Soap-Operas: Influencing Writers Since Childhood

I was the girl who grew up watching soaps because her mother did, who sneaked in second episodes when the parents’ backs were turned, who wandered up the hill in her garden (yes, my old house came with a miniature hill), mumbling characters and dialogue to herself. I am the lonely, only child.

Of all the pictures of my garden, I have none of the hill...
Of all the pictures of my garden, I have none of the hill…

The basic idea of soaps has stuck with me to this day – perhaps that may be the reason behind my subconscious scene-hopping (thank goodness it is no longer head-hopping!) due to the visual use of scene-changes to keep the pace of a soap lively.

I’m a very visual thinker. I currently have mind-maps of psychologists’ names hanging from my bedroom ceiling in preparation for my summer exams. I think it’s very natural that I have picked up the visuals of writing in this way. I ‘see’ the scene unfold in my head, and so I write it as I see it, from whosoever’s perspective it happens to be.

And this can be a problem. ‘When The Clock Broke’ was my first novel in third person and I’ve had to spend quite a bit of preliminary editing removing traces of omniscient person from scenes. It was as if I was a narrator standing from above – or watching the scene unfold from behind the screen of a TV. Too, I was faced with multiple POVs throughout, including only one chapter set from one of the MCs brothers’ perspective.

Now, this certainly wasn’t intentional. However, it does raise some ideas of problems for the following books. I’m guessing that they have to be set from several viewpoints, to make the rest of the trilogy equal to the first. I have a fair few ideas for the last book, but the second is still out of reach.

And, yes, I blame soap-operas for giving me this automatic view of mind when it came to writing that novel.

girls-show

Nowadays, I’m not a big fan of soaps; I could be doing so much more in the time when I sit and watch them daily. Yet, they have become part of my life through the use of habit and my obsessions of routine. I even have a mind that is tilted towards life as a soap:

This week on Girls [I swear, the creators stole that title from my mind!]: As Alex continues to stress about whether she should play at the lunchtime concert, she becomes inundated with more work, school, editing, and the magazine. Which will she choose as her top priority when her final grade could depend on the choice? And Mother’s Day is looming for all the girls – how will they cope this year?

As you can see, I drafted this post last week. But I could have made another one up as I go to post now. “As Alex spends more time away from home, the essays pile up…” etc etc.

Why is it so easy? Because creating a soap tale for the week and paraphrasing it like that is almost the identical set-up of writing a hook or query. Protagonist, goal(s), issue.

Everybody needs good neighbours...
Everybody needs good neighbours…

Soaps often sap away realism by throwing disasters at an entire neighbourhood one after the other. This would never happen in real life. And this is what truly annoys me about soaps, beyond their addictive quality.

On the flip side, I do care. (Even if I care about characters too easily. It’s what makes me a great actress 😉 ). This way of using disaster to grab the watchers’ attentions is what I think is pretty nifty about soaps. Writers should always inject – weave – drama into every scene, to keep the action alive. It’s something which I myself can struggle with.

That said, I couldn’t know whether my soap habit helps or hinders my writing. True, the melodrama is great for tension and building sympathy, but with such a range of topics, characters and plots nowadays, I think writing following the pattern of soaps would just be too complicated to work as a novel. Besides, the time I spend watching soaps might be better used for first drafts or editing!

What about you? Are there ever times that you feel that your life is following a soap? And do you think soaps help or hinder writers?

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5 thoughts on “Soap-Operas: Influencing Writers Since Childhood

  1. Can’t say I’m influenced by soaps; I don’t think I’ve watched one since my Nana used to watch The Young and the Restless when I was a kid (I can still hear the theme music so clearly…). I can never remember to watch TV shows, so I’d just go nuts trying to keep up. I definitely agree about the need to have drama (or at least dramatic tension) in every scene to pull a reader through the story.

    I do worry about getting melodramatic sometimes, but it’s all in good fun. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment 🙂 Are you more of an internet-video watcher, then? I have a friend who rarely watches TV because she keeps her own schedule using all the players and apps available these days to view interesting programmes.
      I’m actually trying to watch less cliche TV nowadays, because I get the feeling it’s rubbing off on me. On the other hand, as you say, being melodramatic has its amusing side!

      1. I really only watch TV with my husband; we buy a lot of shows on DVD (we need Netflix, it would be cheaper!). My attention span is really short these days, but I can focus on reading and writing, so that’s where my spare time tends to go.

        (I also absorb a LOT of kids’ shows, but they’re not helping at all!)

  2. I do think soaps inadvertently influence my writing, and on one hand when I see it happening, I want to scream and delete the whole thing. On the other hand, if its a story I feel strongly enough about, I believe that soaps have paved the way for the suspension of disbelief in readers. I mean, hell, if Marlena can be possessed the by the devil, why can’t my heroine???

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