Soap Opera Plots–Time Tested Reliable Storylines

TV Set

Once upon a time, my friends and I were all soap opera junkies. We loved our soaps, and I taped my favorite soap everyday for years. How times have changed. Now I don’t bother watching soaps anymore, and neither do any of my friends. We all stopped watching them years ago. I don’t think it’s our age. Both of my grandmothers were still watching their favorite soap operas when they were well into their eighties. I think it has to do with the fact that soap operas today are so poorly written. Soap operas used to be about love and romance. Then the producers decided they wanted younger, “more hip,” audiences, so the writers began writing outrageous story lines about demonic possession, characters being buried alive, couples going back to the garden of Eden, and UFOs. Good plot lines for The X Files, but definitely not what we wanted to see on Days of Our Lives.

Those of us who are fiction writers or storytellers know that basic plot structure revolves around conflict, and how the characters react to and resolve the conflict. For many, many years, soap operas relied on these classic plot lines which consistently worked and kept viewers watching. They were:

The Romantic Triangle.  Boy meets girl. They fall in madly love. But another girl is also in love with the same boy, so she plots and schemes, relentlessly, to break them up, becoming, “The Girl We Love to Hate.” Such was the Steve, Alice and Rachel triangle on Another World that kept viewers watching for years. It’s even written up in Wikipedia.

Extra-Marital Affairs and Illegitimate Children. The side effect of the romantic triangle. Days of our Lives kept their audience riveted for years, wondering when Mickey would find out that Mike was actually his brother Bill’s son.

Long Lost or Unknown Half Siblings. Boy meets girl. 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’s lover was the father of her child’s love interest, and they’re half brother and sister. Fortunately, this always comes out before the romance is consummated. A good plot twist is when later on, after they’ve both found other love interests, the other mother comes forward and says no, so and so was not the father of her child after all, so they were never half siblings in the first place. The fun never stops.

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 favorite leading man or lady framed for a crime they didn’t commit. Of course, they would eventually be found innocent, but never until after they’d gone to trial, been convicted, and ended up in prison. This plot line can be easily adapted to 21st century technology by simply having the real killer tamper with the DNA test results.

Catastrophic Diseases or Injuries. Hodgkin’s Disease was common on soaps. So were brain tumors and comas. Pregnancies were, more often than not, high-risk. Miscarriages were frequent and could be caused by the strangest things, such as tripping over a wastepaper basket. And how many times did we see our favorite characters go blind or deaf? But, at least in Soap Opera Land, everyone always recovered–only to be struck down by another malady a few years later. The only disease that soap opera characters were ever immune to was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Amnesia. A rare medical condition in the real world, but at one time it was quite common on soaps. Having a favorite character lose his or her memory and wander off somewhere, with everyone else thinking they were dead, made for great soap opera watching.

Returning From the Dead. This is oftentimes the end result of amnesia. A favorite character is involved in a plane crash or other catastrophic event. He or she is missing and presumed dead, but the body is never found. The character leaves the show, only to return sometime later. (Sometimes played by a different actor upon returning.) This plot line has many possibilities. The character may be recovering from the aforementioned amnesia, or maybe not. Either way, the memories will eventually return, but oftentimes not until after experiencing another catastrophic event. The other scenario is when the character returns after having finally escaped from being held captive somewhere.  Regardless of the circumstances, no one ever makes it back home until after their spouse or lover has moved on and found someone else. However, this plot can be overdone. Come on, Days of Our Lives. How many times can Stephano DeMira be brought back from the dead?

And there you have it. Any romance writer worth his or her salt knows that such stories of star-crossed lovers have worked since Romeo and Juliet. Too bad that soap opera writers abandoned the basics in favor of the bizarre. Once they did, they lost touch with their loyal viewers, and once an audience is lost, it’s nearly impossible to get it back.

“Fan” Fiction and Copyrighted Characters–Treading on Thin Ice

Photo by Can Stock Photo.

I had an interesting chat with another author at the recent Wild Wild Western Convention. He told me about a writer who apparently got into a some serious trouble with Paramount over some “fan fiction” he had written about Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. The story went that the writer had written a very adult Star Trek story, and Paramount had taken issue with the way their copyrighted characters had been used.

I remember when I was a teenager, Star Trek fan fiction was very popular, and, as I seem to recall, one of the reasons why Star Trek conventions started up in the first place was so the fans, or “Trekkies,” as they called themselves at the time, could share their fan stories. Of course, back then times were different. Authors wrote their fan fiction in conventional paper notebooks, so very few people probably ever read them. Traditional publishing, be it a book or magazine, was the only option at that time, so permission would have had to been obtained from the copyright holder before any fan fiction could be published. There was no Internet, no blogs, no self-publishing, and no eBooks.

Times have indeed changed, so it’s probably very tempting for the amateur writer of today to write his or her own Star Trek story in a blog or to post it on a fan forum. And while their motive may be one of sincerely paying homage to their favorite television show, their devotion could, potentially, get them into some very serious legal hot water. While I’m not an attorney and not purporting to be giving legal advice, it’s pretty much common knowledge that the legal rights to any artistic creation, including works of fiction, belong to the person who created it, or to a third party who may have purchased the rights from the original creator, and that would include rights to the characters as well as to the story.

Most of us who write fiction probably model our characters on people we know, or perhaps we base them on other fictional characters. Either way we do it, our characters should be very loosely modeled with plenty of other characteristics to make them unique. If Captain Kirk is your inspiration, then give your character a different age, background, physical description, or even change the race, ethnicity or gender. Above all else, be sure he, or she, has a completely different name. But if you really have your heart set on writing a Star Trek story, or of using other copyrighted characters, make sure you get permission first. Even if you’re not writing your story for monetary gain, it could still be considered copyright infringement.

My tip for the day,




Is It One or Two Spaces After a Period?

Hands at KeyboardSome people get their undies all in knot over the silliest things, like how many spaces do you put between sentences.

Traditionally, it’s two spaces after a period, as I was taught in my college typing class. Back then, if you didn’t have two spaces between your sentences in your term papers, some professors would ding you on your grade because your paper wasn’t properly formatted. Even today, most secretaries will tell you two spaces between sentences is the standard, and many teachers still teach students to put two spaces after a period or a colon. It’s been done that way for so long it’s become the norm.

The practice of having two spaces between sentences originated with typewriters, and typewriters placed letters on paper differently than Microsoft Word. Each number and letter key on a typewriter keyboard was connected to a metal type bar, which had the two corresponding letters, one a capital letter, the other a lower case, centered on it. The capital letter was on the top, with the lower case being centered about a quarter inch or so beneath it. The type bars were all the same width, regardless of the width of the individual letters. This caused the kerning, or the spacing between individual letters, to be unequal, which is probably why the practice of putting two spaces between sentences got started.

I’m not going to argue with a secretary about proper etiquette in business letter writing. If that’s what she does for a living then she certainly has more expertise on the matter than I do. However, when it comes to writing manuscripts, the rules change. One space between sentences is all that is required, and two spaces after a period is considered a big no-no.

Typesetting software automatically handles the kerning, or adjusting the spacing between individual letters, so the practice of putting two spaces after periods creates rivers or gaps of white space that weave back and forth across the printed page. This can make the page look visually unappealing, and it’s even more of a nuisance when justifying, or having perfectly even margins on both sides of the page.

Unless you’re an author, the space between sentences probably isn’t anything to be all that concerned about. But if by chance you’re an author, and you’re sending a copy of your manuscript to an agent or publisher for consideration, make sure you have a single space after your periods and colons. Just like my old college professors, they will ding you for not having your work formatted properly, and why give them another reason to reject you.


The Cure for Writer’s Block

Photo by Can Stock Photo

Got an e-mail the other day from someone who is a regular contributor on one of the on-line forums I frequent. He’d run into a brick wall and couldn’t think of anything to write about.

It happens to the best of us from time to time. Creativity is a funny thing. We can’t always turn it on and off whenever we want to. But there is a solution.

Sometimes just switching gears and writing about another topic can help. Or go do a project that has been on your “honey do” list for too long. Sometimes those little nagging issues can have an effect our creativity. If that doesn’t help then why not take a break and do something you enjoy doing. Maybe bake a batch of cookies. Play a round of golf or go to a ball game. Read a book that you haven’t had the time to read. Call an old friend or relative you haven’t talked to in awhile. The point is go do something different so your mind will have a chance to focus on other things, and your creative muse can take a rest. Don’t worry, it will come back. And when it does you can pick up where you left off. My friend is back to posting on the forum just like nothing happened.

My thought for the day.





Just Add Two Tablespoons of Fate

cookbookebaycoverAnna’s Kitchen was my very first book, and I completely self-published it. I think there should be a requirement somewhere that every author must do this at least once in his or her lifetime. It’s an incredible learning experience as it makes authors extremely aware of just how much hard work goes into publishing a book.

Since I had no one to edit or proofread my book I did it all myself. This meant I used my spell checker for a proofreader. Big mistake, I know, but that is one of the many reasons why I learned that every author, no matter how rich and famous, simply must have an editor.

Once the book was printed I found all kinds of errors going back to the original manuscript. One of my friends found one to be particularly amusing. It was in a gravy recipe, and it said, “Add two tablespoons of fate.” He laughed and laughed. Then he asked me if it meant we were supposed to pray over the gravy as it was being prepared. Now mind you, it’s actually not a bad idea. I pray over the little everyday things in life much more than the big things, but in this case it was actually a typo the spell checker had missed. “Fate” was spelled correctly. What it should have read was, “add two tablespoons of fat.”

Yes, that would be a good recipe for gravy. But for everyday life yes, you should add two tablespoons of fate everyday. What will be will be.

My thought for the day.