Confused by mystery plotting? Try One Life to Live

. . . Marty tells John she remembers everything about their relationship, including the time they made paper airplanes, since she got over her amnesia. They kiss. . . . Todd talks with Tea, who’s regained consciousness in the ICU following her injuries from the explosion. . . . Schuyler tells Gigi that Stacey didn’t actually donate the stem cells that saved Shane’s life. . . . Rex confronts Stacey, accuses her of lying about Stan. . . .Dorian tells Langston and Marco that Lola confessed to murdering her own mother and letting her father do the prison time. . . . Gigi realizes that if Stacey was lying about the stem cells that saved her son, then Gigi’s promise to God to “do anything” if Shane lives was invalid, and she didn’t need to break up with Rex after all. . . . Kyle argues with Roxi about the stem cell hoax. Roxi wonders if the mystery man who contributed the stem cells is really dead as the nurse told her. . . . John and Marty fall onto the bed in a torrid embrace. . . . Blair and Tea discuss the talk they had when they were trapped in the basement with a gas leak and thought they were going to die. Both confessed that Todd was the love of their lives. They agree that “What happened in the boiler room stays in the boiler room” . . . .

So it goes on a typical afternoon in Llanview, PA on the soap opera One Life to Live. And today’s episode didn’t even touch on Starr and Cole’s stolen baby, whom Jessica kidnapped while under the control of her “gatekeeper” alter ego Bess, Natalie’s sudden marriage to Jared, or numerous other plotlines.

I’ve been hooked on OLTL since the actor Michael Easton, who plays John McBain,  moved there after the defunct soap opera Port Charles was cancelled. (There he played a devastatingly attractive vampire, long before vampires were as hot as they are today. More about him later.) I used to watch from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. on ABC, but that cut into my prime work time, so now I usually watch on the Soap Channel at 8:00 a.m. That way I can multitask – watch the soap, read the newspaper (what little remains of it), eat breakfast, cuddle with the cats, then be at my computer by 9:00.

I’ve tried to justify this guilty addiction by tracking and analysing the plot lines as I watch. Twice I made sociometric diagrams linking the various characters and their relationships; both times I counted about 44 active roles. In the year that passed between these two efforts, some characters died or disappeared, and new ones took their place, but the number of characters remained remarkably consistent. More recently, using Word, I generated a table with 31 lines for days of the month and seven columns for major plot lines. (Actually there are many more plots going on, but seven was all I could fit on the page.)

I’m a painter as well as a writer, and I’ve been tempted to enlarge these complicated diagrams and turn them into works of art. They’d look great in a gallery – something like Jackson Pollock – but I doubt anyone would buy them, and I can’t afford the time. A show like OLTL has many writers, and I’m sure they must have a room with wall charts and diagrams somewhere in the ABC studios in NYC near the Hudson where they shoot the show.  I’d love to sneak a peek – who knows, I might even see Michael Easton.

It’s instructive to compare this kind of multileveled plotting with the way we structure our own novels, and mysteries in particular. We’re often cautioned not to introduce too many characters, for fear of confusing readers, but if soap fans can fathom the intricacies of a show like OLTL, maybe our readers can comprehend more than we give them credit for.



While checking my Yahoo Groups today, I realized that I’m still a member of a Michael Easton online fan group. I’m going to post over there and invite them to visit today’s blog. It’ll be an interesting way to expand beyond my usual internet circle of friends. I’d like to thank Enid Wilson from Blog Book Tours for asking about the character Gabriel in my novel Eldercide. I told her he was inspired by the actor Michael Easton, and that got me thinking . . .

If any of Michael’s fans check in here, welcome, and please leave a comment. You can visit my website,, to read the first chapter of Eldercide. There you’ll meet the villainous Gabriel. Although he does kill people, he has a compassionate side, and he’s strangely charismatic. As you read his scene, envision Michael – that’s who I pictured when I was writing about Gabriel.

9 thoughts on “Confused by mystery plotting? Try One Life to Live

  1. When I was sick and had to stay home from elementary school, I would listen to the soap operas on the radio–Stella Dallas, Guiding Light. I really wanted them to be over and Sky King, the Lone Ranger or Sgt. Preston of the Yukon to come on, but meanwhile….

    At some point–I don’t recall the exact epiphany– I realized that the soap plots all depended people withholding information and lying to one another.

    Once, after listening to an afternoon of soaps, I started crying. My mother rationed my soap listening after that, but it wasn’t the lies and the convoluted plots that made me cry. I was just sick. That was 60 years ago, and since then, I haven’t really liked soap operas.

    But I like your analysis. Way to go, Julie!

  2. I never really watched daytime soap operas, but I have always enjoyed reading the recaps now and then because they always made me chuckle — especially Passions.

  3. You know, it’s funny. I remember several years back I was ill and couldn’t go to work so I got hooked on soaps. General Hospital was my favorite. I returned to work and it was several weeks before I was able to see the show again. Imagine my surprise that I could pick right up with the storyline as though I hadn’t missed anything of consequence…except one of the actors had been replaced. Never did get used to the new AJ Quartermaine….lol

    Nancy, from Just a Thought…

  4. A really clever and informative post. You’ve a nice sense of humor. I loved the Boredom Alert tag.

    I think we sometimes don’t give our readers enough credit. Also, I think agents and publisher shy away from books if we imply it’s at all complex…fiction I’m talking.

    I’m peddling a book that has three plotlines. Not many positive responses. I reworked the query to show two plotlines. Much better response. What does that tell us?

    Another nice post, Julie.

    Best Regards, Galen.

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