Mentor Text Wednesday: The Berlanti Opening Monologue

 

MentorTextWednesdayMentor Texts: Arrow Opening Monologue (Season 1)

Arrow Opening Monologue (Season 2)

The Flash Opening Monologue (Season 1)

The Flash Opening Monologue (Season 2)

Supergirl Opening Monologue

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Opening Monologue

Writing Techniques:

  •         Creating character
  •         Writing exposition
  •         Establishing setting, mood, and tone
  •         Preparing to write in media res
  •         Brevity

Background:

Somehow, as a teacher and a parent, I find a way to watch TV sometimes. I realized recently, that almost every show that I watch has a superhero in it.

And, I realized that four of them come from the same creator. Greg Berlanti is an acclaimed writer and producer, most notable to current audiences for his work on the DC Comics shows Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow. Personally, I feel that in these shows, particularly The Flash and Supergirl, he has created some of the finest superhero storytelling on the small screen. The characters are rich, and you care about them. The action is great, and the stories are pretty strong. Things are inclusive, and though it may feel bogged down, at times, in the love lives of the spandex set, the writing doesn’t fall prey to the alpha male tropes of comic books past.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.50.22 PM

Image via advocate.com

As I was playing some catch-up on these shows after work, I realized that each of these shows had an amazingly similar opening, which I’ve taken to calling the Berlanti Opening Monologue. I had a moment, I’ll be honest, when binge-watching, when I found this annoying, but when I had the whole week’s worth of these shows to catch up on, right after the winter break in programming, I came to appreciate that introduction, reminding of the tone and spirit of the show I was watching.

Taking these into the classroom, I would show the videos of each monologue, asking the students to note the similarities and differences. The Berlanti Opening Monologue generally includes the same basic material. The hero:

  • Identifies him or herself, distinguishing between his/her secret identity and superhero name.
  • Briefly, and somewhat vaguely, references his/her powers.
  • Gives the tiniest bit of exposition, including backstory and motivation.
  • Mentions, where applicable, his/her “team.”
  • Mention, if needed, what his/her non-hero life is like.
  • In later seasons, the heroes may mention key plot arcs that impact the present day of the show.

That’s a lot in 30 seconds or so. Comparing them side by side like this, though, highlights the commonalities. As well, the differences, for fans especially, will hint at the tone of the show, which could be a neat discussion all its own. I like that they’re almost exactly the same, but different enough to be noticed. This, in my mind, is what makes them a nice mentor set.

How We Might Use Them:

  •        Characterization––My initial plan for these is to use them when we do some work with superheroes in Grade 10. I like the idea of students writing these types of monologues as they develop a superhero of their own. One of the places superhero storytelling gets bogged down is in the origin story. I’ve noticed this especially when having students create their own hero. Either they get really convoluted, and overdo the origin, or they underdo it, and skip to the action stuff they’re excited for, and we’re trying to figure out exactly who the heck Captain Knucklehead is. Given the Berlanti Opening Monologue pattern, they would need to nail down a handful of specific details – enough to establish a base for their hero to go off and have adventures, or hang around for a full origin story.
  •         Exposition––I see a lot of use for the Berlanti Opening Monologue with young writers dealing with exposition. I absolutely love the brevity of it. As a fan of these shows, I love that they condense the important stuff you need to get into a brief introduction that’s pretty much entirely exposition. Having students do this as a writing exercise would be valuable – simply put, they’d need to give you a quick blast of exposition. Who’s the character, what’s our tone, what’s the setup? Having that list of things that need to be included, capping them at a couple of sentences per item… I can see that benefiting our writers who might go mad with their pencils, while still providing a structure and plan to support those that need it to get any amount of writing done.
  •         In media res––Consider the challenge of having students write in media res. If they write their opening monologue on a separate page, then they’ve established a lot of things already. I love the opportunity that this provides to guide writers. How many of us wind up reading pieces in which our students spend a lot of time on exposition that isn’t integral to the action of the piece they’re writing? Let’s give them a frame for that, something that allows them to establish those things quickly, and that can be “edited” out of their core piece.
  •         Voice––Since they’re delivered by the actors playing these heroes, these pieces have voice. That voice does lie in the words. Barry Allen is pretty psyched to be The Flash, and Supergirl is kind of enjoying using her powers. That comes across in their opening monologues. Oliver Queen is a darker, gloomier hero, and his monologue reflects this, as does Rip Hunter’s in Legends of Tomorrow. Our writers could take cues from this, presenting their protagonist as an up, positive person, or a curmudgeon. We could even suggest to them that they try different approaches, seeing what fits for the hero they want to write. Since these monologues are brief, it could be a couple of quick writes accomplished before they get into the middle of their pieces, and discover that they want a different tone.
  •         World Building––In a previous post, I suggested the notion of students writing about the same piece of pop culture. In this case, they could all write about the same superhero. These monologues would be quite beneficial in this activity, as they would establish the world, the tone… the things we’d need to anchor our stories in the same world.
  •         Brevity––As a teacher of writing, it sounds kind of funny to be pitching brevity as something we’d teach. We spend a lot of time getting our writers to expand, don’t we? However, they need to flex both sets of writing muscles, and I think writing something that delivers a whole bunch of exposition in a short amount of time would be a good exercise.
  •         Biopics––If we take our storytelling into a digital realm, wouldn’t it be neat to have students create short biographical videos in which they capture their lives, and realities, accompanied by their own Berlanti Opening Monologue?

Television has become one of our most universal storytelling mediums. I’ve made a point of using it in my classroom when I can, as a text to be studied, and as a source of story. Now that I’ve been using the idea of mentor texts, I guess it was only a matter of time before I figured out a way to use this medium in that way too.

What other applications do you see for these monologues? Are there other shows that employ a device that we could use as a mentor text? Leave a comment below, connect with us on Facebook, or find me on Twitter @doodlinmunkyboy.

 

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