A monologue is a single character speaking, think of the internal monologue, as opposed to dialogue’s two or more. This can be internal or external or a mix, a character may even argue with themselves but unless that other self is depicted as an entirely different character, think of the devil and angel on the shoulder image, then that can still count as a monologue. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t call it an internal dialogue too if you wanted.

Although a monologue is one character it still needs to follow the same basic principles as dialogue. Primarily the consistency of the voice, we may build in some differences in the way the character speaks to themselves as opposed to others but if we build it to be different in that way then we should stick to those distinctions. For example, if a character has a verbal tic when they talk to themselves but it doesn’t appear when they talk to others then the reader will get used to this and immediately be able to identify when a character is monologuing, even without context. However, if we establish this and then it begins to appear in their normal dialogue the reader will notice find it unsettling. This isn’t impossible to do, we may want elements of one form of speech to bleed into the other but this should be deliberate and work as part of the narrative rather than an occasional mistake.

There’s also a second type of monologue where a character is speaking to another character but the other character isn’t speaking. Although there’s more than one character there as only one of them is speaking this also counts as a monologue. An example of this would be speeches, think of the rousing ‘off to battle’ speeches that tend to appear in war stories where there is one speaker addressing a crowd, this is a monologue with a specific reason to rouse others to action, rather than the character who is speaking.

The speech monologue tends to be more common in books than a character speaking to themselves which is more common in film, television and theatre. As we discussed when we were looking at internal monologues the reason for this is that those mediums lack the ability to get inside the character’s head in the same way a book does so they often have to make in the internal external. Whereas, in novels and short stories we can construct an internal monologue where the character’s thoughts are being relayed directly to the reader so they don’t necessarily have to speak them aloud for them to be known. Just because we have an internal monologue doesn’t mean we can’t have a spoken one too, we simply have to be careful not to fall into repeating everything, once in the internal monologue and once in the external, unless one is going to conflict with the other, back to the devil on the shoulder analogy.

Overall dialogue and monologue obey the same basic principles because they’re all speech, the different names simply denote that one has a single speaker and the other multiple speakers.


For more writing advice see my Advice Page. For more on dialogue see Finding The Characters.

NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. This is the last part.

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