When I was an undergraduate at Stanford, I had the luck to work one-on-one with a Stegner Fellow poet Geri Doran. We met once a week for a quarter and she assigned me reading and poetry prompts and endured my strange late-college poems about my own anatomy. While I’d written poetry since I could write, she was the first poet I really got to know as a person instead of as an impressive and intimidating professor. She was lovely, with a poise and stillness that felt to me then to be the essence of poetry. She also told me about a time when, after tutoring a child for most of a year, she forgot what house they lived in and just drove back and forth on their street until they came out and flagged her down, which also seemed to me to be quintessentially a poet’s kind of forgetfulness.
I meanwhile, once showed up to our meeting with a ticking clock in my backpack. It was my house’s kitchen clock, and its ticking had been keeping me awake at night. With insane insomniac creativity, I’d tried putting it in the refrigerator overnight, where any early-rising housemates could find it and use it if they needed it, but then I had the idea that I could just take it to campus and switch it out with some quieter classroom clock. Problem solved, no harm done, said my college logic. All day, I’d gone from class to class, but never found a switchable clock. So there I was in my quiet tutorial, awkwardly placing my backpack as far away as I could so Geri couldn’t hear its ominous ticking.
Anyhow, it was Geri who introduced me to Dramatic Monologues, poems written in the voice of a character, often an unsavory character, who reveals a whole story as they talk, such as the narrator in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” who while showing off a painting of his late wife accidentally admits to having her murdered.
I knew my students would love writing Dramatic Monologues, but I stumbled around for a long time trying to figure out how to introduce the form to them, as most examples felt too long or too dark to share with children. (If I’d been thinking of theatrical monologues I would have found a lot more good examples.) Finally, I realized the perfect entry: Halloween costumes.
So now we write monologues from the perspective of our Halloween costumes. We get lots of creepy rants from the point of view of the Grim Reaper and Darth Vadar – and some in the voice of toasters. Kids love it because it helps them get into character, and half the point of Halloween, besides the candy, is getting to really be some creepy or fantastical being.
To write a monologue, let your character tell us a story from their perspective. The important thing is to let the character tell us the story in their own voice, no narrator cutting in to set the record straight. They might focus on something that for others is just a detail, and the “main” story might slip in around the edges. They might not even tell the truth. The reader might have to figure some things out. The character may see events very differently than others do. What is important, dramatic, or even right and wrong might be very different to them than to other people. I bet Darth Vader has some less-than-complimentary things to say about Luke. And maybe he’s been having some real issues with his helmet, and the whole father-son relationship pales in comparison with that constant annoyance. Meanwhile, the Grim Reaper might feel like a humble civil servant saving humanity from endless decrepitude. And your toaster? Unthinkable rivalries with the refrigerator, not to mention the oven!
Here are a couple fresh ones from this morning: one from the point of view of a ninja, another about a vegan vampire. There was also one from a Window’s error message wondering what feelings were like, and one from a boombox who just wanted to play “Baby Shark.” And that was only the beginning. Happy Halloween!
Mysterious as night sly as a fox sight sharp as a sword… some ninja maybe, I suppose I could be I have the talent the bravery… but that’s not me. I slink around town making not a sound, unlike Spiderman you won’t see me on the news battling giant robotic monsters, Or see me in the city. I do tend to keep to myself. I choose to do this, no this or that agreement to her or him, like I said if no one knows you exist no one will be bothered by you…
I pull up my hood as I round the bend, a soft smile tugging at my lips. I smell it. I pause under a street light as another approaches. “ This way?” he asks. My smile grows as I laugh, my canine teeth digging painfully into my cheek. “ Can’t you smell it?” “ I can,” he says, grinning and revealing his fangs. We continue down the street, and are joined by others of our kind. As we walk, the smell strengthens.
There is a small crack of light coming from the bottom of the windows on the darkest house on the block. The smell is excruciating now. We pause at the bottom of the stairs leading to the front porch. The door swings open, and there is a dark figure, outlined by the faint light coming from inside. “ Come in,” says the dark figure. We enter, and I can no longer help it. I dart down the stairs to the basement, and grab a cup of soup off the plastic folding table. I feel a hand on my shoulder, and turn to see Casey. She laughs. “ Boo!” I wipe my mouth. “ This is amazing! Who knew that being vegan could still give you so much flavor! I could smell this halfway up the street!” She shrugs modestly. “ I just think even vampires should have the opportunity to eat what they want, you know?” She swoops her arm around the room, pointing to the signs that proclaim, ‘ Vengeance for Vegan Vampires!”, and continues cutting a carrot cake that smells awesome. I grin, and turn to grab a slice of cake, but I slip.
It seems to happen in slow motion. I bump her hand, and the knife slits her right between her thumb and pointer finger. She stands, frozen, gazing at the trickle of blood leaking down her knuckle. The whole room tenses. My stomach cramps. I am hungry for blood! Blood! No! I feel my fellows close around me blocking the light. Ohnoohnoohn....