A Writing Prompt from Elena Passarello

Each Friday we post one new writing prompt created by a Sarabande author. Prompts like this one are included in our Reader's Guides along with discussion questions and suggested reading to accompany each title. So if you can't wait a week for the next prompt, visit our Reader's Guide page to find them all in one place!

Today's prompt comes from Elena Passarello, winner of a 2015 Whiting Award and author of Let Me Clear My Throat.

 

Exercise: DEVISED MONOLOGUES

I loved making the 15 little interstitial “monologues” of Let Me Clear My Throat, most of which came from interviews with a single subject. It was so fun to go out and not only capture another person’s story, but also to then come home and shape their words so that their voices sprang from the page.

Try it yourself—think of a friend or colleague with a compact story to tell (nothing too epic). Instead of writing a series of interview questions, devise a few (3-4) loaded and open-ended questions that will get them “monologue-ing.” An example might be: “Tell me the whole story of the concert, from when you got the tickets to when you went home” or “Describe the whole process of becoming a contestant on Jeopardy.” You should prepare a few follow-ups or supporting questions if the monologue wanes (and anticipate generating a supplemental question on the fly, just in case.) Get your subject in a room (or on a phone—no emailing or chatting!) and set them up to answer your questions in a short space of time—30 minutes, tops. While they speak, let them know that you’re listening to and enjoying them. Either take furious notes or record them to capture their speech idiosyncrasies.

Then, when you are back at your desk, whittle their transcript into a one-page “monologue” with a beginning, middle, and end. Force yourself to keep things compact—300 words, tops. Make sure you highlight the phrases and details that best capture the music of this particular speaker. You might have to re-arrange the order of text a little, which is fine, but use the transcript as the sole material for the monologue.

You’ll know you’re finished when you can see the piece as a self-standing document that an actor or a stand-up comedian might perform—a real “character” built into the nuts and bolts of the prose speech.
 
 

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