Saturday, October 20, 2012

How Writing About Soaps Influenced My Own Writing

For 15 years, I wrote for soap magazines. I began as an intern at Soap Opera Weekly in 1997, then became a full-time staffer at its sister magazine, Soap Opera Digest. I stayed at SOD until I was let go earlier this year. No hard feelings. I consider myself lucky to have had such a unique job.

During that time, I've received many questions about working in the daytime industry, at least peripherally: "Do you have to watch all of the shows?" Answer: Yes, but each editor is given a specific beat and show to cover. "Have you ever met Susan Lucci?" Answer: Believe it or not, no. "Uh... what exactly do you DO?" Answer: A little bit of everything! Over the years I covered ONE LIFE TO LIVE, PASSIONS and BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL. I interviewed actors, went on set visits at the studio (when I was writing about NYC-based OLTL), wrote reviews and news stories about the shows and had a long list of other duties. It was great fun and occasionally glamorous, but a lot of work.

It was also one hell of a learning experience. When you're writing for a weekly magazine, you very quickly adjust to the ins and outs of putting out a publication. Deadlines were tight and when it came to writing, I had to think on my feet. If a three-page interview were due the next day and I didn't get to speak with the actor until the last minute, I didn't have time to dwell on every word. I had to get my piece out fast ... and make it sound great.

A huge part of my job involved critiquing the shows. There are challenges in writing effective positive and negative reviews, and I grew accustomed to dissecting every TV program. However, in writing about OTHERS' writing, I learned much about what to do -- and what not to do -- when it came to crafting my own novel.

For instance, one thing that we editors (and fans, too, for that matter) often complained about were "insta-romances." Soaps are built on romance and couples, and the shows would unfortunately attempt to speed up the process by having characters experience an instant love connection. They then robbed viewers of having the pleasure of watching people actually fall in love.

When it came to my characters, Melinda and Josh, I really took my time in getting them together. Yes, they start to interact in the first chapter, but it takes about half the book until they act as more than friends. And it takes even longer than that for them to actually get physical! Agnes Nixon, creator of OLTL and ALL MY CHILDREN once stated, "Make them laugh, make them cry and make them wait." I really tried to follow this advice.

Another soap-related concern of mine was how well shows used their vets and showcased the different generations. Some, like DAYS OF OUR LIVES, kept their vets front and center and gave storylines to characters of all ages. Other shows ... not so much. Though BAND GEEK is a teen novel, I still wanted to showcase Mel's family. One of the side storylines involves Melinda's stormy relationship with her mom. It's told from Mel's point of view, but over time you really begin to understand what her mother, Lydia, is feeling. Meanwhile, Josh's story is centered around his relationship with the band conductor, Mr. Francis. Mr. Francis is portrayed as a villain at the start of the book, but by the end he also has more depth -- and you can understand why he'd be fed up with a talented, but naughty, student like Josh.

That said, I made sure that characters were punished for their misdeeds. Too often, soap villains would get away with murder -- literally! Josh is not a bad guy, but he's an anti-hero; he does many wrong things for what he believes are the right reasons. He also does some very sweet things. In other words, he's human. But eventually, his actions catch up with him ... and he (hopefully) learns from his mistakes.

Finally, I made sure that my teens acted like, well, teens. There have been some amazing youthful storylines on soaps. My favorites include the tales of GENERAL HOSPITAL's Liz and Lucky, and DAYS's Belle and Shawn. However, there have also been many instances where soap teens act like younger adults and that's really not fun to watch. Most teens don't go around solving crimes (unless they're Veronica Mars -- and let's face it, most of us are just not cool enough to be her). But many teens can relate to school and family problems, or what it's like to have a boyfriend/girlfriend for the first time. Mel and Josh are on a mission to get back at Kathy, but the bulk of their story is about friendship and love.

When you've been a part of something for as long as I was, it sticks with you. I'll always be grateful for my time writing about daytime.

Please read and review my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

No comments:

Post a Comment