Hank Quense writes humorous and satiric fantasy and scifi and an occasional work on fiction writing. This material was taken from his book on fiction writing Build a Better Story. See http://hankquense.com/BABS-main.html for more details on the book.
Daytime TV: A Valuable Addition to Your Writer's Toolbox - Part 3
(c) 2008 Hank Quense
Plots: A good story has a plot that integrates the elements of the story and allows the reader to suspend her disbelief. In other words, the reader is willing to accept that the plot didn’t happen but could have. To ensure that the reader stays comfortable in her state of suspended disbelief, the writer must eliminate any trace of unbelievable events. These types of events will lurch the reader out of suspended disbelief and end the relationship between her and the author. Yet, the events in the soaps are incredible. A woman falls out of an airborne balloon damaging her hairdo and nothing else. A long-lost object, the subject of a weeks-long futile search, is found by a character with a single phone call to an obscure part of the globe. To a TV-watcher, these incredible events do not stand out because the incidents are masked by the other presentation elements. By listening only, the plot flaws become apparent as does the danger in writing a story with an incredible plot.
Endless scenes: Good writing means a scene ends at a point that teases the reader into turning the page to see what happens next. The soaps, however, won’t give up a good scene without a fierce battle even if the scene has reached its logical conclusion. The same plea/order/advise/command/request/chastisement is repeated for several days. In one soap, a female character held several others hostage and waved a gun at them for an entire week. Every afternoon, she gave the same reasons for her actions in virtually the same words. It’s a wonder her hand didn’t get tired from holding the pistol that long.
To offset the soaps, the writer can listen (no peeking!) to Law and Order or one of its many offshoots. Like the soaps, these shows rarely have action scenes and are essentially all dialog. Unlike the soaps, the characters show a range of emotions, speak naturally and don’t use clichés. The plots are coherent and the tension builds during the show. Contrasting one of these shows with the soaps can only serve to improve the writer’s craft.
So, with all these faults, why are the soaps so popular? One basic reason is that the soaps consist of a lot more than the written word. The beautiful people in the cast, the designer clothes and the background music provide enough stimuli to hid a weakness in a single area such as the dialog or plot.
In contrast, we fiction writers can only use our words to convince a reader that our characters are worth caring about. We can’t use colorful or picturesque backdrops for the reader to see; we use no soundtrack and the characters can’t model the latest fashion designs. The reader has to use our words to build her own mental images of the setting and the characters.
While the soaps and novels have very different presentation formats, the script elements of the soaps offer a method for fiction writers to refurbish their writing tools. I recommend a yearly exposure to a few soaps to eliminate rust and to apply a coating of lubricant to keep the writing tools in good condition.
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[Note from Blog Hostess: Thanks, Hank, for this interesting perspective. I may actually take a peek at TV, now! - Linda]