You Caught Me Monologuing!

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I had a conversation with an author the other day about villain monologuing. He pointed out that plenty of fictional villains throughout the ages have revealed their plans to the heroes. I quoted Syndrome:

Syndrome "You caught me monologuing!"
Note that I think in the movie he actually says “got” me monologuing. But I think “caught” has a better ring to it anyway!

Villain monologuing is one of those stereotypes that popular culture both accepts and ridicules at the same time. The conversation led me to do a bit of research, and I found that TVtropes calls monologuing an Undead Horse Trope. A trope that has been around so long that it should probably have died. And yet, it keeps coming back. And it just doesn’t die!

So, is monologuing good or bad? Should you use it? Or is it a sign of an inexperienced writer?

Problems with Monologuing

Having your villain expound his plans and evil genius to the tied-up hero yields a host of potential problems. For one thing, it can be just plain boring. I saw this ad in a movie theater recently (hooray for a second viewing of Infinity War):

No one wants to read or watch a 20-phase powerpoint explanation of exactly how evil and how brilliant the villain thinks he is. Too much exposition can just bore the reader. This is true of monologuing as well as any other exposition dump you may be tempted to write. To keep a reader’s attention, you need variety. Paragraph after paragraph of dialogue gets wearisome. As I said in my post on white room dialogue, you want to avoid dialogue overload or fatigue. If your villain spends too much time expounding his plan, your reader will just flip ahead (or worse, close the book).

Too much monologuing can also strain the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Surely the villain should realize that she’s giving the hero far too much information. Even if she’s certain she’s won, why not just kill the hero and get it over with? Instead of giving her the chance to escape and undo all the brilliant plans that have just been explained in thorough detail.

The other great thing about this commercial is that it shows how easy monologuing is to mock. Seriously, it’s just begging for you to laugh at it. That’s why it makes such a compelling advertisement here. I laughed and remembered the ad. So unless you’re careful, your monologuing villain will just be asking for mockery. The Incredibles avoids this problem by hanging a lantern on Syndrome’s monologuing. Having him realize what he’s doing and then call himself out on it invites the reader to laugh with the movie instead of at it. This is a great technique to deal with cliches and tropes you just can’t (or don’t want to) avoid.

Character Motivation

If you’ve managed to keep your monologuing short to avoid boredom and serious (or funny) enough to avoid mockery, you still need to consider one vital aspect before plunging into the monologue: Is this monologue in keeping with the villain’s character arc?

Syndrome in The Incredibles is actually a great example. His elaboration of his plans and successes fits perfectly with his character. He spent his entire life building up to this moment, just so he can tell his former hero “I didn’t need you after all”. So of course he needs to tie his hero up and of course he needs to monologue. That was his goal—his underlying need. If your villain has a particularly emotional connection to your hero, or if her skills are constantly being undervalued, your villain has an internal reason to tell the hero a bit more than is probably wise. Emotions have taken control of reason. You’re not just having your villain tell the hero things because the plot requires the hero to know them.

I can’t stress this enough. The character needs to have a pertinent reason to say what he or she is saying. You cannot have a character say something just because the plot needs it to be said. This is true of every bit of dialogue, not just villains monologuing. Keeping your character motivation in mind will help you avoid a host of dialogue issues, including mockable monologuing and things like “maid and butler” dialogue.

To Monologue or Not to Monologue?

If your character has internally consistent motivation to monologue, do it.

If he doesn’t, then don’t.

It’s that simple. Monologuing in and of itself is not a sign of an inexperienced writer. But how you do it could be. Be aware of the trope and be brief in your exposition. But as long as monologuing fits your villain’s character description, monologue away.

Now excuse me while I go work on my plan to use grammar to take over the world.

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