Writing 101: Hope Writers Enroll
Soap Opera Weekly, December 19, 2000
by P.K. Waddle
Article Provided By Carol
Soapnet isn't The Learning Channel, but there is a soap-writing class being broadcast right now: Ryan's Hope.
Watch just one scene of this legendary Claire Labine/Paul Mayer creation and you immediately see why this show won a shocking number of writing Emmys and Writers Guild awards, even during its first few years. What is so compelling - and why every soap writer (and wannabe) in existence needs to watch - is not necessarily what this show is, but what it is not.
Witness a bit of "current" story synopsis: Siobhan, the free spirit of the five Ryan children, has recently arrived. She fights constantly with more grounded sister Mary, whose marriage to Jack has problems because Mary is spending so much time on brother Frank's run for the Senate. Frank is having an affair with his campaign manager, Rae, which has just been discovered by his ex, and the mother of his child, Jill. Maeve and Johnny, the Ryan clan's parents, are balancing the running of Ryan's Bar with refereeing frequent arguments among their kids and taking care of Finn MacCool, a huge dog Siobhan brought with her that Ma and Da watch while Siobhan nurses a sprained ankle.
OK, class, what do you not see? Serial killers, unfrozen relavites, houses descending into hell, trips to tropical islands, etc.
Stories like that provide fantasy and escape. And while those plots have their place and are entertaining in their own right, there was a time when talented writers could make that looks-boring-in-print synopsis of RH just as compelling on an everyday basis as a host of more drastic and baroque storylines.
With so many soap writers and watchers alike bemoaning the forced contrivances of many current-day plots, a writer could dare to write a plot about...gasp!...something a family or person might really go through. (Of course, if your family is beset by brainwashed children or witches with talking dolls, then perhaps you already have all the characters to identify with.)
The biggest impetus for writers to watch RH and reconstruct its kind of home-and-hearth stories to balance out all the insanity comes from Labine herself in a quote about the creation of RH's bible and early story. "After a while, we weren't writing the stories anymore," Labine said. "Once the characterizations were set...the stories wrote themselves."
If that isn't impetus for a writer to create characters of that kind of self-propulsive depth - when scribes are pulling out their hat wondering what will lure a wandering audience back to their show - I don't know what is.
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