Thursday, July 30, 2009

Soap Operas: The Mother of all Conflicts (and father of everyone on the show)

Soap Operas: The Mother of all conflicts (and father of everyone on the show.)

~by CiCi Barnes

Watched any good soap operas lately? Or should I leave out the ‘good’ in that question?

Now that I work from home . . . Work? Who said writing was work? Just throw words on the screen, send it to a publisher and wah-la, you’re an author. But I digress. Now that I work from home, I get to take an hour and a half for lunch, unlike when I taught school and had maybe twenty minutes.

I make the chicken salad, pull out the carrots and grapes (trying to counteract the consumed chocolate while working) and settle into my lounge chair for a trip through Genoa City. I think that’s in Michigan, or maybe Wisconsin. Not sure, and neither here nor there. It’s a soap opera city, where conflict abounds. A great place to see how throwing your characters to the wolves really works.

I’m conflict-challenged. My first heroine was deemed ‘too nice’ by my critique partner. So was my hero. They needed to mix it up a little bit. Actually, a lot. But I was told to write what I know, and I know peace and harmony. After all, I was a teenager in the ‘60’s. Flower child, extraordinaire, here.

I don’t like conflict in my life. It really gets in the way of a good day, week, month, etc. Hubby knows I don’t like conflict and does his best to waylay it for me. Such a wonderful man.

But my characters need conflict, have to have it to survive the world of publishing. Where to go to see terrific conflict? Books by great authors can do the trick, but if you have a life outside writing, it takes more than an hour or so to read through the entire story to see how the conflict arises, flows and is resolved.

Here’s where the soap opera comes in. A daily trip to Genoa City (for me – you may have another town in Conflict Land) gives me all the conflict I can handle – and some I can’t. Those characters get into more trouble in an hour than I could think up in a lifetime. One character is pregnant. She doesn’t know if the father is Ex 1, Ex 2, or the brother of Ex 2. She’s bounced from Ex 1 to Ex 2 so many times, the kid might be a mix of the two. I mean, two of those little swimmers could have collided inside her and exploded right into her egg. How’s that for conflict? I think I’ve watched one too many episodes.

Another character’s son died, then she found out that her real son was switched at birth, so the dead son wasn’t really her son. The real son found her after 30 years and came home to her. But the mother of the son of the unreal son found out the son that came home wasn’t really the son. The dead son was the real son and he wasn’t even dead. He finally showed up, announced he’d been alive all these years and had faked his death. Are you still with me? Yeah, right.

But I think you get the picture – or not. If you want to see conflict in action, watch a soap opera. Even if you only take a pinch of what you see in an hour show to help you with your WIP, you’ll have more than enough conflict to sustain your book to The End. The two examples I’ve cited are a skip through the meadow compared to all the other things that go on.

Here’s a small sample of some conflict I’ve foisted onto one of my characters, mild compared to what you read above, but I’m working on it. My inner flower child is quite stubborn.

“I think I’ve traveled back in time.”

She watched him smother a grin.

“I mean it, Jaybo.”

He cleared his throat. “I’m sure you do. When did this happen? What time did you go to? How?”

Was that a note of condescension she heard in his voice? It better not be. She wasn't adverse to slapping him up side the head.

“It’s happening right now.”

His confused look would not deter her. An explanation existed somewhere in the mist of the universe and Jaybo was going to help her find it.

“You’re back in time now?”

She nodded, holding her breath, waiting for him to laugh at her, tell her he’d changed his mind. She was mentally delusional.

“You’re telling me you’ve been in the future and now you’ve traveled back to relive your youth?”

“I don’t know what I’ve traveled back in time to do.”

He stared at her in the midst of a long sigh. She wouldn’t blame him if he got up and walked out of the room. He didn’t, though, just sat back in the chair next to the bed, a plethora of emotions crossing his face in quick flashes.

“I know you think I’m crazy, but it’s true. This town, our friends, you. This is all in my past. Even I’m a past version of present myself.”

He stood, looking ready to dismiss her confession, but said nothing. When he turned and strode to the window, she watched his broad back, waiting for his verbal reaction.

“If your future self is here, then where is your present self?” Jaybo’s voice cut in as he turned toward her. “Is she in that town you left us for? How far in the future have you come from?”

His questions spewed forth in the rapid fire of a repeating rifle. She really hadn’t thought about that possibility. Was there another Tessa Woodward roaming the streets in Kingston?

“I’m from the year 2010.”

He took a step back. Had she suddenly grown horns?

“Tessa. This is 1973.”

“I know. Duh. That’s why it’s called time travel.”

He scraped a hand over his face and returned to the chair.

“I’m trying to understand, but you’re not making any sense.”

“Nothing makes sense. The only thing I’m sure of is this is happening and it’s just as weird to me as it is to you.”

Hold that thought. I have to get back to Genoa City now and see if I can find a man to father Tessa’s child and bring her forward to 2010.

by CiCi Barnes


Walt M said...

Does Desperate Housewives have enough conflict to qualify as a soap, even though it's shown at night?

Sandy Elzie said...

Hi CiCi,

Great post! Personally I haven't watched soaps since 1972 (when I went back to work after my youngest was 2-years old) I don't even watch the Prime Time ones. (Yes, Walt, I think they qualify)

But you're right that they are nothing but a string of conflicting events tied back to back.

By-the-way, loved the snippet...can't wait for 'the rest of the story'.


Anna Steffl said...

You make a great point, Cici, that I'm going to pass on to a few people I know who have trouble with conflict and making characters too nice (its funny how those two issues so often go hand in hand). Watching a soap is a great exercise in seeing how much conflict can get jammed into an hour -- and how it can be expressed in dialog (which soaps do to the 11th degree).

Boy. Last soap I watched was Ryan's Hope back when I was in high school.

Marilyn Baron said...


Great post. I'm a Y&R fan myself and I could not believe that Phillip came back after all these years. I guess that could be considered time travel of sorts. That's about the only thing that hasn't happened on that show. People come back from the dead all the time (I'm still waiting for Cassie to return). Another possible example of "time travel" would be the rapid aging syndrome where children go away to boarding school in Switzerland and return several months later as adults.

But you're right. Each episode is full of conflict.


CiCi Barnes said...

Yes, Walt, Desperate Housewives is definitely a soap opera. We use to have quite a few on prime time TV: Dallas, Falcon Crest, etc. And you can get your conflict fix just as good in the evening as in the daytime.

Sandy and Anna, if you haven't seen a soap in years, you could probably tune in to an episode -- if it's still showing -- and catch up right away. When I taught, I could catch a few episodes in the summer and know what was going on.

Thank goodness my own life doesn't have the conflict those people do, but they do help me think up conflicts for my own characters.

Yea, Marilyn. Another Y&R fan. Don't you just love the jams, one after the other? Poor Cassie. They still show her as a spirit occasionally. Maybe she'll come back in the form of Sharon and (insert several names here)'s baby. Yeah, I know it's Nick's, but they'll probably think of some way for the test to have been wrong after a while.

Anyway, folks, catch your latest drama, day or night, on TV to prod your conflict-challenged writing.

Nicki Salcedo said...

I grew up on a steady dose of General Hospital. It was on at 3pm. When normal kids were playing Wonderwoman, my best friend and I played "Luke and Laura". I always had to be Luke.

I've also watched Y&R, Days, Passions on and off. I rather enjoy the ridiculousness of soaps. Life should not be taken as seriously as it is in Pine Valley or Port Charles.

And I love the excerpt and time travel. Thanks for putting a smile on my face today!

Susan May said...

Conflict is my down fall also. I have to really work at in my work not so much in my everyday life. If I could get one to go into another...

CiCi Barnes said...

Ah, yes, Luke and Laura. I hear they made a come back not too long ago. Never watched that show myself, but their popularity was widespread and their own conflict as frustrating as anyone's.

Thanks, Nicki

Wouldn't it be wonderful, Susan, if we could take our real-life conflicts and hand them over to our characters. Let them deal while we have smooth sailing.

Alas, it doesn't work that way.

Thanks for stopping by, guys.


Ana Aragón said...

I love the excerpt, Cici!

I can come up with making it believable...? Maybe not as much!

Thanks for putting a smile on my face!


Carol Burnside said...

Great excerpt. :)

Soaps were a big part of my life when I was herding babies. They simply droned on in the background most of the day while I changed diapered, fed, nursed and played with the munchkins. You're exactly right about the plethora of conflict. Lordy, but they could get into some fixes, couldn't they?

Victor and Nicki, or Erica Cain, for instance. I lost count of how many affairs of the heart she had, not to mention amnesia, kidnapping, dire illnesses, tangled lies and all that she went through.

CiCi Barnes said...

Thanks, Aná and Carol.

For certain, if you ever need a conflict idea, just tune in and you'll find a smorgasbord of ideas. But I'm not going into overkill in my book like they do on the soaps. Like you said, Aná, believability is key.


Maxine Davis said...


I enjoyed the post! I loved the excerpt and really want to read it all.

Yes, I write 'nice'. Conflict is not my thing, but I'm working on it. Thanks for giving me hope. I'll be working on it.

Tami Brothers said...

Hey Cici. LOVE the excerpt. Definitely a different feel than your first ones. I can see that you have beefed them up a bit.

I'm in the too nice category also. I've heard that too many times to count and definitely need to add a bit of snark to my characters. Maybe I need to start watching some soaps? My husband loves Greys Anatomy. I might have to start watching it with him.


Linsey Lanier said...

Hubby and I used to watch General Hospital in the post Luke and Laura days, when he worked the night shift. Fond memories. Sometimes the writing on that show was pretty good.

That's when I wrote my first couple of novels. Before I took a loooong sabbatical.

Nicki as Luke? Hysterical. Although, that's the character I'd want to be, too. Laura was a bit of a dweeb, IMO.

Very funny post, CiCi. Your story sounds intriguing. Hope it gets published so I can read the whole thing!


CiCi Barnes said...

Maxine, Tami, and Linsey, thanks for stopping by. Besides the time travel deal, Tessa also has to decide between two guys. Maybe my soap opera watching will pay off with conflict big bang.

Thanks to all who stopped by and commented. Have a great evening and check out a soap opera near you.