Ten steps to creating alcohol monologues
Many people wrongly believe that literature is all about love, romance, flowers and blue skies and while a great number of great works on these topics have been written, they are not always the best subjects to hook young people in to writing well.
The learners had been considering the effects of alcohol in PSE and I decided to tie in with what they were doing there and encourage them to use it creatively.
I often find that creative writing can be used as a useful adjunct and vehicle to help when investigating the harsh realities of life. I have always tried to impress on people that good literature can be as effective as good journalism or good photography in conveying these bleak aspects of real life. In the past we have explored a variety of gritty topics including the trauma of war and the trauma of gang fighting; the deadly lows of legal highs; domestic violence; drug addiction, and many others.
This is where the Ten Steps to a Mega-Monologue began. The learners had been considering the effects of alcohol in PSE and I decided to tie in with what they were doing there and encourage them to use it creatively.
We decided that our focus should be on the detrimental effects of alcohol on another person - not the drinker - and should tell the story from their point of view. We planned to show that an alcohol problem can have a terrible impact on the innocents who are not just spectators looking on at a disaster but are victims, casualties of this disaster too.
Having had quite a lot of success over the last few sessions with poetry and playwriting, I decided to try something a little bit different. In Drama the pupils had been looking at monologues and, again, I opted to link in with work that had been going on in that subject area too.
Overall the results were terrific and the stories they tell are varied: the abused wife of an alcoholic who turns to the bottle herself, a child whose father has died, a husband at breaking point and so on.
After looking at a few monologues including one or two of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads I settled on ten elements that make up a great monologue. The pupils used these elements as success criteria:
I will be successful if I can:
Show my character wrestling with a conflict of some sort that they want to reveal to the audience: in this case a taut and tense struggle between an alcoholic and a blameless other.
Show my character standing to lose something: whether it is a friend, a family member, reputation… Here it could be the loss of a relationship with, or indeed the loss of the life of, someone fighting an alcohol addiction.
Show the speaker adopting a clear emotional attitude: anger, sadness, frustration, fear etc or a mixture of these emotions.
Have my character show some level of emotional restraint: it’s good to show your character perhaps on the verge of tears or apologising for being tearful, but don’t have them break down completely as this could spoil the dramatic tension between speaker and audience/reader.
Include an arresting opening sentence that grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want to read on: 'oh Jesus Christ, I’m going to die!'
Describe emotions rather than just state what they are: don’t have your speaker say, 'I was really angry!' Do have them say, 'I could have rattled his jaw!'
Make it very clear what the exact nature of the problem is: in this monologue it is not simply alcohol, it is the behaviour brought on by the alcohol.
Travel through time: have your speaker talk about how the past affected/created the present and some speculation about what the future holds.
Use sensory details to bring the situations alive: 'Oh my God, his breath was honking, again!'
Have a stud-fastened ending: the speaker should be quite sure of their position: are they going to accept the position they are in, do they have a plan to escape, etc.
These success criteria can be adapted to make a substantial peer assessment activity with peer markers reading through their partner's monologue and ticking off the ten elements where they find them. This can then be transferred onto a marking partnership pro forma which will give constructive feedback for redrafting.
I am sure you will agree as you read the monologues attached below that the young people have indeed captured these features of good monologue writing. Overall the results were terrific and the stories they tell are varied: the abused wife of an alcoholic who turns to the bottle herself, a child whose father has died, a husband at breaking point and so on.
Next up is to have some of these monologues performed by the school drama club – we are hoping to introduce a monthly drama performance of pieces written and performed by our young people entitled A Coffee, A Cake and A Conflict and invite along not only teachers but family and friends of our talented youngsters.
Please enjoy these monologues and feel free to leave some nice comments for my young writers.
Top image credit: Little Visuals on Stocksnap
Gordon has written a number of creative writing blogs exploring tough issues across our website. Check out his project on writing about toxic relationships, or his partnership with the National Archives in London to help pupils write about poverty.