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Breaking up Large Chunks of Monologue

Posted: August 3rd, 2012, 2:04 pm
by dios4vida
Hi all.

So, I'm at a point in my WIP where one of my main characters is finally revealing the big secret of his past. He's telling his companion this story, but she doesn't have much to say so it's almost completely a monologue. The problem is, this story is easily pushing 1,000 words. That's a lot of talking to stick with. Does anyone have any tricks that I could use to break it up a little? I feel like there are only so many awkward pauses, breaks for nervous fidgeting or sad looks at their surroundings I can put in here before they start feeling cheap. The characters aren't moving, so I can't describe a change in scenery as they walk and talk. And it doesn't feel natural to have the companion interject more than once or twice. What do I do?

Re: Breaking up Large Chunks of Monologue

Posted: August 3rd, 2012, 3:01 pm
by Sommer Leigh
Ick. I feel your pain. These sections are so hard to write and as a reader I'm notorious for skimming them. The information might be great to know, but they can be boring to read. (Not that your writing is boring!!! Just this particular device can be tough for readers to drag through.) The problem is that they tend to be primarily back story, sort of a "Let me tell you how it all started..." but by that point, how it started isn't nearly as important to us as what has already happened - the part we read. It feels a lot more important to the author than it does the readers. It's sort of the Ocean's 11 approach, and it doesn't translate well into books.

Having not read what you've written, these are the guidelines I try to employ-

1) Write it how you want to tell it, then try to read it as a reader. What pieces are interesting, but not important? This can be very hard to do as the author. Sometimes I hand it over to my husband and ask him to mark stuff out that bores him.

2) Interweave this story into the rest of the story. Let pieces of it come up earlier or at other points, or what's harder but way effective: drop clues along the way so that the readers can string them together as they go. Then when they get to the nugget of the reveal (because there's usually just one big CRASH BANG piece of info) the reader already has most of the story. It gives the reader an awesome A-HA! IT ALL MAKES SENSE moment that makes them feel part of the story, not just a bystander.

3) Break up the story through several scenes. Find a place where the build up/beginning of the story can be revealed without revealing the CRASH BANG moment. That way you're only dropping a few paragraphs of story, then let them get interrupted or let the narrator not be ready to tell the rest yet. Then let him/her tell the rest later.

4) Remove any part of the story you've already told in backstory or foreshadowing. The readers don't need it twice.

I don't know how helpful that is, but good luck! I once wrote a 3000 word chapter that was almost entirely back story. I thought it was brilliant until I read it back and kind of cried a little. So terrible. Terrible terrible. I think I ended up keeping about 2 paragraphs.

Re: Breaking up Large Chunks of Monologue

Posted: August 3rd, 2012, 3:03 pm
by klbritt
I would say that depending on the setting the characters are in, think of natural things that might occur where they are.

Such as:
A cell phone ringing, the character glances at it and hits the ignore call button, or
The cars outside honk their horns in frustration as the construction crews take their time rerouting traffic, or
A commercial on the TV comes on, louder than the actual show and disrupts the conversation, or
The oven timer goes off, letting them know the lasagne is done...

Anyway, crappy examples (I know), but if you take a look at where your character are, you can make a list of things that "could" happen and interject one or more if needed.


Re: Breaking up Large Chunks of Monologue

Posted: August 3rd, 2012, 7:47 pm
by Hillsy
This may sound like the most pithy sort of advice, but.....

Treat it as a duologue. Play wise there's actually a second character - the audience. In novels you don't get this opportunity often. But you get a great opportunity to add the audience in as a second character. Basically it's having a Watson on screen asking all the questions the person monologuing answers as a matter of course. Even if you don't have a neat and tidy watson character to hand - a good monologue asks questions and answers them at the same time - it just tends to be implicit. For example:

THe Marc anthony monologue. After the second line there's a hidden questions...

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I come to bury caeser, not to praise him.
Why? As far as I know he;s been nothing but good for rome

and we go further -

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
so Caesar was a man who sometimes took hard choices. Isn't that what leaders are supposed to do. ROme largely thrived because of him
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest -
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men -
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He was Brutus's friend too - and yet he looked only at the good of caesar - what makes you think you have any right to judge a man demonstrably better than yourself. Not to mention Brutus...
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
I guess, but he wouldn't be the first to enslave and conquer. Look at our vast lands and say we are worse for it....
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Hold on a minute...
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You've said that - if all you are doing is mild insinuation then, frankly, I'm leaving...
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
Well. I guess, but ambition can take many forms - it doesn't have to be in terms of lands gained or slaves counted. And Brutus was being allogeorical....
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
Alright - I grant you that Brutus' logic may be a bit awry, but are you so ready to believe that Caesar was simply spiteful rather than patriotic....

Most Monologue's just have a silent person asking unheard questions. Just ask them....

Re: Breaking up Large Chunks of Monologue

Posted: August 4th, 2012, 12:07 pm
by Ryan
Like Somer suggested, maybe the trick would be to break it up into pieces and put it into completely different SCENES instead of trying to break it up in the same scene. You can leave the reader hanging if you cut it at a juicy bit too. Sprinkle it around instead of dumping it in one spot.

Re: Breaking up Large Chunks of Monologue

Posted: August 4th, 2012, 1:04 pm
by Dan_Hauer
I think this is the best advice:
Sommer Leigh wrote:
1) Write it how you want to tell it, then try to read it as a reader. What pieces are interesting, but not important?
Really take the time to figure out what the purpose of the monologue is. When you find something in the monologue that doesn't serve the ultimate purposeā€”cut it. A long monologue in a novel doesn't have to be boring (see Dostoevsky). It's only boring if it contains inessential information or characterization.

I think it's a bad idea to break it up artificially with interjections, looks to the side, ringing phones, and the like. Sometimes people do just tell long stories without interruption. Or, more importantly, without any substantive interruption. Someone muttering "Oh" or "Uh-huh" during another's monologue doesn't add anything to the story, so it should be left out.

Re: Breaking up Large Chunks of Monologue

Posted: August 4th, 2012, 2:58 pm
by polymath
A thousand words tops out at five to ten minutes reading time.

Keeping the "monologue" engaging for readers means keeping it engaging for the companion listening. Whose viewpoint is central? The speaker's or the listener's? Less challenging to make it work for readers if the listener's viewpoint and thus attitude is foreground. That way the listener is the reader surrogate, expressing attitude and commentary about the "monologue" perhaps through thoughts and reflecting and projecting readers' interests and opinions regarding the conversation.

I put "monologue" in quote brackets because the description of the speech doesn't quite cover the purposes or definitions of a monologue: a soliloquy, a dramatic sketch performed by one actor, perhaps a long speech monopolizing a conversation. A conversation even if mostly one-sided can't technically be a dramatic monologue, whose purpose is to explain or summarize backstory or meaning of the action, often in a narrator-like if not actual narrator voice.

Breaking up the long speech can be readily accomplished by incorporating the listener's attitude toward the speech. Curious? Disinterested? Judgmental? Amused? Horrified? Angry? Bored? Sad? Traumatized? Shocked? Warring emotions? Maybe affirming? Maybe coy from knowing the circumstances and hoping for a confession? Maybe a guilty pleasure from a display of doubt or shame or weakness the speaker reveals? Perhaps a variety of emotional reactions? Emotional reaction context is key, like for any narrative feature.

This goes most relevantly to viewpoint choice. If the speaker is the viewpoint character, I think a reconsideration is in order. A one-sided conversation can be challenging to write and read, and droll or selfishly gloating or self-promoting or whining or all at once. Sounds to me a little on the author surrogacy side. Besides, there's no clash of personalities when a conversation is one-sided. Might as well be stuck in a bathtub contemplating navel lint.

Alternatively, if the speaker is the viewpoint character, then the speaker should judge and evaluate the listener's reactions, including spoken responses nd estimates of thoughts, and project meaning onto them. If off kilter, slanted, so to speak, so much the better. But most challenging to write and a bit on the sophisticated side as far as target audience is concerned.

Re: Breaking up Large Chunks of Monologue

Posted: August 4th, 2012, 11:34 pm
by cheekychook
You've already gotten excellent advice here, so I'll just add another way that you can try to look at this scene and possibly see where/how to break up the monologue.

The main reason one needs to break up a monologue is that the reader needs breaks during it. Try to think about a time when a friend has told you a story, nonstop, barely giving you a chance to do more than nod as you listen. What other things did you notice? Were you aware of sounds in the background? Were you focused on watching the person talking? Did he or she pause to collect thoughts at time? Have a tell of some sort (hand running through hair, thumb rubbing against the table absentmindedly, eyes glazing over or making direct contact with you)? Were there deep breaths or breath holding from either of you? Did you or the other person feel/visibly express a particular emotion (anger, sadness, muscles tensing, eyes watering)? In real life we take in all of that without realizing, so you need to give all of that to the reader so they're not just reading a monologue one would find in a play. Any time you break from the dialogue you're giving the reader a chance to become more involved in the scene rather than having them just listening to the speech---and you're giving them a break to absorb the content of the dialogue. Actors may love monologues but readers by and large don't, so mix it up and it will strengthen the scene, not take away from the impact of the words being spoken.

Also, set it aside and come back to it. You'll likely find multiple ways to condense it when you revisit the scene.

Good luck!