Monday, November 5, 2012

The Dramatic Monologue, Part 3: Writing Your Own

If you’ve never tried writing a dramatic monologue, or you’d like to try again, what character should you pick? Maybe you already know whose voice you’d like to use. In that case, go for it!
If you don’t know, or you’re looking for ideas, consider choosing a character you’ve always wanted to be. I wrote a dramatic monologue in the voice of the great African American singer/dancer/entertainer Josephine Baker because I admire her tremendously. I also love the setting of her early success—Paris in the 1920s. I wanted to know what she might sound like talking to a friend in private about her very public life, so I just made up their conversation, based on research I’d done.
Another reason to choose a persona might be an individual whose life illustrates a particular point. A good example of this is June Jordan’s “Unemployment Monologue.” The poem is in the voice of a young Black male who might be standing on a street corner, talking to someone from a more privileged background. The speaker is called by different tags, from Herbie Jr. to “Ashamah Kazaam,” a name somewhere between an Islamic given name and a superhero punch. We get a sense that this young man is creative and smart, but going nowhere in a society that has no use for him. He boldly challenges the person he addresses—an interesting stance for a dramatic monologue.
Another reason for picking a character for a dramatic monologue might be to choose someone so different from you that it creates an exciting challenge to put yourself in that person’s shoes. The difference could be gender, age, class, historical time period, race, sexual orientation, religion, politics, geographic location, physical abilities, etc. Make sure you are not falling into stereotypes about a group, and that you are creating a character with the complexity that you hope others see in you. If you write about someone from a group not your own, consider showing that person not just at his or her lowest point. Without whitewashing the adversity your persona has to encounter, allow that individual at least a moment of triumph or connection.
One other consideration with a dramatic monologue: who is the speaker addressing? Is it a generalized audience, or an individual the speaker knows? If it’s a specific person, that can create more depth and/or drama. In Langston Hughes’s “Mother to Son,” the fact that this speaker is a mother talking to her child makes it much more moving. In June Jordan’s “Unemployment Monologue,” the young man addressing a person of relative privilege sets up a dynamic tension.


Other recent posts about writing topics:
The Dramatic Monologue, Part 1, Roots; Part 2: Pros and Cons
How to Get Published: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8
Working with a Writing Mentor: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5
How to Deliver Your Message: Part 1Part 2, Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6
Why Write Poetry? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4
Using Poetic Forms, Part 1: Introduction; Part 2: The Sonnet; Part 3, The Sestina;
Part 4, The Ghazal; Part 5, The Tanka

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