Sunday, May 07, 2006

May 7: Dramatic Monologue Day

Today is the birthday of poet Robert Browning. Born in Camberwell, England in 1812, Browning was exposed to books at a young age. His father owned a collection of some 6,000 rare volumes, and Browning learned to share his father's passion for literature, reading books in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish.

Browning wrote both poetry and drama, and his most influential innovation, the dramatic monologue, combined both. While some might argue that Browning pioneered the form, there is no doubt that he elevated it to such a point that the name Browning has become synonymous with dramatic monologues, like "My Last Duchess."

For more on Robert Browning visit

The dramatic monologue is characterized as a poem with a single speaker with an implied listener. A specific dramatic situation is important in a dramatic monologue, as well as a tone that captures an authentic, conversational voice. In the course of the monologue, the reader should gain insights into the character of the speaker. For a long example, see T.S. Eliots' "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Here's a short example by Randall Jarrell:

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Today's Challenge:

Try your hand at writing your own dramatic monologue. You can try to write it in verse if you want, but more important is to try to capture the authentic voice of your narrator. In a dramatic monologue you can take on the voice of ANYONE, or anything, you desire. In other words you take on a persona, a mask, and use your poetic license to channel the voice of whomever you wish.

Before you begin writing, you'll need four things:

1. A dramatic situation
2. A specific character/narrator
3. An attitude the speaker has toward the situation
4. A listener or receiver of the monologue

Before you commit, do some brainstorming on possible combinations of the four elements. You can go for comedy or tragedy -- a really good dramatic monologue might have elements of both.

Here are some examples:

1. An angry teacher, complaining to her husband about her students' lack of enthusiasm.
2. A teenager pleading with his parents to allow him to pierce his tongue.
3. A desperate elderly salesman trying to persuade his boss not to fire him.
4. An enthusiastic teenager trying to persuade her grandmother to get an iPod.
5. A shocked postal worker calling the police to report a UFO sighting.
6. A concerned father advising his son on how to approach the challenges of life.

Below is another example based on #6, with apologies to Rudyard Kipling:


If you can keep your head about you when everybody's losing theirs
Step up to the starting line, and stare down your fears
Be ready for the gun as you start the race
Get out at a good strong pace

Don't let the pack box you in.
Run your own race to win.

Whether you win or lose the race my son,
It matters more how your race is run

Will you run your race to win?
And when your fall down will pick yourself back up again?
You gotta make your own breaks in this human race
Three fingers pointing back in your face

Fill each minute with sixty seconds run.
You can't stop the sun, but you can make him run.

Triumph and disaster are two imposters just the same,
Don't spend your time looking for someone to blame.
Because the rain comes down and the way gets hard,
And it seems like you haven't gotten very far
Push beyond the pain
Through the mud and rain

Whether you win or lose the race my son
It matters more how your race is run

Try to see the world in your neighbor's shoes
And whether you win or you lose
You're not the only one who has a race to run
Do all you can to lend a helping hand
Pray to God each day
That He'll light your way

Whether you win or lose the race my son
It matters more how your race is run

Brian Backman (2006)

Quote of the Day: Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp - or what's a heaven for? --Robert Browning

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