"When I started this blog, it practically wrote itself. Now, not so much."
-Michelle Stafford as Phyllis Newman on The Young and the Restless
I love soap operas. There, I've said it.
I used to be embarrassed by this little tidbit of information, but when I consider it through the lens of my writing glasses, it's not surprising. Well-written soaps are a master class in dialogue. Sure, the dialogue can get too soapy at times, but if I were turning out five 42ish minute scripts a week, not all of my dialogue would be sparkling either.
Good soaps are the perfect mix of eye candy and reality. They offer situations that viewers can identify with (like blogs we wish would write themselves) along with story lines that allow us to suspend our disbelief (most of the time, anyway) played out by easy-on-the-the eye actors clad in clothing we'd like to have in our own closets.
But at the heart of successful soap operas lie the people who find themselves in these situations: the characters. Like the novels I read (and write), soap operas are character-driven. If the situations are far-fetched, and the wardrobe is beyond the means of the characters wearing the clothes, I don't mind because I tune in to see what my favorite characters will do and say, to cheer for them and get mad at them, to love them, hate them and root for them.
The chemistry between the character on the page and the character on the (sound) stage goes a long way toward making a show something viewers tune into each day. Michelle Stafford as Phyllis Somers Abbott Newman, Peter Bergman as Jack Abbott, Billy Miller as Billy Abbott and Greg Rikaart as Kevin Fisher are just a few of the Y & R players who keep me tuning in whenever I can, and I can imagine no one else in their roles, though in all but Rikaart's case, someone else has played - or even originated - those roles.
When the nuances of the acting combine with the history of the character and the words on the page, it can be pure magic. As writers, we endeavor to achieve this same chemistry, without benefit of actors to breathe life into the characters we put into our stories. Yet we need to conjure up this same nuance in order to create conflict. It's this combination of nuance, history and story that makes an unlikeable character redeemable in the end, an a likable character's counterproductive choices acceptable long enough for our readers to suspend their disbelief, and that keeps readers turning pages.
Some may call soap operas fluff. But as a viewer, I intend to keep my front row seat on my living room sofa as long as the writers continue to create characters I care about. And as a writer, I believe these shows have something to teach me about creating characters that people want to keep tuning in - or turning pages - to learn more about.