Lessons From the Soaps

I grew up watching Soaps from an early age.  I knew many of the characters for twenty plus years and yes I’ll admit a few I still follow.  At the height of my soap mania I recorded at least five shows on my VCR and would tune into others when I could.  Now I DVR one and occasionally will watch an episode of another that gets re-aired in the evening hours.  So you can easily draw the conclusion that the soap opera genre was an influencing factor in my writing and in my understanding of life.  Okay lets get the obvious derision out of the way, the soaps are rife with ridiculous storylines from characters who die and come back to life multiple times to demon possessions, in supposed realistic fiction. I agree with the naysayers who ridicule these features in the soap world.  However, I would argue the great storytelling and character development can be a wealth of training and inspiration for a writer.  There is no other genre on television where a character can be developed over decades, even book series with dozens of titles don’t have that luxury.  Here are some things I have learned about characters and story telling from the soaps: First, characters can and should be multi-layered, complicated, just like real people.  Second, The characters you love and root for aren’t always the good guys (Think Sonny Corinthos from General Hospital).  Third,  for a story to be compelling it needs to grab a hold of your emotion.  Fourth, just like an episode leaves you with a cliffhanger, so should a chapter, you will want to tune in or read on.  Finally I would say the biggest lesson we can learn from soaps is not the stories themselves but from the writer’s who write episode after episode year round, they are the model for daily writing and continuity in their writing.  Trust me, soap fans get bent out of shape when the continuity of character is breached.  I do want to add that soaps do romance like no other genre and I feel for men who are measured next to the soap romance standard.  The perpetual story telling in a soap challenges the writers to keep things fresh and new so we keep tuning in.  Sometimes the fact my favorite characters are not allowed to be happy for a reasonable length of time before the next drama befalls them drives me nuts, but watching how these characters react and respond to their tribulations gives me fodder for my own.  Yes, writers should read, read, read to hone their craft but I would leave you with the thought that soaps  are a treasure trove for writers.  So set your DVR and indulge.


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