I have a confession to make. My name is Kelly Meding, and I watch soap operas.
I never used to understand soap operas. The format confused me, as did the multiple, overlapping story lines. I thought the acting was goofy, the way it was filmed looked funny, and all people ever talked about was who was sleeping around on or betraying who. Granted, this was all from the perception of a thirteen year-old who'd spent part of a summer watching "The Young & the Restless" with her grandfather.
Fast-forward seventeen years later, and my perception has changed quite a bit. Long story short, several coincidences via Twitter and YouTube got me hooked on a story line unfolding on "One Life to Live." As I went back and watched online eps, I found myself wanting to learn more—not just about other characters peripheral to this story, but about soaps in general. So I started doing my research, and I chatted online with some fans.
Fans who've been watching these shows for forty or more years. FORTY years. It's amazing to think that some of these soaps have been on the air for more than five decades. The history is amazing, and the fans are intensely loyal. I admit, I'm fascinated by the whole thing, and I have a great deal of respect for the people who create them. Not just the actors who have only a few days to learn upwards of 50 pages of dialogue, but also to the writing staff who create and breakdown story lines that will span months of airtime (months doesn't sound like a lot in primetime, but in daytime, they air five days a week, so you do the math).
After enjoying a selection of stories from "One Life to Live," "General Hospital," and the now-canceled "As the World Turns," I have a healthy new respect for soap operas. And I can see the humor in their clichés, too. Clichès that have invaded not just daytime, but also primetime television and books (see! I tied this all back to writing!).
We've all see those fun Top 10 lists. They're compiled to be both entertaining and informative.
This isn't a Top 10 list.
Instead, this is a How Soap Opera Clichès Really Aren't That Different From Your Favorite Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance Plot Twists.
Tell me if any of these bits of cliche avoidance advice sound familiar:
If you plan a specific route for any kind of long-distance trip, deviating in any way guarantees that you will crash. Especially if this trip occurs during impending bad weather. Also, if you have inadvertently informed your Worst Enemy of these plans, he or she will try to cause a crash and/or run you off the road (impending bad weather still applies).
If you don't know who your mother/father is, it is almost guaranteed that they will be revealed as your Worst Enemy at some point in the future. It is also likely they will attempt to kill your supposed real parents and/or a beloved sibling or two. Treat them with caution.
If you have an Evil Sibling/Evil Parent/Evil Dog Skip, do not allow a lingering sense of love for them tempt you to let them live after stopping their latest Rampage of Evil. They are evil. They will only return later on down the road to Rampage Again and kill more people, and you will probably be blamed. Take them down now and save yourself endless sequels (one or two sequels is okay, just don't overdo it).
If there is the tiniest chance you aren't the father of your wife/girlfriend's baby, then whisk her far, far away from anyone who knows you, have a DNA test performed, and guard those doctors performing the tests until the results are back. If you hang around town and hope for the best, someone is going to screw with the results.
If a hot stranger comes to town and you feel an unexplainable connection to him/her, investigate them thoroughly and order a DNA test before you allow yourself to fall in love/sleep with him/her. It will avoid the scary possibility of bedding a long-lost relative.
If someone comes up to you--even if they are a dear and trusted friend--and asks, "Do you want to know a secret?", clamp your hands over your ears, scream "NO!" and run away yelling "Lalalalalalala!" at the top of your lungs.
As goofy and fun as clichés can be, though, I have picked up a few good writing tips by watching soap operas. So I will leave you with those:
You can tell a good story with limited locations.
Anyone can come back from the dead at any time, given the right circumstances.
Don't bore your audience.
Good stories can unfold slowly, building up over time.
Every once in a while, something needs to blow up or burn down.