When you’re writing a play, you don’t have the luxury of prose to explain your characters’ thoughts to readers. Dialogue tends to do the heavy lifting when it comes to character development in drama, but what about situations where the audience needs to know how a character feels, but you can’t have the character say it in dialogue?
Write that character a monologue. A monologue allows a character to express their thoughts and feelings, and if it’s written well, it can not only shed insight into their psyche but also entertain readers or listeners.
What is a monologue?
A monologue is a speech by an individual that expresses their thoughts, feelings, and perspective. Through this expression, the monologue also illustrates the speaker’s character.
Monologues are often used in theater, but they aren’t limited to plays. Characters in books, movies, TV shows, and other mediums express themselves via monologues. Monologues appear in nonfiction settings, too, like stand-up comedy, vlogs, and one-person podcasts. When one person “gets the mic” and uses it to express their thoughts and feelings without having to respond to another character (which would make it a dialogue), it’s a monologue. Monologues come in different forms:
- Villain speeches
- Songs focused on individual characters’ thoughts
- Poems written as speeches
- Dramatic asides
Think of scenes where the villain has the hero in their clutches and explains their entire plan. That’s a monologue. Or think of a song in a musical where the singer expresses their feelings, like the song “Maybe” in Annie.
A monologue isn’t always a one-sided conversation between characters. It can also be a one-sided conversation the speaker directs at their audience. Think of online rants, impassioned pleas, and situations where you’ve listened to a friend vent. Those are monologues.
With a monologue, you’re getting a subjective point of view. That’s why academic lectures and presentations typically aren’t considered monologues—the speaker isn’t discussing their own feelings; they’re discussing facts, findings, and theories.
How are monologues structured?
Monologues are structured like stories so that listeners or readers understand exactly what’s happening. A storylike structure, starting with a strong hook and building up to a climax, draws listeners in and prevents the monologue from feeling monotonous, and by extension, it keeps the character from feeling flat and boring.
What are the different types of monologues?
A soliloquy is a specific type of monologue widely used from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century in theater productions. In a soliloquy, one character expresses their thoughts and feelings to the audience, while other characters remain silent.
With an interior monologue, the speaker expresses their perspective and feelings. The key difference between a soliloquy and an interior monologue is that a soliloquy must be spoken aloud, whereas an interior monologue may appear in text.
You might also be familiar with the term “inner monologue.” An inner monologue isn’t exactly the same thing as an interior monologue—though there are similarities. While someone’s inner monologue is an ongoing narration of their thoughts, an interior monologue is a written or spoken expression of this narration inside a character’s head. Put another way, if you were a character in a play, you might express your inner monologue to audiences through an interior monologue.
A dramatic monologue is a poem written as a speech. Like other kinds of monologues, a dramatic monologue reveals its speaker’s inner thoughts and feelings about their situation, indirectly revealing their character through these thoughts.
Other types of monologues
We briefly mentioned above that monologues exist outside the realm of drama and fiction. Think about the last time you went on a rant about something that bothered you, or you listened to a podcast where the host expressed their personal views on the episode’s topic. Those are examples of monologues. These are other types of monologues:
- Stand-up comedy
- Songs focused on individual characters’ feelings and thoughts
- Dramatic presentations of personal essays
Write a monologue in 7 steps
Whether you’re writing a monologue to deliver yourself or through a fictional character, the process for writing one is the same. Essentially, you’re writing a brief story in the form of a speech. Like any other story, your monologue needs a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Writing a monologue is similar to writing dialogue, especially if you’re writing a monologue for a character. Their monologue should “sound” like all their other communication, using the same rhythm and vocabulary. Keep this in mind as you prewrite and work through the first draft. Writing a monologue largely follows the same writing process as other kinds of writing: It starts with brainstorming and ends with proofreading. The following steps are specific to writing a monologue:
Determine the monologue’s goal
Before you start writing, think about your goal for the monologue. What is the character expressing?
- Thirst for power?
- Angst about injustice?
- Sadness over unrequited love?
- Joy about winning the lottery?
- Apathy regarding their day-to-day routine?
The monologue’s subject matter and how the character feels about it determine everything else about the monologue: the character’s vocabulary, their delivery, their reactions to their own words, and the details they choose to include. One way to get yourself into the right mindset to write a monologue from the character’s perspective is to think about the kind of speech they’re delivering. An angry rant sounds very different from a ho-hum journal entry, and writing an impassioned plea for forgiveness is very different from writing a toast.
Explore the character thoroughly
Once you have a subject for the monologue, think about the character delivering it. Who are they? What’s their background? What’s their relationship to the situation they’re giving a monologue about—are there other people involved in it?
If you haven’t already, spend some time getting into this character’s head. A monologue that feels incongruent with the character’s other speech and actions will only confuse and potentially turn off readers or viewers, so make sure the monologue is in character.
Determine the monologue’s audience
The next step is identifying the audience who will hear the monologue. We don’t just mean the reader or viewer here—within the “world” of your play, who is going to hear the character’s monologue? Their friends? Their enemy? Side characters who don’t know anything about the topic the character is speaking about—or perhaps shouldn’t know anything about it?
Once you’ve determined who’s listening to your character’s monologue—if it’s anyone other than the viewer—think about how the character will alter their speech accordingly. There are things they might not say aloud to a parent, boss, or love interest and might regret saying if they didn’t intend for the other character to hear them.
Hook listeners with a powerful beginning
Here’s where writing a monologue feels a lot like writing a story. You need to hook listeners with something that captures their attention, like a loud noise or jarring statement.
Communicate using storytelling techniques
Moving past the opening and getting into the heart of the monologue, use storytelling techniques, such as figurative language and repetition, to keep listeners interested as the character progresses through their monologue. Build listeners up to a climax, the thesis of the character’s monologue, just like a good story brings readers to a climactic scene.
End on a strong note
Finish the monologue with a definitive statement that makes the character’s next move—and state of mind about it—clear. Your monologue’s ending shouldn’t be overly long or complicated. It should bring the monologue to a close and ensure that the viewer is clear on where the character stands.
Once you have a finished first draft, it’s time to edit, proofread, and revise. Take some time to work on other projects, then when you come back to your monologue, read it through completely. During this read-through, you might catch instances where you can make a different word choice for a stronger effect or reorder sections to make the monologue’s flow more logical.
First, edit the “bigger picture” parts of your monologue, like its paragraph structure and focal points. Then, once you have a second draft, proofread it. When you proofread, you’re looking for grammatical and spelling mistakes. Fixing these is important even if you plan to read the monologue aloud (or have an actor read it aloud) because even a seemingly small mistake can trip the speaker up and undermine your words’ impact.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages . . .
—from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It
Well, I don’t own pearls. Lord knows you don’t pay coloreds enough to afford pearls! And I work like a dog day and night, living on coffee from a pot none of you want to touch! So, excuse me if I have to go to the restroom a few times a day.
—from Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures screenplay
I want my Junior Mints, where did the Junior Mints go in the movies
I don’t want a 12-pound Nestle’s crunch for 25 dollars
I want Junior Mints
We need more fruitcakes in this world and less bakers
We need people that care
I’m mad as hell and I don’t want to take it anymore
—from Jimmy Buffett’s “Fruitcakes”
Song in a musical
You were once my one companion
You were all that mattered
You were once a friend and father
Then my world was shattered . . .
Wishing you were somehow here again
Wishing you were somehow near
Sometimes it seemed
If I just dreamed
Somehow you would be here
—from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” Phantom of the Opera
What is a monologue?
A monologue is a speech by an individual that expresses their inner thoughts, feelings, and perspective. This individual can be an actual person or a fictional character.
How is a monologue structured?
A monologue is structured similarly to a story. It begins with a hook that captures listeners’ attention, then guides them through a narrative that builds to a satisfying climax, and then reaches a conclusion that ties up any loose ends.
What are some different kinds of monologues?
- Interior monologue
- Dramatic monologue
- Stand-up comedy
- Villain speech