Once upon a time, my friends and I were soap opera junkies. We loved our soaps. I taped my favorite soap everyday for years. How times have changed. I don’t watch soaps anymore, and neither do any of my friends. We stopped watching them years ago. I don’t think it’s our age. My grandmothers were watching their favorite soaps when they were well into their eighties. I think it has to do with the fact that today’s soap operas are so poorly written.
Soap operas used to be about love and romance. Then one day the producers decided they wanted younger, more hip audiences. As a result, the writers began writing outrageous story lines. Demonic possessions. Frozen cities. Characters buried alive. UFOs. Good plot lines for shows like The X Files, but certainly not what we wanted to see on Days of Our Lives.
Those of us who write romantic fiction know basic plot structure revolves around conflict. Two characters meet and fall in love, but there are obstacles to overcome before they can live happily ever after. For many years, soap operas relied on classic plot lines which consistently worked and kept viewers watching.
The Romantic Triangle
Boy meets girl. They fall in madly love. However, another girl is in love with the same boy, and she won’t go quietly into the night. Instead she plots and schemes, relentlessly, to break them up, thus becoming, The Girl We Love to Hate.
Extramarital Affairs and Illegitimate Children
The occasional side effect of the romantic triangle. Soap opera writers kept audiences riveted for months, sometimes years, wondering when an unsuspecting husband, or ex husband, would finally discover that his son or daughter actually wasn’t his son or daughter.
Long Lost Half Siblings
Boy meets girl. It’s love at first sight, but one of their mothers is dead set against their relationship. She does everything in her power to break them up, and before long 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, this always comes out before the romance is consummated.
Sometimes the writers will create a plot twist. The other mother will come forward later on and say no, so and so wasn’t her child’s father after all. Therefore, they were never half siblings. However, this only happens after the would-be lovers have moved on to other relationships. The fun never stops.
The Big Frame-Up
From time to time a villain has to be killed off, so why not frame a favorite character for a crime they didn’t commit? Of course, they would eventually be found innocent, but not until they’d gone on trial, been convicted and ended up in prison. This plot line can be easily adapted to 21st century technology by having the real killer tamper with the DNA test results.
Catastrophic diseases or injuries
Hodgkin’s Disease. Brain tumors. Comas. High risk pregnancies. All were common soap opera maladies. Tripping over a waste basket could cause a miscarriage, and how many times did a favorite character go blind or deaf? Luckily, in Soap Opera Land, everyone recovers, only to be struck down with another malady a few years later. However, soap opera characters are all immune to one disease. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A rare medical condition in the real world. At one time, however, 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
A favorite character is involved in a plane crash. Or they lose control of their car and it crashes over a cliff and into the sea. The character is then missing and presumed dead, but the body is never found. Thus the character leaves the show, only to return later, oftentimes with another actor assuming the role.
This plot line has many possibilities. The character may be recovering from the aforementioned amnesia. (Their memories will eventually return.) The other scenario is the character escaping after being held captive somewhere. Regardless of the circumstances, no one ever makes it home until after their spouse or lover has moved on and found someone else.
So there you have it. Any romance writer worth his or her salt knows such stories of star-crossed lovers have worked since Romeo and Juliet, and they work just as well today. I use variations of them in my Marina Martindale romance novels, and my readers tell me they can’t put my books down.