I wrote a post not too long ago about working stars you admired in your youth into your creative endeavors . The fabulous DV Berkom mentioned in a comment that she, too, had been a General Hospital fan during college. This reminded me that I have always, from a writing standpoint, been awed and amazed by soap opera writers.
While there are only three of the traditional daytime soaps still alive and kicking, soaps used to be big business. GH’s Luke and Laura was so popular that film icon Elizabeth Taylor asked to be on the show for their wedding (as Helena Cassadine, the couple’s nemesis). And soaps used to be on every weekday, with few exceptions: no Christmas day episode, but tons of episodes leading up to and away from the holiday.
Having always written, I was always amazed that people could write so much. No, soaps were never written entirely by a single writer; there was a team. However, the “head writer” had the responsibility of managing story arcs and leading the direction of a show that went on everyday, potentially forever (though we know most shows have not lasted forever). That, from a writerly perspective, is just a mind-blowing task. Bill Belll (Young and the Restless) and Agnes Nixon (All My children) were masters at creating and keeping up with complex, overarching stories.
For Indies Unlimited, I wrote a post about creating a story bible to help you keep the characters of your series straight. I can’t even imagine what the story bible for a soap would look like. Especially back in the days before ebooks. You’d need a fork lift for that thing. Yet, these writers kept so much straight, and built some great stories knowing that once they finished a beautiful, heartfelt, should-be-happy-ending storyline, that they weren’t done. They had to go and write some more. Something else. And that had to be good, too. Oh my, the pressure.
Every weekday something had to appear on the screen, and it had to be written by these writers. Clearly, you gain some chops doing this kind of thing. You learn what works for your genre and what doesn’t and, I suppose you have to learn fast. Comedians joke about the crazy storylines on soap operas, but I’ve always been amazed that there haven’t been worse. If I had to write on that kind of schedule, I can tell you, there’d be worse. The demand of output, good output on a daily basis, and even once you’ve finished something awesome (Luke and Laura), the demand to do it again is right there on you. With novels, you can take a rest, if you’re spent. If you write something and realize it’s playing out poorly, you can shelve it. With a daily series like that, you’ve got to produce everyday. So, bad stuff cropped up, but generally, even after the bad stuff (does anyone else remember that awful Casey the Alien storyline on GH?), you got really good stuff.
So, today, I thought I’d like to take a minute to publicly applaud these guys who wrote hard every day and really gritted it out. As a journalist, I wrote every day, which is, in itself a good exercise, but journalists have the luxury of telling other people’s stories. The stories present themselves to journalist more often than they are eked out (from sources). However, fiction writers must pull inspirations from the depths of their minds, and to do that daily is something special. So here’s to the writers who always amazed me. There aren’t many of you left, and given the way soap viewership is headed, you’re among a dying breed, but cheers to you because you’re awesome.