Hold a moment, friend. We must turn to the side and speak at length on the nature of death, almost as if there’s an invisible audience I’m talking to. And once we’re done with that, we’ll monologue a bit about how the hero can’t possibly stop our evil plan. Today, we discuss why monologues exist, what their purpose is, and why you see more about them in theater than other mediums. We even demonstrate a few monologues ourselves, though you may not be able to tell the difference from a normal episode.


Generously transcribed by Anonomous. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants Podcast with your hosts, Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle. 

[Intro Music]

Wes: You’re listening to the Mythcreant Podcast. I’m your host, Wes. And with me today is 

Chris: Chris 

Wes: and 

Oren: Oran. 

Wes: All right, just long rambling monologues from all three of us for today. But let me make sure we’ve got this checklist here to make sure that we make them the quintessential monologues. First, do we have the luxury of a prose narrator to explain our inner thoughts to the audience? No. All right, monologuing is off to a good start. Ready, set, Oren go. 

Oren: Wait, hang on. How is this going to be different than any other episode? 

Chris: The question is, do I need to hold a skull while I’m monologuing? Is that a requirement? 

Wes: I think it helps to have props when you monologue, generally. I do think we should address this head on at the start is what is a monologue? 

Oren: But who is monologue? 

Wes: And who is monologue? Because, you know, you could say like, oh, it’s just a long speech. Right? And the answer is yes, no. 

Chris: Are we going with the traditional theater definition of monologue? 

Wes: We should start with that, or at least talk about it throughout the whole thing, because the whole point of a monologue is to share information that would not readily come up in dialogue for the benefit of the audience. 

Chris: The question I have is how much does that traditional theater monologue happen outside of theater? But we can talk about its purpose in theater first. 

Oren: I’ve actually been thinking about this quite a bit recently. If you allow me to monologue a bit on the subject. 

Chris: Oh, wait. But is this actually a monologue? 

Oren: Who knows? 

Chris: It’s for the benefit of our listeners. So maybe it is. 

Wes: Yeah, but he’s talking to you and me. So no, it’s just extended dialogue. 

Chris: So fourth wall break is required then? 

Wes: Very much helps. 

Oren: That’s the tradition. 

Wes: Oren, if he’s going to go off here for a minute to express his perspective and feelings on the situation, then he is basically sharing his inner monologue via interior monologue vocally. I don’t know. It’s just linguistic mess. But I think as long as he would be saying things that might not be so clear, he would be saying things that like maybe not be so relevant to like you and me, Chris, and that fourth wall aspect is kind of coming in there, and we maybe are like oblivious to what he’s saying half the time, then yeah, totally. 

Oren: What you guys are going to need to do is turn off your headphones so that I can just talk and you’re not listening. And it’ll just be me in the audience. 

Wes: I’ll go make some tea. 

Oren: There are a number of storytelling conventions that make more sense in theater. And monologuing is one of them. Acts are another. Because with monologuing, it’s much more natural for an actor on the stage to turn to the audience and be like, all right, I’m going to tell you something. Either it’s not part of the story like the other characters can’t hear them, or even if they can, there’s sort of an understanding that this is for the audience’s benefit and it’s much easier to accept. And it’s similar with acts, you know, whereas act one, act two. In theater, those have a literal meaning because you need to turn the lights off so you can move set around. Whereas in other mediums, they’re kind of arbitrary divisions, like what is an act in a movie? It’s like a time period someone picked. There’s no… 

Chris: It’s like a chapter. What is a chapter? Well, it’s whatever the writer wants it to be. 

Oren: Whereas in theater, they’re like an actual thing created by the constraints of the medium. In theater, a monologue is much more acceptable, whereas in a movie, if someone literally turns to the camera and started talking directly to the audience, you would need a pretty specific type of movie for that to work. Obviously, there are movies that do that, but very specific ones. Like it would be weird if that happened in a movie where that was not the joke. Whereas in theater, that happens all the time in plays that are not comedic or otherwise fourth wall breaking. 

Chris: If you wanted to do it in another medium, you would definitely have to establish the convention so that the audience expects this to happen so it’s not jarring every time, especially in film. That definitely adheres to the idea that the audience is like an observer outside the story. I think if you had prose, of course, you have different kinds of narrators. An omniscient narrator can typically use second person to talk directly to the audience, so that’s a little different. But still, we wouldn’t usually have characters doing it in a prose work unless you had a very specific conceit to support that. 

Wes: The power of the theater’s influence on all of our other stories is strong, and I think monologues have had a lasting sticky power. Because, as Chris noted, if we’re in a prose medium, we have the benefit of a narrator, which means we get good exposition just from that. Or bad exposition. We get exposition, hey! You can benefit from that. So odds of you writing a very long, winded speech that reveals something about the speaker, I mean, it could happen, sure. 

Chris: It does happen, sure. I mean, it happens for non-viewpoint characters, but they’re less important usually than the viewpoint character. So, again, still useful, but not like your main character, you don’t know what’s happening inside their head. 

Wes: No, and I think that’s because if that’s happening in a prose medium, it’s also falling prey to the same things that happen in our TV movie medium as well, where it’s just a bunch of unnecessary extended dialogue exposition, where it’s like, oh crap, they need to know this stuff. Word vomit. And then it’s like a weird, out-of-place monologue. It’s the whole, as you and I know thing, but it’s not for the character, it’s for the audience, but it’s dressed up as bad dialogue. 

Chris: Does a monologue normally just, again, just discards the presumption that these are characters speaking to each other? So it’s not awkward, unnatural dialogue, it’s just a fourth wall break. 

Wes: It doesn’t have to break the fourth wall, I mean, that’s kind of what it’s for on a meta level, but it’s just the character thinking out loud. 

Chris: So it’s voiceover. 

Wes: So it is voiceover, essentially, yes. 

Chris: It’s kind of like a fourth wall break in some shows like She-Hulk or House of Cards. Instead of having a voiceover, you can just watch the actor say it instead of a disembodied voice.

Wes: And I think the other important thing is the speaker of the monologue is not doing it for the other characters. That just really should be firmly established. Traditionally, it’s not for them, it’s for the character speaking and the audience. Rousing speeches are just speeches, they’re not monologues, they’re just speeches. Call them speeches, don’t call them monologues. 

Oren: Well, I’ve got a bunch of notes about potential monologues that are basically speeches. Oops. 

Wes: I know, that’s fine. It’s not a fight I would win, but I do think it’s important to know that this is a speech written by this person to deliver to these people. This is a monologue expressing how this person feels about this situation verbally to not other people in the play. 

Oren: This is where I think we cross over into the more colloquial usage of monologue, which is more generally a character who talks for a long time. And I would say that probably the most common, certainly the best known use of the monologue in this context is the villain speech. 

Chris: Which is actually pretty similar to what we’re saying this theater monologue is in a number of ways. 

Oren: And the villain typically gives this speech for the same reason. It’s because the author wants to get across how the villain works. And I think this happens for a number of reasons. I think the reason we see villain speeches way more often than we see hero speeches has to do with a combination of we see the hero more often, so it’s easier to establish how they work. But at the same time, I think authors also often put a lot more effort into their villain, at least in terms of creating motivations and what have you. Because you can say, my hero is saving people’s lives because that’s the right thing to do. And that’s a fairly simple and easy to explain thing. Whereas if you want a villain who’s not just racist, you have to come up with a more complicated reason why they’re going around killing people. Then that needs more explanation. Often authors are very proud of it, and so they want to tell you. They’re going to have their monologue, okay? They’re going to tell you what’s going on. 

Chris: I think we have two different aspects here. Sometimes it’s more logistical than others. The villain has the unique combination of often being off-screen a lot, but also still affecting the plot to a very great extent. And so we have these situations where the villain might have been taking actions in the background that are supposed to be their fault that we have not revealed yet. And then sometimes the storyteller just builds that up and then wants to give it a big reveal at the end. But then for that to work, the villain has to be like, and didn’t you know I was behind the scenes the whole time doing X, Y, Z, right? And that’s the more logistical side of it, which I would argue usually it’s better to just have the protagonist figure some of that out. And then the villain can just correct one thing. Well, yes, you have that all right, but this one part, you know, your father was actually me. When we have a villain that is an important character doing immoral things, we want to know why, right? Which is more like the traditional theater monologue. 

Wes: Which sometimes is delivered in song because songs are fun. 

Oren: If it’s a musical, that’s even easier, right? Musicals, even filmed musicals, generally have the conceit that the songs are not actually happening in the story. The song is a break from the actual reality of the world, and now the characters are going to express some emotion or feeling or thought or what have you in song. At that point, you can just go back to the theater convention of now your villain can just sing about what it is that they feel. That’s easy. No one has to ask, like, why is the villain saying all of this to the protagonist? It’s not easy because writing music is hard, hot take. But in terms of narrative, it’s much simpler. 

Chris: Okay, we’ve got a solution. If you ever feel the need to put in a villain monologue, just make it into a musical instead. I think more things should be musicals, so I don’t see anything wrong with this. 

Oren: Where’s my science fiction musical? I’ve had a couple of fantasy musicals now, but not a single Star Trek musical. 

Wes: It’s forthcoming, I’m sure. You might run into a situation where a monologue can occur naturally as the result of dialogue, and that would be three people are having a conversation about a podcast topic or whatever. One of these people just starts ranting and venting, and suddenly it’s very clear to the other two people in the room that the person speaking is actually no longer talking to them, but has kind of gotten caught up in it. And since this person began by vocalizing their thoughts and opinions, they suddenly kind of just kept pulling on that thread and kept going. And suddenly they can’t help themselves. They’re just talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking. And then they kind of stop, and the other two are like, whoa. 

Chris: In my mind’s eye, when I imagine the scene, the other two have already fled. 

Wes: Yes. 

Oren: I thought that when that started that Wes was just calling me out, but then I realized that he was really taking it to the next level of meta commentary. And I was like, all right, I have no choice but to applaud. 

Wes: That is kind of an example of how monologues, and when I say monologue, I definitely mean it’s vocalized, right? They do happen in real life as extended dialogue thing because we talk to our friends, our family, whatever, and sometimes people vent. They just need to get it out. That is monologuing because it’s actually not for the listener. It’s for the speaker. That’s a very good kind of natural example of it. 

Oren: Back in my day, we called that live journaling. 

Chris: Okay, here’s a question. What about when you have a character going on and on, and it’s supposedly for another character, but it’s definitely for the audience, but it’s all about the writer preaching? 

Wes:Oh, God. 

Chris: Like the Light Brigade, the Light Brigade interludes that are nothing but the main character just going on essays upon essays of the author’s opinion. Monologue or not monologue or sandwich? 

Wes: Sanctimonious writing. If it’s not inside quotation marks, it’s definitely not a monologue because I would like them to all be inside quotation marks, please. But yeah, that kind of self-insert stuff probably is just the author meta-monologuing. It’s expressing weird subjective thoughts and things like that, which is actually a good side note that if you’re listening to a lecture for a class, that is not a monologue. That is a lecture or a speech because it’s generally delivering information. If that speaker starts going off topic and ranting about something, then suddenly it’s monologuing. If it’s just delivering more or less factual information then it is not a monologue. 

Chris: Is it more important that it’s whether the information is factual or it’s about feelings or who the audience is? 

Wes: I think it is a mixture of who the audience is and what it says more about the speaker. Because really the whole point of the traditional monologue is we’re going to listen to this and learn something about the speaker, not necessarily the information that they’re saying, but about them. So maybe we learn that they have a thirst for power or an anger about injustice or they’re sad about unrequited love. 

Chris: Because in theater it’s a replacement for what would be a viewpoint in writing. I guess the other thing is that it’s probably harder in theater to do flashbacks. 

Oren: Yeah, they’re a bit challenging. 

Chris: Again, film has a harder time delivering information than narrated work does. But one of the tools that’s used is the flashback, which of course leads writers to think that flashbacks should be used more than they actually should. In theater we don’t even really have the flashback option. I’m sure you can work in a flashback. It’s not impossible, but I’m just thinking about the set and the expectations of the audience and how hard that would be to manage. 

Wes: Does it all come down to lighting? 

Oren: I mean, it depends. You get different directors who want to do different things. I have worked with some directors who, on the instance that we did a flashback sequence in a theater production, they were like, all right, we need a special flashback lighting setup that will tell people that this is a flashback. But for others it’s like, you would light this the way you would light a normal scene and you just kind of count on dialogue or occasionally a setup monologue to explain that it’s a flashback. But I mean, there aren’t a ton of flashbacks in the plays that I’ve worked on because they’re logistically challenging and plays want to minimize the number of times you have to change the set. At least the plays that I’ve worked on. I suppose if you have an unlimited Broadway budget you can do what you want. If you’re trying to write a play that a local high school or community theater group can put on, you want to have as few set changes as possible. Because flashbacks typically require a set change or at the very least a costume change or something, right? And so you really have to ask, is that necessary? Do we need that? That was one of the first things I learned when I tried to write a play. I had flashbacks and characters going to different places all over the place and my good director friend looked at this and was like, this is unstageable. You would need millions of dollars to construct all of these sets. 

Chris: That’s okay, Oren, that just made it a closet drama. 

Wes: There you go, perfect. 

Oren: And then we revised it into something that used one set in a little black box. It was great. 

Wes: I love the idea, Chris, that the first closet drama was born because somebody wrote up this screenplay and somebody said, it’s unstageable. And they said, well, I’m not throwing this away. We’re going to publish it. 

Chris: Just read it to my friends so they understand how great it was. Somebody will fund it if I read it to enough people, I’m sure. 

Oren: Hey, you know, sometimes it’s fun. I used to write fan Star Trek scripts and my friends and I would go into a building on campus that was vaguely shaped like the bridge and we would just read out all the scripts. That was a lot of fun. I mean, in retrospect, they weren’t very good, but it was just a fun thing to do for an evening. 

Chris: There’s nothing wrong with writing closet drama if that’s what you really want to write. I mean, today, people would usually just write prose instead if the intent is not to perform it. I mean, there were definitely times throughout history where theater was the most well-known form of professional storytelling and not everybody could put on a play. So it made sense to write closet dramas. 

Oren: Plus, it’s really hard to get someone to read your prose. But if you tell them that you need them to voice a part, then you can play on their vanity. And then they’re more likely to come to your house for an evening. 

Chris: Oh, I see. Life hack. If you need people to read your work. 

Oren: I have a friend who came to me to read my 200-page novel and they’re like, oh, that’ll take a while. It’s like, hey, I need you. You’re perfect for the part in this 200-page closet drama I wrote. Life tips, everybody. 

Chris: We can talk more about, I guess, the more modern film form then. If we’re talking about monologues as a replacement for viewpoints, then in film, the closest thing would be the fourth wall breaks oftentimes or voiceover. Voice overs are less heavy-handed. So that’s more popular. For some shows, once there would be too much voiceover, it’s almost preferable to go with a fourth wall break so that you can see the actor deliver their lines. Which might be why, for instance, House of Cards used a fourth wall break. Basically to give the main character’s viewpoint, especially since he was an evil dude. And they wanted the audience to feel like his confidant, to understand him better and root for him, despite the fact that he was an evil dude. 

Oren: If you’re trying to explain the American political system, you basically have two options. You can either have monologues where they explain all of the subcommittees and the bills that aren’t being voted on in the filibusters and all that. Or you can do Aaron Sorkin walking and talking scenes where everyone talks at like 100 miles a minute while they’re walking down a hallway. And those are your two options. And West Wing already did the second one. 

Chris: When I watched the interview with the vampire movie again, after it had been years, and after reading the book, which has lots of exposition in it, it was just amazing how much voiceover there was. They were trying to condense this kind of long, rambling book into a movie and try to communicate the things that were definitely from a viewpoint that were very hard to communicate visually. Like the idea of the world looking totally different to a vampire. Now you could do that with special effects, but when you talk it up too much, it’s almost hard to come up with some visual special effect that matches how much you’ve talked it up. It’s almost easier to just say it at that point. 

Oren: It would also be kind of irritating to have that constantly on. It’s like, I see the world super differently. And it’s like, okay, but I don’t? Can you turn it back to normal? It’s like, I see the world through a fisheye lens. It’s like, I wish you didn’t. 

Wes: Voiceover stuff also plays well in comedy. Arrested Development was really popular in the early aughts. The narrator was always kind of commenting on what’s happening out loud for everybody to hear. I think maybe I enjoy Fourth Wall breaks more than the voiceover. If it certainly persists beyond the opening sequence, I’m like, okay, what is happening in this show? But it’s a way of just quick introduction while somebody’s walking, and it’s clear that this is the main character, and we’re ramping up to actual dialogue. Probably should do away with it. 

Chris: The voiceover is already considered pretty heavy-handed and to be avoided unless you need it. Once you get too much, Fourth Wall break is even more heavy-handed. 

Wes: There’s probably always a better way to do it than that. 

Oren: You can have certain situations where the narrator isn’t a character on screen but still has a personality, and that’s part of the story. The Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix is basically that premise. The narrator is basically a character in the story but isn’t on screen most of the time. I think he shows up once or twice. Most of the time he’s not on screen, he’s just talking while the characters are doing stuff. Because it’s a comedy, sometimes they acknowledge him and it’s a big joke, and everyone laughs. Very funny. 

Chris: When the voiceover is done well, you don’t notice it that much. People also sometimes use voiceover to give things a traditional story feel, almost with a storyteller that you feel like is telling a tale to kids at bedtime or something. 

Wes: So the audience matters. 

Chris: It’s a niche technique, but I’ve seen it in a variety of films and that works if you have need of it. If you don’t need it, you should probably cut it down as much as you can. 

Wes: But you’re right, it definitely sets the scene well. Nightmare Before Christmas opens with that before songs, and there’s lots of good songs in there that are monologues. Perfect example of a show that has lots of very good monologues. 

Chris: But I have to say, in a narrated work, particularly text-narrated so it’s not audio, which you could still have songs and audio work, work them in. Generally, any kind of text that’s not said by an omniscient narrator, but said by a character and feels like it’s for the audience instead of another character is to be avoided.

Wes: Really start running into the awkward factor or the, I’m tired of this factor because suddenly it’s like, okay, why is this character not participating in this dialogue anymore? Why have they hijacked the conversation? The propensity for it to become very obvious that something weird is happening increases with each extra line of the speaker’s dialogue. 

Chris: In a medium where you don’t really need to do that because you have a narrator, it just feels unnatural and it’s unnecessary. Instead, you say you have a side character and you want to reveal their inner self. Usually for that, you want two characters to bond. So you reveal a side character’s backstory because it matters building their relationship with another important character. So it’s always well-tuned for the actual other character that is the audience in the story. 

Wes: Having your characters interact for that purpose is probably better at building attachment than if it was just a monologue. Because a monologue, there’s no interaction point. You’re just supposed to kind of sit there and listen to it or read it. 

Chris: Hence why you need a skull. 

Wes: Hence why you need a skull. You have to do something. You need props to make it slightly more interesting. Seeing the two characters discuss this stuff and bond, something’s happening there and you really feel like you’re a part of it. It’s just way better opportunities to build attachment. 

Chris: Usually you have some level of relationship arc happen. Two characters are coming closer together and moving from being strangers to being friends or enemies to lovers or whatever it is you’re doing. 

Wes: And then they can sing about it. 

Chris: And then they can sing about it. Audio drama, of course, is very interesting because it’s supposed to be something that someone just overhears, but that’s an impossible standard. So a lot of times characters have to talk about what they see. 

Oren: There is an interesting blurry line between audio drama with a narrator and a book that you’re reading out loud. It’s often unclear exactly. If there’s no narrator and it’s just dialogue and sound effects, okay, that’s an audio drama. Sometimes you have a little bit of a narrator who shows up occasionally and you’re like, okay, that’s still an audio drama. And then you have a little bit more and a little more. And eventually you’re like, this is just an audio book that you’ve hired different people to read the dialogue of different characters for. You’re blurring the lines about what is and is not a sandwich, and it makes me uncomfortable. 

Wes: Since we brought up theater, we didn’t mention soliloquy is specifically that type of monologue where everybody else on stage is very quiet. They’ve all checked out so that you can talk to your skull. 

Chris: Freeze frame? 

Wes: Yeah, the freeze frame, the soliloquy is the technical term for that. So your character’s basically talking out of time. That would kind of illustrate that it is happening inside their head. Definitely the best way to convey this is coming straight from my mind, no one else can hear, the lighting has changed. That freeze frame is probably the best that theater can do. Extremely popular 16th through the 18th century theater productions and things like that. 

Oren: Plus then you can play a fun little game about which actor is the best at standing still. It’s like, I saw you move, I know it’s not actually frozen, I can see you glancing around. 

Wes: It certainly is helpful in that it very clearly lets the audience know what’s happening. Interior monologues, the speaker’s just kind of talking and you might not know if other people hear it or if they can respond to it or something like that. And I think that just relies less on stage direction cues and things like that, it just might have somebody just kind of going. Since it’s rarely acknowledged, it’s certainly a little bit trickier I think for the audience to parse together just who knows what. And that is a little bit more of a dramatic aside, which definitely visually takes you away in the realm of, okay this is not for anybody on stage. But it’s still in real time and that can be a little trickier to certainly pull off. 

Oren: Sometimes I have a fun game trying to guess if a piece of dialogue was an aside or if the other character just didn’t hear it. Someone will be like, we’re going in and we’re going to rescue the princess and someone else will be like, we’re going to rescue your mom. Is that like an aside? Was that a joke just for me or is that something the person actually said and the hero just didn’t hear them? 

Chris: In audiobooks it’s so tough. The narrator would normally do a character thinking in the same voice they do the character talking. If the character is thinking and talking next to each other in text you could visually see what’s in double quotes and what’s like a italicised or something like that. In an audiobook if the narrator doesn’t make some kind of change so that you can obviously, just by hearing it tell which is which. You’ve got a lot of really distracting awkward dialogue where you’re like, wait did the character just say that? 

Oren: I’ve got a solution for that actually. All you have to do is have the audio narrator read open quotation mark closed quotation mark around dialogue. So it’ll be: the enemy soldier ran down the hall open quotation mark stop closed quotation mark the hero said. I’ve solved the problem. 

Wes: Adding hours and hours to all the audio files. 

Chris: This is an issue I had in for instance the calculating stars. The author narrates herself and she’s a great narrator. She’s so good at many voices but that’s one thing that she doesn’t do is make that clear and create some very nerve-wracking situations. 

Oren: All right well with that I think we’re gonna go ahead and call this episode to a close. 

Chris:If you enjoyed this episode please support us on Patreon. Just go to patreon.com slash mythcreants. 

Oren: And before we go I want to thank a few of our existing patrons. First we have Callie MacLeod. Then we have Kathy Ferguson a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next there’s Aymon Jaber. He’s an urban fantasy writer and a connoisseur of Marvel. And finally we have Danita Rambo. She lives at therambogeeks.com. We’ll talk to you next week. This has been the Mythcreant podcast opening closing theme the princess who saved herself by Jonathan Colton.

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