Writing tips – Settings, Openings & Closings

Although it may seem out of order, you should first decide on the setting of your project, then write a closing transition.  After you have a setting, a solid rough draft of your monologue, and a closing, THEN hunt for a strong opening and introduction.  Check out Overview of a YC Project for a reminder about how all the parts of your project will fit together.

 setting for your introduction:
You’ll need to decide where and why is your character giving this talk. Who is your audience? How old is your character in the “now” of your setting? Where are you – in your study, backstage at an awards ceremony, in front of a tv camera, on a battlefield? 
Here are some settings chosen by previous students:
A fashion designer is welcoming a group of new students to her studio.
A pilot is being interviewed by a reporter about her wartime accomplishments.
An empress chats with her maid as they’re packing to be sent into exile.
A Roman heroine is seated next to a courtyard fountain, speaking to her grandchildren about the daring deeds of her youth.
A composer is speaking to guests at a party celebrating the 70th anniversary of her first performance.
A pirate is in the royal court, begging forgiveness for her son from Queen Elizabeth.
A spy is being de-briefed by her CIA superiors after the war.
A former slave is sharing tea with an old friend.
A WWII paratrooper is approached by a curious stranger while waiting to board a plane.
An inventor is showing his laboratory to a group of visitors before he gives a demonstration of his experiments.

The Closing:
The closing is a brief statement that wraps up your monologue before you ask the audience for questions.  The best closings remind us why your character should be remembered in history.  Some ideas for this wrap up:
“I hope one day I will be remembered not just for _______ but also for ________.”
“I’m glad that I was able to do ______.”
“My next goal is to ___________.”
“For you young scientists just starting in chemistry, I believe the most important next step in research should be ______.”
“I hope all of you will remember to (or work towards) ______.”
“Before I die, I’d like to ____________.”
“I believe that someday we’ll be able to create a wireless communication system by which we’ll be able to transmit voice and written documents across the globe. The possibilities for our future are limitless.”
“I wonder if my grandchildren will remember that I _____”
“If only I had known sooner that _____”
“I am thankful that ______” 

Here’s how some previous students asked the audience if they had any questions:
“It’s almost time for school, children.  Before you go, do you have any questions for your materfamilias, your grandmother?”
“Well, that’s my flight they’re announcing.  Do you have any questions for me before I board?”
“Is there anything else I can tell your majesty that would convince you to free my son?”
“I hear the children coming down the path.  If you have any questions please ask them before that noisy crowd arrives!”

The Opening:
This is your big chance to make the audience sit up and think, “WOW! I want to hear more!”  To create this curiosity, some of the best openings begin with a memory rather than a fact.

What NOT to do: Try to avoid starting out out by stating a fact, such as:  “”My name is ____.  I was born in the year _____.”  There are so many more exciting ways to grab your audience’s attention!

Finding an opening:   One way to create an opening for your performance is to think of the MOST important fact you want the audience to know about your character; then think of a memory connected to that fact, and use the memory as your opening.  For example, if the most important fact is that you won an Olympic medal, you could open with this memory about winning the medal, “I remember when I won the silver medal at the Olympics and the gold medal winner carried me up to the award podium.”  Doesn’t that make you want to hear more about her story?! 

Fire Drill Rule:  It’s great if you can plan the opening of your monologue to begin by immediately touching on some really gripping reason why your character should be remembered in history.  Imagine if your audience only got to hear the first 30 seconds of your program before a fire alarm sounded and everyone had to leave the building.  In that first 30 seconds, can you give the audience enough info to know who you were, when you lived, and/or why you were important in history?   For example,  as Thomas Andrews you could mention right at the outset the controversy over the safety features of the ship Titanic that you designed.  Or as Rachel Carson one of the first things you say could be why you chose the name Silent Spring for your book.

More thoughts on openings:
You might quote a controversial statement by or about your character, such as: “The newspapers say I’m unsinkable but really I’m _____”. Or you can jump right in to the middle of a story: “There I was, face to face with a pirate, wondering if I’d survive to tell my story.” Or you could create contrast by saying: “You probably know ___ about me, but what you might not know is that I also _____?”

One formula for a successful opener is: “What you probably know about me is ____ . But something you may not know is _____.” The first blank fills in the answer to “Why am I remembered in history?” or relates to one of the key events in that person’s life. The second fills in a lesser-known fact that connects to the first story. For example, “You may know that I built the first railroad across Colorado, but you might not know that as a child I liked to play with trains.” This paves the way for learning more about the early life of this Colorado character.

Another effective way to start is to repeat a quote about the historical character that the character might have seen, and then identify the quote, (for example) “That is what the newspapers said about me.” Or, “That is what my enemies would have you believe.” Or, “That is what my father wrote to me when I got back from crossing the Sierra Nevada.” Then react as the character would react – with pride, bitterness, confusion, or embarrassment.   Or start with a key quote by the historical character, and then identify the context. For example, “That is what I said to the reporters when they pestered me.” Or “That is what I wrote to my mother when _____” or “That is how I got the attention of ______”

You may be tempted to start your monologue as if you are talking to yourself, and then suddenly pretend to notice that there’s an audience in the room.   Instead, switch the order so that the first thing you say is, “Oh hello, you must be the (interviewer? students? whatever fits…),” and THEN go back to the talking to yourself section: “Oh, black beads on a black dress – black on black; that’s fabulous,” and include the audience in your evaluation of the dress: “what do you think?”  This approach works well and can feel less “fakey” than pretending that you don’t notice the large group of people in the room!

Some openings used by previous YC students (some are a little shortened for space, but you’ll get the idea):

  • “I’ve been called many things during my lifetime:  fashionable and regal, vulgar and outspoken, heroic and a trail blazer, optimistic and vivacious, bright and compassionate, but above all……Unsinkable!”
  • “I can still remember the day Lucretia killed herself.”
  • I remember when I first decided to fly.  My flight instructor decided to take me up in the air and see if I had any guts.  He strapped me in and Whoosh! he put that plane through every aerial maneuver he could think of: loops, spins, and nose dives.  “Do you still want to learn how to fly?” he asked when we landed, expecting to have wrung me out good.  “Hell yes!” I replied.

Although the opening is at the beginning of the performance, many Chautauquans do not decide how to open their performance until the rest of the monologue is completely written – it’s often the very last thing they figure out.

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    S. as Julius Caesar

    S. as Julius Caesar