Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Form Study: Short Monologue

Joyce Carol Oates

Lesson time 08:10 min

Writing a monologue can be a useful stepping-stone to crafting a novel, as well as a good exercise in exploring the perspectives of characters unlike yourself. Joyce’s monologue story “Lethal” serves as an illustration.

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Topics include: Monologue Reading: “Lethal” · Write From a New Perspective


- Well, monologue is a literary form that is very short. Some monologues are only a paragraph long, and very few monologues are more than a couple pages long. If you have dialogue, It's usually longer, so the monologue is just somebody speaking. But usually, it moves from emotion A, emotion B, to emotion C. Usually, there's a trajectory or an arc of emotion. So it starts off with something, just a statement, and it takes you through some emotion and some acceleration and intensification. And then there's an ending that may be a little startling, if it's dramatic. So the person is revealing something about himself or herself that wasn't known in the beginning. The monologue I've-- I've often assigned takes-- takes you from one emotional level to another. Like it may start off very somber. It may be funny. It may start off quiet, and then get angry, and then reside again. And-- so that you have an arc of emotion. So however it starts out, it doesn't end that way. It ends in a slightly different way. And when you see really good acting in movies or on stage, you see an actor going through some arc of emotion. They're not flat, and they're not always the same. And when an actor is not doing that, it's sort of like carbonated beverage that's lost-- you know, that's lost the fizz. It's just sort of flat. And great monologues exist all through theater, because Hamlet's soliloquies are basically monologues, you know? And some people think that Hamlet was constructed as a sequence of sonnets, of soliloquies, and then the play was kind of constructed around these these great soliloquies. So it's very exciting for a writer to just write a monologue without anything around it. One of these little monologues would be like the stepping stone to a novel. If the character comes alive, the person could be very much a character that you would want to write about. [MUSIC PLAYING] In 1990, I was invited as a-- as a novelist to write for the theater. And I wrote one-act plays and longer plays and monologues. And I wrote a play that was about eight monologues called, "I Stand Before You Naked," and some other little dramas, and this is one of them. This is called "Lethal." It has one long paragraph, and then one sentence. So the structure is very important. It basically is one long paragraph, and then this structure. So this is a man speaking. It's not a woman speaking, but he's speaking to a woman. "Lethal." "I just want to touch you a little, that delicate blue vein at your temple, the soft down of your neck. I just want to caress you a little. I just want to kiss you a little-- your lips, your throat, your breasts. I just want to embrace you a little. I just want to comfort you a little. I just want to hold you tight, like this. I just want to measure your skeleton with my arms. These are strong, healthy arms, aren't they? I just want to poke my tongue in your ear. Don't giggle, and don't squirm. This is serious. This is the real thi...

About the Instructor

The author of some of the most enduring fiction of our time, Joyce Carol Oates has published 58 novels and thousands of short stories, essays, and articles. Now the award-winning author and Princeton University creative writing professor teaches you how to tap into your storytelling instincts. Find ideas from your own experiences and perceptions, experiment with structure, and improve your craft, one sentence at a time.

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Joyce Carol Oates

Literary legend Joyce Carol Oates teaches you how to write short stories by developing your voice and exploring classic works of fiction.

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