Understanding and Writing the Monologue Story - John D. Nesbitt - Blog (2023)

Understanding and Writing the Monologue Story - John D. Nesbitt - Blog (1)

The monologue story is a unique form of fiction, interesting for students of fiction to study and for writers to practice. This article will explain the features of the monologue story, it will cite and discuss well-known examples as well as provide additional illustrations, and it will offer some suggestions for writers who would like to meet the challenge of writing this kind of story.

Understanding the Monologue Story

The monologue story is a distinct kind of first-person narration. It is a staged story, which is to say that it has a set-up that is dramatic in nature, like a small drama or stage play. The key to understanding the nature of a monologue story is to recognize that the story is spoken by one person (hence a monologue) out loud to another character (or audience) who is present in the story. This second entity, the implied listener or audience, is identified by comments made by the speaker.

Here is a very short monologue story that illustrates this feature of being staged with a speaker and a listener both present:

My Story

The trouble with cowboys is, everyone thinks he wants to be one, but no one knows what a real cowboy is. Anyway, these phony ones don’t. I seen ’em wearin’ knee-high fluffy boots, a five-hundred-dollar suede coat, and a spotless custom-shaped hat with a horsehair stampede string that would cost a couple hundred by itself. Last fella I saw like that, he was carryin’ a guit-tar and talkin’ about writin’ a book. Didn’t take the trouble to hear what I had to say.

What they need is to talk to a real cowboy, and there’s damn few of us left. Those who are still around, most of us don’t have the gift of gab to write a book. Take me, I’m a man of few words. But I got stories you wouldn’t believe, and all of ’em true. What I need is someone like you, to write ‘em down. Get the grammar all right so someone’ll publish it.

Good thing about you is you don’t think you’re a cowboy, or at least you don’t look like you do, and you’ve already wrote a dozen books. You know how to do up the language, or some of it, anyway. I’d want you to keep some of the cowboy lingo, or it wouldn’t be a real story. But you could do the rest of it, to get it all soundin’ right.

I can tell you about the best horse I ever had, how he took me home in a blizzard with a orphan calf in my lap, but I don’t know how to put it all in words. I tried it once myself, but I couldn’t get anywhere. Didn’t know how to go about it. I got the dedication, and that was it. “For the Bar-Slash rannies and the Jigger-Y waddies.” That’s what the old-timers called ’em—rannies and waddies—and I worked with some of the best. I want my book to be for them, because they were the real thing. Self-educated, most of ’em. Didn’t have much use for book-smart government people who come out to tell ’em what’s what.

I learned a hell of a lot from them, heard all their stories, and I seen plenty for myself. I just need someone like you to write it down. I want to use the dedication I already come up with, and I want it to be my story, so it’ll be the real thing. But I’m willin’ to split the money, once it gets published.

The speaker in this story is speaking outloud to a person addressed as “you” and identified as a writer who doesn’t looklike a cowboy. The person being addressed is not the reader outside the storybut another character inside the story, a character whom the speaker hasaccosted and who the speaker thinks should write his story for him.

This characteristic of having onecharacter speak to another helps us dispel a couple of misunderstandings thatsome students have about the monologue story. A common misconception, becauseof the definition of “monologue” in general, is that the story is a monologuebecause there is no one else speaking and because there is no dialogue. Thefirst part is partially true, but all first-person stories have only one personspeaking, the narrator. So that does not make a story a monologue. Furthermore,a monologue story can easily have dialogue, even though this story does not. Aperson telling a story can quote other people speaking, as occurs in some ofthe examples we cite. What makes a monologue story, then, is its quality ofbeing staged, with a here and now.

The staging is akind of set-up, as mentioned earlier, and in order to clarify this feature, wecan contrast the monologue setup with rhetorical situations in other kinds ofstories.

Most first-person stories that are not staged are simply delivered in the character’s voice, with no implied rationale of why the narrator is speaking. That is, there is no listener and no occasion. Well-known stories such as James Joyce’s “Araby” and Willa Cather’s “A Wagner Matinée” illustrate this very common method. Even a story in present tense, with a here and now, like John Updike’s “A & P,” there is no staging in which the speaker is telling the story to someone else. With a story of this nature, the reader accepts the convention that someone is telling the story, and if the narrator does not offer a rationale, the reader does not expect one.

In other stories, the narrator may offer a rationale or set-up. In “The Black Cat,” Edgar Allan Poe’s narrator tells in the first sentence that his story is written: “For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief.” A few sentences later, the narrator reveals that he is writing a confession: “But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul.” The reader sees, then, that the story is not only a first-person narration but also a formal written confession.

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The reader sees, then, that the story is not only a first person narration but also a formal written confession.

Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” has a similar, though less formal, set-up. In the second sentence of the story, Montresor addresses his audience as “You, who so well know the nature of my soul.” The reader is left to infer that Montresor’s narrative is being presented as some sort of a confession, either spoken or written. At the end of the story, when Montresor reveals that “half of a century” has passed, the reader might imagine that Montresor is giving a deathbed confession or is preparing to leave a written confession behind. The rationale or set-up is not thoroughly explicit, but there is more than just a voice telling a story. In this case, the set-up or occasion helps the reader understand that despite Montresor’s gloating about his perfect crime, he seems compelled to confess.

None of these five stories is a monologue, however, because none hasthe essential element of the narrator telling the story to an implied audience.

Also, still along the lines of defining something by saying what itis not, we should observe that the monologue story should not be confused withinternal monologue, a term that in itself is misunderstood by some readers andwriters.Internal monologue is the representation of thought as the character says it tohimself or herself but not out loud. In traditional fiction, when charactersthink or speak to themselves in grammatical word groups, the internal monologueis often set in italics. Internal monologue most often occurs in short ornot-so-short passages in a work. If a passage of this nature becomes sustained,it may be called stream of consciousness. Internal monologue, then, is atechnique, often as a small part of a story.

A monologue story is a whole story, identifiable by its staging and its speaking voice. It is a self-contained piece, with all the clues of its staging included in the comments of the narrator. It has the frame of a single scene, as the narrator, the staging, and the narration all take place in one scene, even if the narrative events occur over a period of time or a series of scenes.

This prose fiction sub-genre has its antecedents in song and poetry. In a simple form, it may consist of one person addressing another who is present, as in the traditional ballad entitled “Red River Valley.” In this song, the speaker is a cowboy who is addressing a woman; he laments that she is leaving, he recognizes that she has never told him the words he wanted to hear, and he asks her to stay just a little longer. In another familiar song, “He’ll Have to Go,” the lovelorn speaker is calling from a bar, where he says he will ask the man to turn the jukebox way down low and the woman on the other end of the line can tell her friend he’ll have to go. Both of these songs, simple as they are, invite the listener to share the speaker’s sadness, but they have a bit of additional dimension by allowing the listener to imagine the monologue being delivered to a real person who can see how futile the speaker’s plea is.

When a poem has this staged feature, it is called a dramatic monologue, and one of the most famous examples is Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess.” In this poem, the speaker is the Duke of Ferrara, and he is delivering his monologue to an emissary of a Count whose daughter the Duke would like to marry. In the course of the poem, which is quite a bit more substantial than the two songs mentioned above, the reader learns a great deal about the Duke—more, perhaps, than the Duke intends, as he is an egotistical and arrogant man who thinks he is making a better impression than he is.

This is often a central achievement of the monologue story–to reveal human nature and to give the reader the experience of seeing a character in a way that the character does not and probably cannot see.

This is often a central achievement of the monologue story—to reveal human nature and to give the reader the experience of seeing a character in a way that the character does not and probably cannot see. The story achieves such an effect with a curious inversion in technique. Whereas most first-person stories give the reader the narrator’s point of view and perspective, the monologue story keeps the story outside the narrator, hearing and observing (from the silent party’s perspective) the person who is speaking. Such a story, then, often depends upon dramatic irony, or the effect of a character saying something that means more to the reader or to another character than it does to the person speaking. A monologue story sometimes has another aspect of irony in portraying a character who likes to talk and who sometimes talks too much. For example, in the short story entitled “My Story,” the speaker who describes himself as a man of few words still likes to talk and to tell others what an authority he is. He just wants someone else to write it down for him, which makes him an object of satire, quite recognizable to people who write. Meanwhile, the reader takes in this small spectacle from the point of view of the writer being addressed, who seems to be held captive at his own book signing or reception.

This ironic feature, when it is present, leads to what is called the unreliable narrator. Such a narrator may be reliable in terms of telling the details accurately, but he or she is not reliable in terms of his or her judgment, self-awareness, or self-knowledge. With an unreliable narrator, irony is at work. There is a difference between what the narrator reports and what the reader understands, and this discrepancy frequently discourages the reader’s sympathy. At the very least, the reader develops the conviction that whatever the narrator says should not be taken at face value. Sometimes the unreliability comes from the lack of maturity and worldly knowledge of a child in an adult world, but very often it comes from an adult character’s limitations in vision. Through irony, such a narrator is presented as an unsympathetic character whose values are not in harmony with those implied by the story. Some unreliable narrators may be clever or shrewd, but frequently they are less intelligent than they think. It is the author’s great achievement to help the reader see what the narrator doesn’t, whether it is through immaturity, obtuseness, or self-deception. With his or her own words, the narrator reports more than he or she understands but still conveys the evidence so that the reader may arrive at a superior understanding. Although a monologue story does not have to have an unreliable narrator, the two often go together because the staged setting provides such a nice rhetorical opportunity.

One other featureof the monologue story is that it is often short. Because of its staging andbecause of the need for sign-posting on the part of the speaker, it is ahigh-maintenance kind of story that often will not work well if it goes on toolong. The three classic short stories we will look at in a short while are allwithin the traditional range of 2500 to 5000 words, and many lesser-known gemsfulfill their purpose in fewer words. There is nothing to say that a personcould not write a good monologue story that runs to 10,000 words or more, butat some point, the illusion may break down.

One example of a monologue story that runs to excessive length relative to its technique is Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, who was fond of using narrative frames for his stories. In this novella or short novel, which is in the range of 40,000 words, an anonymous persona introduces the setting and then vanishes as a character named Marlow (who appears in other Conrad stories) takes over and narrates the bulk of the story in his own voice. Then, in the last paragraph, the story returns to the narrative frame, in which the original narrator refers to Marlow in the third person and closes out the work in his own voice. A practical-minded reader might object to the probability of this technique on the grounds that Marlow’s narrative is more literary than spoken, takes an unlikely amount of time in the telling, recreates scenes and quoted dialogue in extensive detail, and therefore makes an improbable monologue. Most readers are able to overlook this imperfection, especially in older fiction such as The Heart of Darkness, published in 1902.

Moving into the twentieth century, we see stories of average length that have the purity of craft. Ring Lardner’s “Haircut,” first published in 1925 and still well known, takes place in a small-town barber shop. The speaker is a barber who is talking to a person in the chair, clearly identified as a newcomer. In the course of the haircut, the barber tells stories about a practical joker who used to live in the town and whose antics are crude by just about anybody’s standards. The reader, by being placed in the listener’s position, is invited to perceive that the narrator of the story has a crude, small-town sense of humor as the joker did, and that the barber does not have an awareness of how other people would see him, his sense of humor, or the late practical joker. In this way, the monologue story has an entertaining, lifelike quality, in that it dramatizes how people with limited self-awareness will make others listen to them at great length and will never grasp what they lead the listeners to perceive. And in the case of Lardner’s story, it gives the reader the opportunity to decide whether the practical joker deserved to be shot by lad he liked to make fun of.

Eudora Welty’s famous story “Why I Live at the P.O.,” published in 1941 and widely reprinted, is another example of a monologue story and a great one. It is told in the voice of an unreliable narrator who runs the post office in a small town in Mississippi. In this story, as in “Haircut,” the reader can see evidence that the story has a here and now, in which the postmistress is telling her story to a captive listener. Breathless, she tells of the squabbles she has with her other family members and of the ongoing feud she has with her sister, who “unfairly” stole the affections of a visiting photographer. This story is more subtle in characterization and in humor than Lardner’s is, but the rhetorical situation is very similar, and it gives the reader a good exercise in interpretation—in this case, of a dysfunctional, eccentric, and bigoted Southern family in the 1930’s. This story also has an ample amount of dialogue, with some nice regional accents and idiomatic expressions.

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An even more subtle example of the monologue story is Margaret Atwood’s “Rape Fantasies,” first published in 1977 and also widely reprinted. In this story, the narrator is apparently talking to a stranger in a night club or cocktail lounge, and she goes on and on with what she thinks is a comical perspective on rape. By the end of the story, the reader sees, as the narrator does not, that the other person present in the story could very well be a potential rapist who is listening for everything he needs to know. This story, like the other two classic examples cited above, offers a good opportunity for appreciation of technique. All of these stories build their effect step by step through the narrative.

Writing the Monologue Story

Writing a monologue story can be an enjoyable undertaking. As mentionedearlier, these stories often have unreliable narrators (all three of the abovedo), so writing a monologue story can pose an interesting challenge innarrative voice, staging, and narrative structure. Towrite such a story, the writer needs to have a reason; that is, she needs tohave an artistic purpose in mind, an effect she can achieve by staging thestory. This depends on recognizing the value of having another character hearthe narrator rather than just having the narrator say her piece. The mostcommon reason, and not a trivial one at all, is to use the staging as a way ofrevealing character—to help point out the narrator’s lack of self-awareness, orto show pointedly (through dramatic irony) that the narrator is failing to seesomething that the other person is probably getting an idea of or might evenalready know. Another common reason would be to allow the reader to see cluesor semi-evident details that the narrator relays but does not understand. Givinga close reading to one or more of the stories mentioned above will help aperson see the purpose in action.

Once the writer has an understanding of why she wants to write a monologue story, she could identify (or set up) two technical challenges. One would be to keep the narrator’s voice consistent and functional, as in any first-person narration. The other challenge would be to keep the staging present but not obtrusive. This will mean punctuating the story with comments suggesting the immediate setting of the time, place, and listener. These comments may also imply responses on the part of the listener. Reading one or more of the stories discussed above will help a person appreciate how the story is managed rhetorically in this way.

Writing a monologue story can be a great deal of fun. The story itself does not have to be humorous, but it will probably depend on dramatic irony, and it will probably (but not necessarily) have an unreliable narrator. And a person doesn’t have to worry whether it is serious enough. When a writer uses irony, she is using a serious technique, and when she reveals human character, she is doing something serious. And if she is helping a reader see a truth that escapes some people, that also is a serious purpose.

A Sample Monologue Story

Toillustrate the potential of monologue stories a little further, I present a samplestory to complement the three classic stories discussed earlier. This example comesfrom a setting a little ways away, and I was happy to come across it, for it isnot only an engaging story but it also shows how universal some artistictechniques are, as they transcend languages and cultures.

I first came across this story in 1994 when I was studying in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico. In the course of my studies, I asked a couple of my professors if there was a good writer in the region whose work I could benefit from reading. (I was also looking for a little translation project.) They both recommended Jaime Torres (Mendoza is his second surname), and one of my professors lent me a collection of stories by the author. I read all the stories with interest, and the story that follows really caught my attention.

Toward the end of my stay in Saltillo, I had the great fortune of meeting Jaime Torres, and I found him to be something of a kindred spirit. He gave me a copy of his collection of stories, along with a handwritten note giving me permission to reproduce the story. And so I offer it here.

By way of introduction, I will mention that it takes place in northern Mexico, out on the desert of Coahuila, north of Saltillo, where, as Jaime told me, there is nothing. Nada, he said, with great enthusiasm. (I also had the good fortune of visiting that part of the country after visiting with him.) His story does give a sense of what the existentialists called the encounter with nothingness, and his narrator, like the townsfolk, has a curious emptiness about him. The story itself works as a traditional monologue story, with the narrator holding the listener captive as he tells a story and makes a conspicuous insistence, which in turn invites the reader to ask a question or two. Did someone really throw the switch, and if so, who did it, and why?

The Event by Jaime Torres Mendoza

Yes, it was here. The train derailed on this spot, even though it doesn’t look like it because there aren’t any signs left. Not even memories. Nothing. No one in the town could tell you what happened. They’ve forgotten it already. But not me. I’ve stayed in this place for years recalling the event, storing it in my memory like a valuable treasure. I’ve kept a close eye on it, afraid it might slip away from me. That fear has got me rooted to the spot. Since that time I’ve been stuck in one place, just as you see me now, sitting here watching the landscape around us.

When the tragedy hit, this all changed quickly. All of a sudden it was unrecognizable.

Here in front we had a bare patch of ground, just hard dirt with nothing on it. Along this side there were brown-colored weeds and grass, burned by the sun, since it never rains. On the other side of the tracks you could see an area covered with rocks, more than a person could imagine. Small rocks and big ones all along the rails off to where you can see those hills, blue in the distance. Beyond the dirt patch and the grass, nothing grew except brush—dwarf bushes barely knee-high that didn’t spread out enough to cover the earth. It was just chaparral lost in the stretches of these forsaken plains. If a person kept looking in that direction, off to the horizon it all faded away. You wouldn’t know what was the mountain and what was the sky; in the distance they looked like the same thing.

In back of me lies the town, Fronteras, hidden in a little low spot, afraid of its own existence in the middle of these wide open spaces. Next to the town, watching over it, rises the hill. Strange thing, that hill. Whatever way you look the only thing you’ll see is brush or bare ground, but in the middle of all this vastness that mound rises up. It’s a reference point for finding the town.

Up above, nothing has changed. The sky is blue as always, a discolored blue where the sun comes and goes every day. But that’s up there, because down here, everything changed in a minute.

Yes, sir, like I was telling you, after the tragedy this place turned unrecognizable, except on my part, since I know it by memory. I know the place inch by inch. I’ve watched it forever, just as my father and grandfather saw it. But even in spite of that, it was as if I’d suddenly found myself in a new, unknown place. That was because of the big thing that happened, the event.

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The first thing that changed was the quietness. The train used to go by once a day, at twelve. It was always punctual, precise. It never had a delay. We didn’t know where it was headed, and we never saw it return, either. We just watched it go off in the direction opposite from the south. That’s why in town, when someone would die, the men and women passed remarks like this:

“He’s gone off north in the train.”

But that was just talk. The dead person didn’t go anywhere. He got buried and that was it. That was the way we did ’em. Whether he went somewhere else or not, we didn’t know about it.

On the other hand we did know that in the earlier times, in my grandfather’s day, the train used to stop to take on water. As the train came on into these big lonely spaces, it must have developed quite a thirst to quench. So it made sense for them to commission him with the job of building a tank. They also had him fill it with water. That was his assignment.

And so he did it. It didn’t turn out easy. Desolation thrives in these open spaces. The topsoil is almost sterile, ungrateful for its own existence. Maybe in another time this place was a big lake, an ocean. Now it’s just a memory of that, a torturing drought. It’s the same below, on the flatlands, as above in the desert sky, without even a memory of clouds. That’s why my grandfather didn’t have any hope of filling the tank from the short-lived little drizzles that came with the seasons. Instead of looking up he went down, into the depths of the desert.

He dug without any rest for several days and nights. From the deepest part of that open well, he would look up at the sun during daylight or at the round moon at night, lighting up the earthy walls of that parched hole. He spent a long time at it. The mouth of the hole was a small circle up above his head. When his enthusiasm would fade, he couldn’t even feel the muscles in his own body. He was wasting away in his own sweat. That’s what he thought, but it wasn’t quite that way. The water for quenching the thirst of that lonely train, which was always in an open-mouthed gallop, was down there beneath his feet.

After that he worked on another assignment. He laid out a square. It grew little by little until it took on the shape it needed for holding water. When it was full, the tank would shine like a mirror.

As time went by he also built this shelter, thatched over and all. That way he was protected from the sun. Here he would wait for the train whistle, the signal that said it was coming, even though it never missed. My grandfather used to sit in this same place where I am, always still, watching the tracks. From here he would see the train when it was barely a little dot. As it came nearer it grew longer. That was possible because there wasn’t a single curve, nothing to break the infinity of those rails sunk in the distance. When the train stopped at this spot, everything was all ready to fill its tanks with the stored water.

With the years, those times passed into oblivion. They vanished from memory. My grandfather faded away, too, and my father took his place. It was his inheritance. He sat in the same place where my grandfather had sat. There he was, waiting for the train to show up so he could carry on the daily duty his father had done. But the train would just go on by, hooting. All it left was the screech of its rusty wheels. Every day the string of cars would take away a little piece of his will to live, like picking up passengers, until it ended up taking away the whole thing. In the end my father was just another memory for me. He went out of the world without saying good-bye.

In the dirt patch, the tank didn’t reflect the sky any more. The tank became brittle, like the desert.

When my father died, I took his place. With him gone, I went through the same routine that had gone on since my grandfather’s time. It was just habit—I already knew the train wasn’t going to stop. Instead, it seemed to me to go by faster each day, eager to get away from this place. But yes, it did blow its whistle before it charged by at full speed. It must have felt the need to holler out loud to shake off the fear that clung to it as it drove through this lonely place.

Well, like I told you, the train was always punctual. It never ran fast or slow. Because of that, its going by was never any novelty. It had turned into something monotonous, an unnoticed event.

The day I’m remembering was distinct. The train came on quickly. Before it got right in front here, where there’s a mechanism for changing the tracks, everything happened normally. But as soon as it hit that spot, the earth shook. They heard the thunder in town. The noise rippled out across the openness that stretches away from here, beyond the blue hills and out of sight. I was right here where I am now, very still. What happened in front of me didn’t scare me—it filled me with astonishment. In the middle of so much silence, the silence that had taken over these parts, you’d never think something could change the stillness we’d always had here.

I saw how the wheels threw out sparks as the brakes locked and the wheels scraped along the rails. They were stars in full daylight, lighting up the landscape. My eyes caught the moment when the engine halted up ahead. The cars being dragged by the engine went rushing by. They buckled up and spilled off to the sides. Bodies went flying out of them, as if they had wings. That’s how they seemed to me, like wounded birds streaking the sky. Some of them fell in the dirt patch, others fell in the weeds, and still others, on this side, fell along the rocks. I was here, sitting down. I didn’t move, but out of the quietness I began to hear wailing. Shouts of pain and fear. In that instant the world turned into chaos. Yes, sir, it turned into a hell. The train derailed in front of me and changed the face of the earth. It broke the calm that had always been here.

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The cause of the derailment was never really discovered. Nobody could find it out. Not even me, in spite of my always being in this spot. The railroad officials said that someone moved the switch on the tracks. Since the other rails were just a short length of track and the conductor knew that, he got frenzied and hit the brakes to see if he could stop the line of cars before the train hit the end of the track. That’s what they said. But it’s not right. Nobody moved anything. It was all a matter of hurry. The train was going by too fast. That’s why it happened, I say—that, or maybe because a person has to die anyway when his number is up.

What’s certain is that for the first time, a real event shattered the stillness in Fronteras, our town. For us, that was the important thing. So, when people from the village got here, no one lent a hand to the injured. No one would comfort them in their pain or help them bury their dead. They just stood there, with eyes wide open to take in the disaster in all its glory. They stood there that way, looking on as if some of the passengers were leaving this world without getting to say good-bye to anyone. The passengers who didn’t suffer any injuries ran from one place to another, looking for their loved ones amidst the crumpled mass of steel. I didn’t move either; like the others, I only watched.

That’s the way we were for the rest of the day and on through the night, gazing at the aftermath of the wreck, thinking of this thing that had disrupted our peace. And that’s the way we were the next day, too.

In the middle of the day, just at the time when the train should come by again, as it had always done, another one showed up with a lot of people. It didn’t blow its whistle to say it was coming. It just appeared on the vast plains. As it came on in silence, it seemed stunned by what had happened the day before. The people on the train looked surprised, but they must have known of the derailment, since the noise went everywhere. They must have come to help the people on the wrecked train. And that’s what they did. They unloaded a ton of things in a hurry. Not even in our dreams could we have been able to see all those things at once. There were small beds we would never have imagined. From a distance they looked smooth, like the feathers on a soft hen. It made you want to go to sleep, to enjoy them. The injured people didn’t even realize they were being put onto the beds. The people who had just arrived also unpacked medicines. The air was full of strange smells. Someone took out a sack of rags, white as lime, really clean, with not a stain on them. Things brightened up like they do in the light of a full moon. Some men unloaded picks and shovels, enough to provide everyone in our town with the tools to build a reservoir in the desert and quench the thirst of this land. Along with these tools they set out quite a few hammers, although I don’t know what for, except maybe nailing up illusions in the far blue yonder.

We were confused by the scene. We saw the railroad officials moving along from one place to another shaking their heads. They said, “Someone moved the switch. That was the cause of the accident.”

Their remarks didn’t really touch anyone. The words wisped away in the open air.

Later the people buried all the dead in one big grave, which they dug in a hurry. There was a big heap of earth left over in the dirt patch. That and nothing more.

I couldn’t tell you how long they were at all this business. Maybe it was just a short while, but it could have been several days.

When the sun was going down, they all went away. The only thing we had left out of the tragedy was the surprise. That was all.

And that’s the way it was. That’s how the disaster took place. Just like I’ve told you. Only in that short while did Fronteras ever change. Afterwards everything went back to being the same as before: dirt patch, plains, blue hills, and sky. No sign of the wreck stayed around. Not even memories. Nothing. It seems as if nothing like that ever happened here.

But it did happen. That’s why I stay here—no longer just out of habit, keeping up what my father and grandfather did, but out of a need to keep it in my memory, to not forget it like the rest of them have done. I’m also here hoping, expecting some other big event that might break up the calmness we’ve always had and that might change, again, this solitary landscape that surrounds us.

When that happens, I’ll be here to tell about it.

“El acontecimiento.” From En los laberintos de la tierra By Jaime Torres Mendoza. Saltillo, Coahuila (Mexico): Gobierno del Estado de Coahuila, 1992. Translated by John D. Nesbitt. Reprinted by permission of the author.

John D. Nesbitt is the author of more than 40 books of fiction, as well as a few books about writing. Shaping the Story is a guide to writing fiction.

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FAQs

What is a story monologue? ›

A narrative monologue usually entails a character telling a story, often in past tense. These monologues often use such a story as an analogy to the actual conflict Page 2 and situation within the script's events, or as a way to explain how a character came to be the way they are or will be.

What are the 4 types of monologues? ›

  • Soliloquy (monologue in drama)
  • Dramatic monologue.
  • Operatic monologue.
  • Comic monologue.
  • Monologuing.

Is a monologue written in first person? ›

A monologue is:

Written in the first person. Spoken by one person to a listener. Used to communicate something important.

What is the main idea of the monologue? ›

Monologues are supposed to reveal important details about a character or the plot—it's essential that you've developed the speaking character and a detailed plot for them to inhabit, even before you start writing. Monologues help inform the audience about the character's traits and past events.

What is the importance of monologue? ›

Importance of Monologues. Monologues give the audience and other characters access to what a particular character is thinking, either through a speech or the vocalization of their thoughts.

How do you write a monologue sentence? ›

Example Sentences

The play begins with the main character's monologue. The comedian is famous for his monologue about winning the lottery. I stifled a yawn as she launched into a monologue about how she is going to become a famous star.

What is a monologue short answer? ›

It is a speech given by a single character in a story. In drama, it is the vocalization of a character's thoughts; in literature, the Page 2 verbalization. It is traditionally a device used in theater—a speech to be given on stage—but nowadays, its use extends to film and television.

What is a good example of a monologue? ›

A monologue involves one character speaking to another. A better example of a monologue is Polonius' speech to his son, Laertes, before Laertes goes to France. Here, he gives advice for how Laertes should conduct himself overseas.

What are the characteristics of monologue? ›

A monologue is where one character is doing the talking, whether it be dramatic talking, complaining, telling jokes, or evil laughing. Their story can include other characters, but only one is speaking in a long format and the audience sees the scene through the eyes of that character.

What are the rules of a monologue? ›

5 Tips for Writing Dramatic Monologues
  • Start with a compelling opening line. Monologues lack action and dialogue, which can leave the audience unengaged. ...
  • Present a strong point of view. ...
  • Develop a storyline. ...
  • Know your parameters. ...
  • Wrap up with parting words.
7 Jun 2021

What are the elements of monologue? ›

A montage should be the cherry on top of a story that is already good, unique, and understandable. By using only four key elements—cross cuts, pacing, music, and voiceover—your next montage can be just as amazing as Nolan's montages.

How is a monologue written? ›

The monologue should be written from the perspective of one character and should feature their unique language and voice. A strong character voice in a monologue can go a long way to adding color, interest, and perspective to the piece.

Is monologue a short story? ›

- 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.

What's the difference between a story and a monologue? ›

‐‐‐A monologue is memorized; a story is paraphrased. It may change a bit from telling to telling. ‐‐‐A monologue has a few hard and fast rules; storytelling is more pliable. ‐‐‐In a monologue the speaker often speaks as if he or she is playing another character; a storyteller most often plays himself.

What is the main point or idea of the writer? ›

The main idea of a paragraph is the author's message about the topic. It is often expressed directly or it can be implied.

Is the main idea what the story is about? ›

The main idea is the central point or thought the author wants to communicate to readers. The main idea answers the question, “What does the author want me to know about the topic?” or “What is the author teaching me?” Often the author states the main idea in a single sentence.

What makes a monologue interesting and strong? ›

A great monologue will capture the audience's attention and imagination with length and tone but cut short just at the right time. Put simply, if a monologue goes on too long the audience will get bored.

What does monologue mean in writing? ›

monologue, in literature and drama, an extended speech by one person. The term has several closely related meanings. A dramatic monologue (q.v.) is any speech of some duration addressed by a character to a second person.

What is monologue format? ›

In the strictest terms, a monologue is a piece of theater that features only one character speaking. The character might be alone and talking to himself or directly to the audience, or the character might be speaking to another character or characters.

What are 2 benefits of learning about monologues? ›

Performing, writing and learning about monologues can produce more than just an appreciation for drama and writing. The process can also help students build confidence in public speaking and develop storytelling skills.

How do you analyze a monologue? ›

Our examples will be monologues but you can do the exact same work with dialogue.
  1. Step One: Cross out any stage directions. ...
  2. Step Two: Mark any significant changes/shifts in tone or character development. ...
  3. Step Three: Mark significant words. ...
  4. Step Four: Understand the words. ...
  5. Step Five: Ask questions.

How many lines is a monologue? ›

Most monologues should be no longer than a minute and half, or about 20 to 30 lines, unless you've been directed otherwise. Less is almost always more.

How do you write a conclusion for a monologue? ›

Having a clear ending means bringing your thoughts and details to a conclusion. The character in the play should accept an issue or obstacle or make a clear decision about an argument. The audience wants to get the decisive action or conclusive comment from the speaker at the end of the monologue.

Who is speaking in the monologue? ›

Speaking can have two main forms: dialogue and monologue. In a dialogue, the speaker needs to speak in turn to communicate, while in a monologue, the speaker is the single character that has a speech to deliver and there is no need for a partner [42].

What should you avoid in a monologue? ›

Here are seven practices to dodge during audition monologues to keep the focus right where it belongs—on your performance.
  • Avoid Shock Monologues. ...
  • Ditch the Props. ...
  • Sidestep the Miming. ...
  • Avoid Using an Accent or Dialect. ...
  • Don't Talk to the Air. ...
  • Don't Rush Your Delivery. ...
  • Avoid Picking Popular Monologues.
22 Oct 2019

What is a monologue and examples? ›

A monologue involves one character speaking to another. A better example of a monologue is Polonius' speech to his son, Laertes, before Laertes goes to France. Here, he gives advice for how Laertes should conduct himself overseas. "Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!

How long is a 5 minute monologue? ›

Publication coach Daphne Gray-Grant says that the average person speaks about 125-150 words per minute—meaning 5 minutes of talking would entail about 625-750 words. That's about the typical length of a blog article!

What 5 things should you include in a monologue? ›

5 Tips for Writing Dramatic Monologues
  • Start with a compelling opening line. Monologues lack action and dialogue, which can leave the audience unengaged. ...
  • Present a strong point of view. ...
  • Develop a storyline. ...
  • Know your parameters. ...
  • Wrap up with parting words.
7 Jun 2021

What is an example of monologue in a sentence? ›

Example Sentences

The comedian is famous for his monologue about winning the lottery. I stifled a yawn as she launched into a monologue about how she is going to become a famous star.

How do you write a monologue essay? ›

Your monologue essay should be expressing and focusing on a particular point of view. You should try to clearly illustrate your point of view. As you discuss a particular character, Brainstorm his traits and impact that it has to the subject.

What makes a good monologue performance? ›

What makes a good monologue? A good audition monologue has an emotional arc, demonstrates your range as an actor, and suits the project and character you're auditioning for—and does it all in 90 seconds or less. “[Monologues] need to go somewhere and have moments,” says acting coach Clay Banks.

What is the best monologue of all time? ›

Here are some of the best movie monologues.
  • American Psycho - "Morning Routine"
  • Queen & Slim- "What Do You Want?"
  • Star Wars Episode V - "I Am Your Father"
  • Whiplash - "Break Up"
  • It's A Wonderful Life - "Lasso the Moon"
  • The Big Lebowski - "I'm the Dude"
  • Training Day- "King Kong"
  • Rudy - Fortune's Truth.
24 May 2022

How do you make a good monologue? ›

Tips for Performing Your Best Monologue
  1. Avoid fidgeting beforehand. ...
  2. Don't stare down the panel - pick a specific point for delivery! ...
  3. Pick from a play. ...
  4. Introduce or look for levels. ...
  5. Don't go over time. ...
  6. Try to find something unique. ...
  7. Do your research. ...
  8. Show your personality.

Videos

1. "Stories from a 'Daughter of the Boycott'" presented by Karen Gray Houston
(Alabama Department of Archives & History)
2. Dr Ruckman, "To do less than best" KJV conf 1993
(Don Nesbitt)
3. The Stolen Earth | Wikipedia audio article
(wikipedia tts)
4. "The Exchange Revolution"
(BeyondMoneyPodcast)
5. Dec 10 Orange BOCC Regular Meeting Southern
(VelasquezMedia)
6. Masterworks 2017: Colleen Gibney-Treleaven — Purple The Process of Telling Someones Story
(Island Pacific School)
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