Soap Operas: tried and true plotting tricks

As I was agonizing over the plot of my new novel today, I took my customary two p.m.break to watch my favorite soap opera, One Life to Live, and it got me thinking about the recurring themes and conventions that drive the multiple story lines.

Some of these plot devices are so unrealistic and/or overused that they’d be unbelievable if used in a novel. But if the story line is engrossing enough, it’s possible to suspend disbelief.

Here are a few that come to mind about the denizens of Llanview, Pennsylvania:

  • People rarely phone ahead, preferring to drop in unannounced on the folks they want to talk to. Occasionally they knock, but they never wait for someone to open the door; they simply barge in.
  •  Invariably these visits interrupt something critically important: someone is about to confide a long suppressed secret or declare undying love, or a couple is discovered in bed, whether before, during or after sex. Sometimes the discovery results in a plot twist, but usually it’s just an excuse to extend the same theme for days, weeks or months without resolution.
  •  Comas and amnesia are amazingly common.
  •  People do a great deal of eavesdropping. This is a piece of cake, because the characters frequently deliver confidential tidbits in a normal tone of voice and in public places – bars, restaurants, hospital corridors, airports.
  •  People long thought to be dead come miraculously back to life. When a new actor is cast, the altered appearance is sometimes attributed to plastic surgery.
  •  Even when just getting out of bed, everyone is impeccably groomed, and like Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London, their hair is perfect.
  •  Men spend a lot of time parading around with their shirts off – at least the guys who have six-pack abs and obviously spend a lot of time at the gym. Their bodies are usually waxed and hairless. Those less fit or hairier have the good sense to keep their shirts on. Women stay relatively covered up, perhaps to avoid provoking jealousy in the primarily female audience.
  •  Men fall in love quickly and easily, are amazingly eager to get married and invest a great deal of emotional energy in fatherhood and questions of paternity. Currently, Brody Lovett (seen below) has kidnapped a baby that’s not even his, while John McBain (seen above), the true father, is in hot pursuit.
  •  People get married multiple times, often three or more times to the same person. But many wedding ceremonies are torpedoed by someone with a grudge to settle or a major plot twist to reveal just before the point of “I Do.”
  •  Many characters have high-level professions (mayor, newspaper editor/publisher, CEO of  a billion-dollar company) but are rarely or never seen at work. Police are an exception, since their work is more dramatic and impacts more directly on the unfolding plots. In addition to their primary professions, an amazing number own bars or restaurants, while those less fortunate wait tables or tend bar.
  •  The citizens of Llanview spend a great deal of time in said bars and restaurants, even in the middle of the day. Many secrets are spilled, and confrontations are frequent.

Speaking of bars and restaurants, it’s after five, and my interior clock tells me it’s time for a libation. No doubt I could come up with many more soap clichés – or perhaps you can add some of your own.

Sadly, ABC is canceling One Life to Live after a run of more than 40 years, and some of the featured actors have been around for almost that long. The network cites rising production costs, falling ratings, and changing viewers’ tastes as the reasons, and the last new show will be aired in January. OLTL’s hour slot will be filled by a show on health subjects, no doubt with a panel of obnoxiously cheery co-hosts along the lines of The View and The Chew, so I’ll be able to reclaim the hour that interrupts my creative flow just at my most productive time of day. (Yes, I could watch it at 9am or 9pm on the Soap Channel, but when there’s a real cliff hanger, I like to watch it ASAP.)

But all is not lost – a company by the name of Prospect Park plans to launch a new “Online Network” in January. They’ll feature all-new episodes, and reportedly many of the current actors have already signed contracts with them, including my favorite, Michael Easton, who plays John McBain.

By the way, my NaNoWriMo novel is coming along well. I’ve now passed the midpoint of 25,000 words, but I’m a couple of days behind. Stay tuned . . .

 

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Betsy Tuel
    Nov 18, 2011 @ 22:11:14

    I enjoyed reading your expose’ of soap opera plot features. Well done! I guess it is just as well that I do not have TV, or I, too, might get hooked on watching soaps. Hopefully, you, Julie, can write a novel that is a whole lot better than any soap opera that has ever aired on TV or radio for however long with much better character development. Onward!.

    Reply

    • julielomoe
      Nov 21, 2011 @ 17:07:40

      Thanks for the comment, Betsy. As always, good to hear from you. I’m really into the exploration of character this time, more than in my previous novels. Now back to my writing!

      Reply

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