Form Study: Short Monologue

Joyce Carol Oates

Lesson time 8:11 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.

Joyce Carol Oates
Teaches the Art of the Short Story
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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- 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...

Find your voice in fiction

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.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

I learned a lot about the writing process and I also appreciate more the things I have written already.

Great to get another perspective from such an experienced writer. It got me asking some searching questions about my own writing.

Amazing writing class, and her voice is so smooth I've followed this mainly before going to bed. So relaxing and inspiring!

Love the ending about the window it was almost spiritual hearing her say those things.



"Lethal" went from a flirting tease to monstrous, like Hannibal Lecter taunting his victims.

Jeanned'Arc L.

I appreciated the push to write in someone else’s perspective. It was a struggle for me to not interject my own voice. Lesson 08 #1 Monologue using first person, someone unlike myself WC 985 I’m Adelina from Verner. I’m here to ask that you listen to my advice on how to run a household of people living together ranging in ages months to 90 years of age. While this style of life is different from today’s generation, I’ll laugh to remind you of the fun times we enjoyed during Holidays and celebrations. I now enjoyed today’s quieter pace. But that’s because I can no longer dance. You know I loved to waltz and square dance. Now all I can mange is line-dance. That’s when the children pick me up and bring me because I usually talk myself into staying home, comfortable enough watching TV reruns or reading. Well, anyway, in my day, grandparents lived within the family household. If there weren’t a few rooms sectioned off from the main house, they had the largest bedroom. When my parents live with us, it was in their home that we sectioned off one third of the main floor. Divided it out for a small kitchen, a private washroom and one small bedroom with a separate entrance on the far side of the verandah. Since I’ve lived there, the verandah is my main location out of the house. It allows me to sit outside whatever the weather. You know that my ankles are swollen all the time and that makes walking difficult. I don’t even use my cane when I’m out there. Don’t need it because George had carpeted the floor with the outdoor green turf they use on the miniput. Yes it’s a shame to cover such nice cedar boards, I agree. But then, no one needs to worry about me tripping. Imagine how liberating that feels for me. George is my youngest of thirteen, a good son. They all are, the seven of them. I am lucky to have him want to take over the same lifestyle as his father. This farmland living isn’t for everyone. His wife is a sweet and caring woman too. Just like a daughter to me. I have six daughters of my own. Each a good mother, and now becoming grand mothers too, that makes me a great grandmother. Can you believe how time flies. Not one of them lives on a farm. But I miss my Edward, my husband’s name, Edward Savourins, from Quebec. His heart failed during his sleep, ten years ago. I still miss him very much. The grand kids come visit often. They are still interested in family stories. About their parents, how they grew up and where they lived. I enjoy telling them about their parents. But I have a difficult time remembering dates and names. They bring me photos and ask me to identify the people. The period. I can’t always be right and that bothers me. I can’t see as well as I use to and my memory tricks me. I use to be very healthy but now I ache all the time, all over sometimes. I have arthritis in my joints that’s why you see me wringing my hands. That makes moving painful. I’m slow. I don’t go up any stairs now. I don’t have strength to push or pull my own body. My daughters in law Suzanne. She is an angel. She helps me wash and dress myself these days. Like a baby, just like a baby I say to her. She laughs when I cry because she think I ‘m just kidding. But I know -- Old. I’m old. Lesson 08 #2 Written in the voice of someone I dislike. WC 229 No one will believe you, just unpack those bags and put on your pretty happy face. You’re not going anywhere. You’re not going to leave me, ever. You know it, because you will never see those girls again. That I can promise you, you’re not going to turn those little bitches into wimps like yourself. Why aren’t you at work today? You loosing that business now? Maybe you should have a nap. Go have a cry, make yourself feel better huh. Go now. I want you to look your best for Gary and Linda. They’ll be joining us for supper. They don’t need to see you looking sad, you stupid bitch. What do you think you’d do alone with the girls. How’d you manage the three of you on your dumb job. Well maybe I need you to contribute 100 dollars more from now on. Yeah, don’t go there. I’m the best thing that ever happened to you. Don’t you remember your own mother telling me how she appreciates me. I don’t even want to know where you were whoring off to. If any one takes care of you it’s going to be me. Feel that barrel. Cold hay, I promise, I’ll take care of you. If I hear a whisper about you thinking of leaving me, I’ll take care of you. No one will believe you. No one Lesson 08 # 3 A monologue with an emotional Arc WC 241 You told me that you hated her, that you loved me. All the love notes I read over and over, during my term with the army. I loved that you told me everything, even the anger with you mother, how you felt you needed me close. Remember all the laughs we shared at the bunkhouse during the short visit? You had so much love for me. We are so in love. Look how you’ve changed me. The bad boy turned hero. You were right to tell them you weren’t too young, that I was your knight in shinning armor. I smile because you communicated your fears, you hate for your mother and I knew I could take care of that. She’s sure is controlling. Oh you were ready to let it drop and I could tell you were loosing your nerve. It had nothing to do with you having not meant for the accusations to be taking seriously. I don’t believe it was your problem or your doing. I let myself in, walked in on you two when she was about to pound you with the broomstick. She had a weapon. I bet you were telling her about me. I warned you not to do that. But that’s Okay. I remember the look of surprise on your face when I appeared. Your mother was scared. I had to strike you down too. To make it look good, you know that, right.

A fellow student

I do really like her peaceful manner but I think she sometimes needs to give us shorter examples as we aren't here for a semester.

Dan U.

if you want a little advice, Professor,dont walk into your local police station and recite this monologue.

A fellow student

It’s interesting how she uses music comparison. Reminds me of Dan Brown MasterClass