Happy Thursday, darlings! Lovely to see you again. Suze here, bidding you welcome.
Show of hands. Who’s watching the new Dallas on TNT? I admit it. I watched the premiere last week and was hooked immediately. What did I love about it? Actually, everything.
See, I love soap operas. They’re so over the top. Big Hair. Big boobs. Too much makeup. Crazy amounts of jewelry. Designer clothes. All of these apply to both male and female characters, except maybe the boobs. Everybody’s filthy rich, unless the character is one of three types of people: a servant, a poor but noble young person putting herself through college, or a schemer/scammer trying to insinuate him/herself into the world of the rich. And all of the poor people will eventually make it to the big time, believe me.
But the best thing about soaps, either day or nighttime, is the writing. Anything goes. I mean anything. Like young and studly John Ross Ewing, you might strike oil on your family land, yet be unable to drill for it because of your late grandmother’s will. So what do you do? Drill anyway, and try to overturn the will. To do this, you will need to double cross your uncle, who’s dying of a rare stomach cancer. But what you might not count on is the fact that your own father, once catatonic in an expensive nursing home, has snapped out of it at the mention of the word oil, and is now trying to double-double cross both of you.
Unwittingly marry your brother? No problem! Because your mother had an affair with the pool boy years ago, and you were secretly adopted, so he isn’t really your brother after all. Whew.
Abducted by aliens? Yup, happens all the time. (Please don’t post pictures of your probe scars on Facebook)
Killed in a fiery car crash? Not to worry. You faked your own death, planted the body of some poor schlub in the twisted wreck, and went off to have plastic surgery while you planned your return — and revenge.
Speaking of death — no one is ever really, truly dead in a soap. There is always a creative way for someone to come back. Unless it’s a long-lost twin, masquerading as the dead loved one.
So what does this have to do with us fiction writers? Plenty! If I’m feeling stuck, I often look to the soaps for inspiration. Because the soap stories are painted with such a broad brush, it’s easy to pick out themes and archetypal plots. Conflict? It’s all about the conflict.As far as I’m concerned, every story ever written or handed down by oral tradition is based on any combination of the following elements: love/sex, power, and wealth. Nobody lays these motivations out more clearly than the writers of soaps.
Since I’m a pantser (less so than I used to be, but I still feel confined by a tight outline), I sometimes have to take a step back until the next scene or relationship reveals itself. So I ask myself some questions: What’s Character A’s secret? What or who is Character B hiding from? Can I bring Character C in from out of town to shake things up? Who’s got the most to lose? Who is in danger? What kind of cliffhanger can I construct at the end of a chapter to make a reader not just want, but need to come back?
I challenge you to think like a soap writer while you’re working on your manuscript. Add the unexpected. Even if it sounds crazy, try it. Take that story someplace new.
What about you? Do you love or hate the soaps? The Young and the Restless has always been my favorite, always will be, no matter how good (bad) Dallas gets. What’s yours?