It’s Singles Awareness Day, so let’s talk about soap operas!
Don’t click away just yet. I know soap operas get a bad rap, especially when it comes to quality writing, deep characters and believable plots.
But I’ve watched one soap opera for years now. Yes, it’s entertaining. Yes, it’s ridiculous at times. Yes, it’s The Bold & The Beautiful.
And yes, it’s helped me with my writing.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look. Here’s what I’ve learned about writing from watching soap operas.
(cue the cliffhanger music)
Secrets Always Come Out
When a character has a secret, it’s usually a juicy one. The baby isn’t his! She’s served time! He’s actually in love with his wife’s sister!
And the character dwells on this secret—for weeks. Yes, we get quick flashbacks to yesterday’s episode and some vague statements like “how could I do such a thing?” when confessing to their confidant (over and over again). But usually we’re left to assume their feelings (Guilt? Fear? Sadness? Anger?) by what’s conveyed on their face.
This is really a good writing exercise. Describe how a character feels not by their inner thoughts, not by their actions, but by exactly how they compose their face. What does she do with her eyes, her nose, her mouth, her forehead, her cheeks? What does she not do?
You’ll find yourself more in-tune with your emotions, waiting to feel guilty or sad so that you can see what that looks like (or even feels like, face-wise) in the mirror.
Characters are Always Passionate
How does a character feel about their mother-in-law? She likes her! She hates her!
And sometimes she oscillates between both extremes.
Characters are never iffy about their emotions. When they have an opinion, it’s a strong one. It’s hot or cold. It’s black or white.
In writing, we understand that many characters don’t feel strongly about most things. So when they do, it means there’s a compelling reason behind it.
When writing or editing a scene, investigate your character’s stance. Why are they so passionate? What do they say to support their side? What are they not saying? What do they not know that could change their minds? What do they not say that could change someone else’s mind?
It’s Always Complicated
It’s never “we met, we fell in love, we got married and lived happily ever after.” There’s usually a handful of misunderstandings, an affair or two and a couple of marriages to someone else before the I dos.
But it’s not just the love stories that are complex. In fact, the show usually juggles three, five, even seven storylines at once, and we viewers wait to see just how they’ll all fall into place.
As I’ve said in this blog post, there’s a lot of outlining and storyboarding going on to make these stories weave seamlessly together and yet create so much tension.
How do you layer your storylines? How can one character’s motivations affect another character’s storyline? How can characters help each other in their storylines?
I tell my friends all the time that soap operas are a great place to learn about the craft of writing. Many laugh—and some roll their eyes—but I still stand by my claim. Aside from the melodrama and cliffhanger music, there are many lessons writers can pull from an 18-minute show.
What have you learned from watching soap operas? Share your story below.