Dramatic monologue can be a very powerful literary device.
It is frequently used with points of view where the narrator cannot possibly know the thoughts of another character.
Sometimes it becomes necessary for a character to expound upon his thoughts as if he were standing behind a podium.
But let’s face it. In reality how often does this happen?
Close to never.
That doesn’t mean that it is not a very powerful tool.
The problem arises when inexperienced writers use it to provide all sorts of information they weren’t clever enough to place elsewhere.
To Be Or Not To Be…
As I mentioned, dramatic monologues (or soliloquies as they are known in theater) are used sparingly and for dramatic effect.
The audience doesn’t know what is going through Hamlet’s head all the time do they? This is because Shakespeare implies enough along the way so that the play is not one long soliloquy.
That would be very boring.
Instead Shakespeare uses the device very sparingly. And, because he does, the play gains in dramatic power.
Dramatic Monologue For Emotional Impact
Let’s say you have a recipe that calls for just a pinch of spice that makes a really odd combination. Take the spice cinnamon in a chicken dish or cloves in ground beef.
You might not typically think to use the two together…and you’d be right.
Using this literary device with the same frequency that you use other devices will spoil your dish. Just like using too much cinnamon on your chicken.
But, just the right amount used at just the right time will lift the rest of the flavors out of the bowl…
…and the rest of your story off the page.
Let’s Take A Look
One of my favorite examples of a dramatic monologue comes from The Lord of The Rings.
Toward the end of The Two Towers Frodo and his faithful servant Sam are hiding on a rock precipice under the watchful eye of Mount Doom.
They have narrowly escaped their captors and things are bleak. Their end is near.
Sam is a gardener by trade, not one given to eloquence.
But in this moment of deepest despair, when Frodo needs his encouragement and the book needs a dramatic punch the most, he steps in and takes over.
“It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”
“What are we holding onto, Sam?”
“That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”
Those Were The Stories That Stayed With You
“Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why.”
That one paragraph has stayed with me for decades.
It really shows the power of what one small piece of dramatic monologue can do.
It can make your novel memorable, but use it sparingly. Just like a pinch of spice.