Tag Archive | Brody Lovett

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 . . .

 

Quitting my soap opera cold turkey

Michael Easton

I swore I’d quit my soap opera cold turkey this week. They’d wrapped up two significant plot lines on Friday – almost, anyway – and it seemed like a good time to give up my insidious and shameful habit of watching One Life to Live. But literally at the last minute, they dropped in a dead body, so I suppose I’ll have to tune in one more time at least.*

Those writers really know how to pile on the plot twists, drag out the suspense and keep you hooked. Two major power couples reunited Friday. Trying to stop Natalie from flying to London, John made it to the airport in time to learn she’d missed her flight, whereupon she showed up in hopes of catching the next one. Close-ups of long meaningful looks – no blinking allowed. Despite the fact that she’s recently widowed and his soon-to-be-ex girlfriend miscarried after being pushed down a flight of stairs, John and Natalie obviously belong back together – it’s just taken them a few years to realize it.

Mark Lawson

Meanwhile Jessica realizes Brody’s her true love after all. She’d forgotten that fact when she suffered amnesia after Mitch gave her too much electroshock therapy. For months now, she’s believed she was 18 years old and destined for Christian, her first true love, and she even fixed the votes so the two of them could be king and queen at the senior prom, despite being in their late twenties at least. Though she’s been a wife and mother, she feels like a virgin, and the horndog Ford is set to take advantage of her innocence when her memories come flooding back and she realizes she was almost raped by Mitch.

Confused yet? Small wonder, yet I haven’t even begun to describe the ramifications of these plot lines, which are only two of many being played out on OLTL at any given time. A few months ago, I generated a table on my computer with one row per day and eight columns for the major plotlines. I started out with one page per month, but that wasn’t nearly enough space. Now each page has four days – that’s 32 boxes per sheet, and it’s still not enough room for all the plot twists.

I use lilac paper for these charts, and by now I’ve accumulated enough pages to make an impressive conceptual art piece in an avant garde gallery. I’m a member of a new coop gallery that has the perfect wall space, but I’d be ashamed to display such repetitive, obsessive-compulsive art under my real name – it’s embarrassing enough even to be writing about my addiction here.

I’ve also done family-therapy-style genograms of the characters on One Life to Live. At any given time, there are over 40 characters on the show, some major contract players and others occasional walk-ons. Diagramming their relationships is tricky, since the number of marriages and affairs is mind-boggling, and sometimes it seems everyone in the fictional town of Llanview, Pennsylvania, is related to everyone else in an incestuous hillbilly hollow.

The real reason I want to stop watching, aside from the fact that OLTL falls during my most productive writing time? Truth be told, I don’t like most of the characters that much. I’m a huge fan of Michael Easton, who plays Detective John McBain, and Mark Lawson, who plays former Navy Seal, Brody Lovett, isn’t bad either. There are some sympathetic middle-aged characters too, but they’re getting less and less air time, and the show is skewing more and more toward adolescence. Too many teenagers, and too many adults with the emotional maturity of teenagers.

So why am I still watching? Well, there was that impetuous bedroom scene with Natalie and Brody last week – how will their true loves John and Jessica react if they find out? Or not if but when, because that particular plot twist is too juicy to pass up. Then there’s that horndog Ford, who we last saw lying in a pool of blood, with Marco washing the blood off his hands. But is Marco truly capable of murder? Or did Hannah do it?

With so many plot lines on such a huge, complicated canvas, and half a dozen writers credited on every show, there’s something for everybody. And for a mystery writer, there’s a lot to learn about how to hook an audience. 

When it comes to TV, which shows are your guilty pleasures? And do they have any redeeming value in terms of your plotting techniques?

*I did watch again, and Ford’s not dead after all – when last seen, he was being wheeled into the ICU. Cold turkey may be too much to expect, but at least I’ve given up those lilac plot charts, and I’m limiting myself to partial reruns on the SoapNet channel so as not to interrupt my prime writing time.