ESME writer Ali Stine provides tips on writing a dramatic monologue
A dramatic monologue is traditionally a poem written in the voice of a character: someone from history, literature, news, or entirely made up—but someone else, not you.
Monologue means one person speaking, so dramatic monologues are written in the first person (“I did this… ” or “I believe…”). The fun of this prompt is in speaking from the voice of someone removed from yourself. You could be Eleanor Roosevelt or Lana Del Rey. What would Rosa Parks say or Hillary Clinton or the mother down the street or the girl you always see in the laundry room of your apartment building?
But even though you’re putting on the mask of a character when you write a dramatic monologue, it’s a chance to be really honest, too—all the while “hiding” behind your mask. Many dramatic monologues often reveal a secret. Think of Shakespeare’s soliloquies where a character is confessing something to the audience or speaking his or her deepest wishes to the stars.
So, your prompt is this: choose a character (not you), imagine the life of that person, and write a poem or fictional paragraph in that person’s voice. Consider revealing a secret. What is this person hiding? What is he or she afraid to say? What are you afraid to say that you may express in this character?
A famous example of dramatic monologues is Edgar Lee Masters’ book Spoon River Anthology, a poetry collection spoken by characters who are the inhabitants of the town graveyard. Many speak in their poems about how they died or tell a secret about how they lived.
A great place to find character names for this exercise is a graveyard. Choose a name from a tombstone. Or pick a name at random from the phone book. Envision who this person is based solely on the name and write a poem or paragraph describing this person.
Here are some tips to guide you:
- Write in the first person.
- Brainstorm about the character first. (What are the character’s loves? Dislikes? Fears? Dreams?)
- Try revealing a hidden aspect about the person.
- Try telling the story of an important moment in the character’s life.
- Use specific, concrete imagery.
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Alison Stine is the author of the young-adult novel Supervision, three books of poetry, and numerous essays. A Solo Mom, she lives with her son in the foothills of Appalachia. You can follow her on Twitter at @AlisonStine.
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