkesbury’s The Murder Monologues, which are available on all major podcast platforms. What’s especially clever about these is that the format is slightly different – in each episode, the story is told through two monologues, with two different narrators.
Listening to as many different types will help with your construction as you’ll get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. Do you want yours to be comedic or humorous? Perhaps you want to have a twist at the end, or your monologue can simply be an observational narrative. Just remember one of the golden rules: write to keep the listener listening.
The golden rules of monologues
Follow these easy steps to get started. And just remember to have fun and practise, practise, practise.
- Have a hook at the beginning. A strong opening line.
- Keep the story moving forward.
- Develop the character: let us see (or rather hear) a transition.
- Think action, not description.
- Don’t use too many adjectives!
Once you’ve written your monologue, record yourself reading it out loud and listen back to the result. This is one of the best ways to hear how it will come across to others.
Then, like any good fiction piece, leave it at least a day before you come back to it, then edit ruthlessly.
Have a go and see what happens. I’d love to know how you get on.
If writing is something you love to do, why don’t you join my Facebook group, The Writers’ Refinery. We are currently running a monologue challenge and would love you to join in. It’s simple and free to join the group – just visit the link above.