The power of a monologue

Tue 1 Dec 2020

Dialogue, the spoken form of communication between two or several characters within a story, is the regular or formal vehicle that works to expose a character's function, his goals, likely antagonists, and reveals his nature along the way.

It also exposes the possible risk and downside of a critical decision a character may have to make to achieve a set goal. It helps set out the direction that a storyline will take and the character, overcoming frailty set-back or doubt, taking risks and therefore moving the storyline forward.

Although we are familiar with this more common technique of story development, or fleshing out the bones of a character, there are several other less obvious methods writers will employ to subtly signal intention or to outline tension or set mission.

As each action within a convincing story must resolve or set out a situation of conflict that draws out the opposing or antagonizing forces of the engaging or principal characters and their struggles towards an end game, so the monologue can engineer this critical process.

The monologue as such is a convincing tool, and alongside tricks like a confessional, a narrative voiceover, a Shakespearean type of soliloquy, a recounting of a story (within the story) or a pep-talk or motivational speech say, in a sports film like ‘Hoosiers’ where the Gene Hackman character opines: “I don’t care what the scoreboard says”, it can perform a two-way function.

1) The character can set out a mission, or point towards a goal that is the essential backdrop to the story at hand

2) During the above process of articulating a mission, the monologue can advance the particular goals of the mission and the underlying tactics that a character reveals she has at her disposure to attempt to achieve the mission.

The monologue is dissimilar to dialogue because it is employed less frequently but so can be an extra method to focus the audience specifically, in a critical or crisis moment, and distribute or accelerate key plot information and the advancement of character in a unique way.

It can iterate the stakes at play in an arresting moment of revelation; it can condemn the guilty, exonerate the innocent or compel the doubting boxer towards the achievement of an impossible dream!

Two examples of how monologue can function

Think of the Robin Williams' character, Sean, in ‘Good will Hunting’ (1997) and the monologue in his office. He’s the down-to-earth psychiatrist tasked to unpick Will’s complexity; notice how it functions to expose the frailties of the Matt Damon character but also to present an analogous and similar struggle that Williams’ character must overcome, in concert with Will, to achieve his own cathartic hopes and possibly reach the film's happy ending.

Or, think of Morgan Freemans character Red, in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ (1994). The final monologue is exceptional in laying out the likely impossible task of overcoming the odds at stake, his release from prison, the risk he’s taking breaking strict parole conditions after decades of incarceration, to move towards the dream ending and supreme emotional piquancy of his reuniting with Andy on a beach in Mexico. It compells the audience to believe, against all odds that the goal of the monologue is indeed achievable.

In the case of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ the monologue is the force that drives the film's mesmeric ending, and the conclusion of the two characters heart-rending odyssey.

As a tool the monologue can be a powerful force and amp up the stakes our heroes, or villains, are facing, and make a good story perhaps that one bit more compelling.

Used wisely as a vehicle, the monologue can achieve beguiling, tortuous, revelatory, enlightening or hilarious plot twists, character arcs, and story developments.

But its deployment shouldn’t be overused lest the power of the words fade and the effect of the monologue diminished, thereby the force of the character, her aims, and the goal of the story reduced.

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