Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Dear Allyson and Heather,

What Heather wrote about unity in “The Truth About Dino Girl” also pertains to “This Is My Audition Monologue,” by Sara Zarr. Rachel’s consistent references to the theater in general (“actory personalities” of other students) and to the audition monologue parameters in particular (“the time limit,” the “audition form”) connect me to the character and anchor me in the setting of this story.

But it’s the stunning first person point of view written in direct address that immediately pulls me into this story. Like Billie in “Secret Identity,” Zarr’s protagonist addresses a specific “you,” but unlike Billie, whose medium is written (consistent with her geeky passion for the internet), Rachel’s medium is speech (consistent with her geeky passion for the theater). Billie’s object of direct address isn’t physically present as she writes to him, but Rachel’s monologue is written with an eye to direct person-to-person delivery. And it kicks right off with the title.

In fact, the story begins with the title itself--“This Is My Audition Monologue”--a complete sentence, which also serves as a comprehensive first line that clearly establishes the main character (an actor), the setting (a theater), and the point of view (first person). The first line of the story--“I wrote it” (p. 319) -- even includes a pronoun which refers back to an antecedent (audition monologue) in the title. So we are plunged headlong into the fast pace of this amazing story--er, audition monologue--right at the get-go.

In discussing point of view, Janet Burroway in Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft says:
the story may be told to another character, or characters, in which case we, as readers, “overhear” it; the teller of the tale does not acknowledge us, even by implication....We are eavesdroppers, with all the ambiguous intimacy that position implies. (pp. 209-210)
Rachel speaks directly to Mr. P., and in doing so, Rachel’s voice is so unique, so strong, so cocky, so funny, and so relentless, that in just a few pages I feel like I’ve glimpsed her directly, by hiding in the wings--eavesdropping--and listening to her audition monologue.
As I mentioned and as you can see, I do not have a lot going on in the cleavage department.... (p. 323)
Zarr illustrates that direct address is a great tool for voice--her protagonist gets to expound nonstop from start to finish.
The funny thing is I thought drama would be a place where being not like the others was okay, but it turns out you have to be not like the others in a way that is exactly like the others who are not like the others. (p. 325)
Rachel also offers a vivid portrayal of her antagonist, the director who doesn’t remember her name, even after three years of tryouts:
I’m not trying to embarrass you, Mr. P., but you’ve had trouble remembering my name since I first started auditioning freshman year. (p. 319)
Direct address also emphasizes dramatic conflict--Rachel ramps up intensity by addressing Mr. P. periodically throughout the monologue:

You don’t know this about me, since you’ve never taken the time to know anything about me, but I use humor that way. (p. 320)

What I’m saying is I know you don’t know what to do with me. (p. 325)

and finally, her parting shot:
This time you’ll remember my name. (p. 328)
In reading “This Is My Audition Monologue,” I was especially impressed with how Sara Zarr was able to integrate backstory while sticking to the limitations of direct address. And she drops the backstory bombshell at the beginning of the “official” monologue:
You can start timing
Scotty King got electrocuted while running the light board. (p. 320)
Now THAT grabbed my attention. I want to find out WHO Scotty is, HOW he got electrocuted, and WHY Rachel kicks off her audition monologue with this information. All of these questions are answered during the course of the monologue, as the backstory is sporadically filled in, while Zarr maintains Rachel’s breezy voice and her sidelong comments to Mr. P. In addition to answering the Who? How? Why? questions about Scotty and his death, we learn what his death means to Rachel. She announces that his death is a sign to her to “Stop being willing to stay behind the scenes when what you want is to be in the scenes” (p. 327).

The monologue rolls on to an unresolved conclusion--at the end we don’t know whether Rachel will get a part or not. What we do know is that Rachel will no longer stand in the shadows, as a “backstage kind of character” (p. 324).

While there are novels for young readers written entirely in direct address, such as Beverly Cleary’s Dear Mr. Henshaw, more often novels are written partly in direct address and partly in 3rd person narrative, as Deborah Wiles’ Love, Ruby Lavender, in which Ruby’s letters to her grandmother are an important structural and dramatic element. In both “Secret Identity” and “This Is My Audition Monologue,” Kelly Link and Sara Zarr demonstrate the power of using direct address in writing entire short stories.

StorySleuths Tip #43: Consider using direct address, especially in short stories, to create vivid characters (both protagonist and antagonist), to clarify setting, to emphasize dramatic conflict, and even to add backstory, all in the voice of the speaker.