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 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.
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 a 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 ignoring 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,” for instance, 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. In a sense, even a monologue is a dialogue of sorts, since it is addressed to another or to others.

Zack’s most recent book of poems, Irreverent Litanies

Zack’s most recent translation, Bérénice 1934–44: An Actress in Occupied Paris by Isabelle Stibbe

Other posts on writing topics:

How to Get Published

Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe TankaThe Villanelle
Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer
Writers and Collaboration
Types of Closure in Poetry

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