|© Can Stock Photo / 1Raymond|
As I mentioned in my earlier post, Blame it on Too Soap Operas and My Misspent Youth, I was once a soap opera junkie, and even though I no longer watch soaps, they still have a big influence on my writing today. In writing fiction the plot structure revolves around conflict and how the characters react to and resolve the conflict. And when it comes to soap operas, writers have relied on several classic plotlines for decades because they consistently work and keep viewers watching. I use my own variations of these plotlines in my writing, and the comment I hear the most from readers is that they can't put the book down. So, here are the standard soap plotlines.
1) The Romantic Triangle. Boy meets girl. They fall madly in love, but another girl is also in love with the same boy, so she schemes relentlessly to break them up. Most of the time she succeeds, making her, 'the girl we love to hate.' Viewers can never get enough of her.
I've done my fair share of romantic triangles in my books. They work amazingly well. In The Betrayal, leading lady Emily's cousin, Annette, thinks she's much better suited for Emily's husband than Emily is. In The Letter, we have Danny's ex-girlfriend, Martha, who refuses to let him go. My personal favorite, however is the father-son triangle in The Reunion, when young Jeremy sets his sites on Dad's old flame.
2) Extramarital Affairs and Illegitimate Children. Another soap opera staple. After all, 'the girl we love to hate' isn't going to let a little thing like a marriage stand in the way of her going after the man she wants. Or maybe it's a randy husband sneaking out on his wife. Either way, it keeps viewers tuning in.
When it comes to creating romantic conflict, few things work as well as adultery. The Deception is the story of a woman who unknowingly becomes involved with a married man, while The Betrayal is the story of a wife who's been cheated on. Both women face unintended consequences and both are reader's favorites. Expect to see more adultery themed novels in the future.
3) Long-lost or Unknown Half Siblings. Boy meets girl and it's love at first sight, but one of their mothers is dead-set against their relationship and she does everything in her power to break them up. Soon the truth comes out. Years ago, Mom had an affair with the father of her child's love interest, and they're half brother and sister. Fortunately, the truth is revealed before the relationship is consummated.
Okay, a romance between half-siblings is a little too creepy for me. However, in The Deception, a character is unexpectedly reunited with a long-lost family member, and readers tell me it was their favorite part of the story. Mine too.
4) The Big Frame Up. From time to time a villain has to be killed off, and what better way to do it than to have a popular, and innocent, character framed for a crime they didn't commit. Of course the truth eventually comes out, but never until after the wrongfully accused has been tried, convicted, and sent to prison.
Alas poor Emily. The cheated on wife in The Betrayal is betrayed a second time when she's framed for a crime she didn't commit.
5) Catastrophic Diseases or Injuries. Hodgkin's Disease, brain tumors and comas occur frequently on soap operas. Pregnancies are often high risk. Miscarriages are common and can be caused by the strangest things, such as tripping over a wastepaper basket. And from time to time, favorite characters go blind or deaf, only to recover and then be struck down by another malady. The only thing soap opera characters are immune to is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
This is one area where soap operas can go over the top, and because I strive for accuracy I take the time to do my homework. Both Cassie, in The Journey, and Rachel in The Stalker, suffer traumatic injuries, and my research included consulting with friends who are former nurses and who were more than happy to help me write some of those scenes.
6) Amnesia. A rare medical condition, but at one time it was staple on soap operas. Having a favorite character lose their memory and then wander off somewhere, while everyone else thought they were dead, made for great soap opera watching.
Because this is a rare condition, I've only used it once, and that was with Jeremy in The Journey. Again I took the time to research it carefully, and a former nurse beta read the manuscript. And because it is so rare, I'll never use it in another novel.
7) Returning from the Dead. A favorite character vanishes after a catastrophic event, such as a plane crash. Or maybe they were kidnapped. Typically, the character leaves the show for an extended period of time, and sometimes will return played by a different actor. Sometimes they're suffering from amnesia, but not always. What is certain is that they only return after their spouse or love interest has moved on and found someone else. This too keeps viewers watching, but it can also be overdone.
This too is an extremely rare event in real life. I also did it with Jeremy in The Journey. It made a great story and readers loved it, but it too will not be done again.
And there you have it. Such stories of star crossed lovers have worked since Romeo and Juliet. Soap operas are based on believable, although occasionally uncommon, real-life experiences, somewhat exaggerated. And that's what makes them so entertaining.