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Writing

5 Tips for Writing Dramatic Monologues

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 12, 2020 • 3 min read

Dramatic monologues can be an actor’s best friend—or worst enemy. Learn how to write a dramatic monologue that leaves your audience wanting more.

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What Is a Dramatic Monologue?

A dramatic monologue is a speech in which a character reveals their feelings, inner thoughts, or motivations. Unlike a soliloquy, which is a private speech in which a character addresses themselves, a dramatic monologue is addressed to another character or to the audience.

William Shakespeare’s plays include some famous monologues, including Puck’s speech in the first scene of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (“Thou speak'st aright; / I am that merry wanderer of the night.”) and Friar Lawrence’s monologue in the fifth act of Romeo and Juliet (“Romeo, there dead, was husband to that Juliet, / And she, there dead, that Romeo’s faithful wife.”) The famous “to be or not to be” speech from Hamlet, on the other hand, is a soliloquy since it’s not meant to be heard by anyone else.

5 Tips for Writing Dramatic Monologues

Before you start writing a dramatic monologue for the first time, it can be helpful to seek out examples of monologues that you personally find moving. Then, follow these tips to write your own great monologue:

  1. Start with a compelling opening line. Monologues lack action and dialogue, which can leave the audience unengaged. You can use your writing skills to craft an effective monologue, but your audience won’t hear it if they’re not paying attention. How do you get them to pay attention? With a good opening line. In literary terms, this is known as a hook. Consider starting your monologue with a surprising statement or emotion-packed first line. Your first line should get your audience interested in the rest of the monologue by leaving them with questions.
  2. Present a strong point of view. One of the advantages (and challenges) of monologue writing is that monologues present the point of view of a single character. This character should have something important to say—if not, why are they launching into a monologue? What does this character really want? Often, dramatic monologues feature a main character facing a dramatic situation, or they might highlight a secondary character who has a unique perspective on events. Get to know your character’s voice, since it’s all you have to work with. Great monologues show a character experiencing a range of emotions while expressing one central idea.
  3. Develop a storyline. Even though monologues are typically short (compared to an entire play), good monologues can show build-up to a decisive action, reference past events, and even progress character development in the narrative. The challenge of a dramatic monologue is to pack all that into one character’s speech. A dramatic monologue doesn’t necessarily have to be part of a longer work, but it can help you to imagine (and even write down) what would happen to your character before and after this scene if your monologue were part of a longer piece.
  4. Know your parameters. English literature is full of all different types of monologues. You might use a poetic form like Shakespeare or the everyday language of most contemporary monologues. The type of monologue you’re writing will lead you to which literary devices you should use, such as repetition, rhyme, or imagery. Even if you’re not writing a monologue poem, you should always read your monologues aloud to yourself, paying close attention to rhythm and pacing. This is a good writing technique in general, and it’s especially important for formats meant to be read to an audience. Word count is also important: If you’re writing a one-minute monologue, you should have around 150 words. Time yourself as you read your monologue aloud to make sure it’s the right length.
  5. Wrap up with parting words. At the end of the monologue, leave your audience with something to think about. Most dramatic monologues are self-contained speeches, so it’s worth spending some time coming up with an ending that feels conclusive but also leaves your audience wanting to know more about your character and story. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different endings until you get the right fit.
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