Friday, May 22, 2009

Must Watch Friday : Soaps

PHS columnist Kate Walker gets herself in a bit of a lather this week as she admits to her addiction to the 'series' stories on TV - the soaps.

I was never really a fan of the soaps until I became a writer – and then my addiction to both - that’s writing and soaps – came about at almost the same time. Just after the acceptance of my very first title, The Chalk Line, I had a severe dose of glandular fever (mono) from which I didn’t recover properly and the resulting two years of chronic fatigue syndrome meant that my life was very restricted. I could manage to get through a day – even write as well as caring for my son – but the evenings were spent flat on my back, unable to do anything. Even reading was a strain on my eyes. So I resorted to watching TV.

I’ll admit that in the past I’d mocked the soaps. They were melodramatic, mindless, repetitive- boring. Or so I told myself. But now I was in a very different position – I was desperate for something to entertain and relax me – and I was involved in popular culture with my own new career, so who was I to criticise something as popular and with such a long lasting history as the soaps?

Coronation Street was the first one to grab me – that took me back to the days when I used to live in the North of England and I had seen some of the early episodes, but not enough to understand all the family connections, the past histories and the interwoven lives that so many of the characters had read. But I soon got to know the personalities better and to get more and more involved. Eastenders followed , though I swore I was never going to get hooked . . . .hmm – that resolve didn’t last long. I took a long time to get to warm to Emmerdale – when it was Emmerdale Farm it just wasn’t my sort of thing but when new producers, new scripts, new plots were introduced, I found I could enjoy it ore. I even flirted with a couple of Aussie soaps – Neighbours and Home and Away were required viewing as my son was growing up so I shared those early evening slots with him even when I had recovered and didn’t need to collapse at the end of the day.

And actually if you ask my son now what he remembers about those shared times – we watched Eastenders together too – then he’s probably tell you that that’s how he got his first lessons in plotting a book (or in his case more likely a screenplay) of planning out a story so that it flowed from the characters and developed along the lines that they would take it.

Because that’s what brings me to the soaps, silly and over the tops as they can sometimes be. They are the programmes where simple, old-fashioned story-telling that answers the questions ‘And what happened next?’ ‘And then?’ over and over again. My son and I would sit and watch the first hints of a plot – an new lover for Grant Mitchell - or the murder of Liam Connor – and I’d ask ‘where do you think this is going?’ and we’d work out a possible scenario that we could then test out against the way that the script writers would build it in the coming weeks.
One of the things that it showed me was just why Category Romances are so very clever in that they deal with the really interesting bits of a relationship – the awkward, uneasy, uncertain times at the beginning of a love affair, the conflicts that come between the hero and heroine – and then bring the book to an end at the time of resolution and the promise of a Happy Ever After.

Soaps don’t do that – they can’t – the characters have to stay around and as the shows go on it soon becomes clear that really Happy Ever After couples are boring – in fiction at least. Nothing happens. They fall in love, get married , have children . . . Which is why so often the soap characters who are the most blissfully happy on their wedding day are also the ones who are most likely to have a major break-up, with shattered hearts, infidelity and maybe even death the next time the script writers want to inject a little excitement into their lives.
Category Romance authors don’t need to do that. We can leave the hero and heroine of our last book to be happy ever after while we create another pair whose lives we can turn into total misery.

And that’s another thing that soaps have taught me. I can sit and watch a storyline and work how I could turn it on its head. How I could make it follow a very different path with perhaps her being unfaithful rather than him – or that secret being the fact that he is already married . . . And when I’m stuck for a plot or an idea to spark off a new line of story, taking the current soap plots and turning them inside out and upside down is one of the ways that I use to answer that question that I’m asked so often ‘where do you get your ideas?’

I can’t actually watch a soap without doing this any more. Even when I think I’m relaxing I’m really looking at the way things are going, working out what’s coming up – and what’s better than the ending of an episode for showing the importance of the hook to grab the viewer/the reader and bring them back for more? The chapters in my books don’t actually end on a ‘dum, dum, dum . . .’ snatch from the theme tune, but it’s that sort of image that I have in mind when I write them.

Soaps are one of the ways that I feed my imagination, they are simple straight forward storytelling about people – it’s the characters that grab the viewers and keep them coming back. A dramatic plot won’t do it if they’re not involved with the people it’s happening to – all valuable lessons for a writer of popular fiction.

And I’ve even found the names of some of my characters from the character lists of some of the programmes. Some time ago I even got hooked on Sunset Beach – affectionately known in our house as Sunset Bitch. The characters were cardboard, the plots way over the top, but it was on TV at lunch time just when I needed a break from the words and to keep my storytelling muscles going. And I will always be grateful to that programme because it gave me the surname of my very first Mediterranean hero - Constantine Kiriasis .
as his book, Constantine’s Revenge has just been reprinted for the third time in Japan, I am very fond him.
So what about you? Do you watch soaps or totally ignore them? Which ones do you follow avidly, watching every episode – or really can’t bear to see?

Kate's latest Mills & Boon Modern Romance Cordero's Forced Bride is on sale on the Mills & Boon website and . The Presents edition is still available on eHarlequin and
Her 2006 title At The Sheikh's Command is re-issued in a 3 in 1 volume Sold to the Sheikh out in May.
You can find out more about Kate and her books on
her website or for the most up to date news, visit her blog.


  1. I used to LOVE Beverly Hills 90210. The new version just doesn't cut it though. I was glad to see the old characters revisted, however.

  2. Fantastic post Kate! I used to watch Another World and then General Hospital. I definitely paid attention to story arcs and how they made characters appealing or gave villians redeemable qualities (or just made them deliciously evil). Funny thing though, when we moved last year I was without tv for a month, and I never did pick up watching GH again.

  3. Hi Kate,

    EastEnders was the first British soap I got hooked on, but have not watched it for a year now as it's got so depressing and miserable. I adore Coronation Street and don't miss an episode. I find the characters to be so much more well drawn and the humour is delightful. I also enjoy dipping in and out of Doctors, the BBC medical drama. It's a soap that has the traditional soap arcs mixed with a daily one-off drama that I really enjoy.


  4. I don't watch any soaps - thank goodness! 'Cause if I did I wouldn't get any writing done! I spend way too much time blogging as it is! Take care. Caroline x

  5. I used to be a fervent Corrie fan, Kate, but it's all getting a bit old to be honest. I'm really tired of the fact that decent people can't have a happy ending. That bright kids can't escape. Bad message.

    I still plug into the Archers omnibus when I'm ironing on a Sunday though. It has a much wider scope of storylines and the possibility for renewal that seems utterly lacking in the television soaps.

    I do agree that the way they are written provides a valuable lesson in keeping focussed and the pace going, though.

  6. Hi Mari

    New versions of series we've loved rarely do work - do they? But it is always fun to find out what happened to the characters we loved.

  7. Thanks Donna! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I was aware when I was writing this post that my references were of course UK based soaps - so I was loking forward to seeing what other people watched - 90210 and GH to start with

  8. Julie, I share your feelings about Eastenders V Coronation Street. It's the humour that lifts 'Corrie' for me - and I get really bored by Eastenders when they get so involved in gangster plots

  9. Hi Caroline - I understand that completely - but I do find that watching soaps fulfils that old storytelling need that both relaxes and stimulates me

  10. You're right Liz - the storylines can end up giving a depressing message in the end. Isn't that why we choose to write romance? So that we can end on that uplift of a happy ending?
    And I'm like you - listening to stories - like the Archers - helps get the dreary job of the ironing done. What is it they say about plays on radio - the scenery is always so much better!

  11. Well, I want to be all high brow here and say I don't watch soaps but unfortunately I'm totally hooked on Lost... And that frankly is a soap for people who pretend they don't watch soaps, like moi!

    But the only reason I'm hooked on it is because I am totally in love with Sawyer, I'm hoping that makes me high brow after all... Ummm, but maybe not actually.

    While this is slightly off the discussion. Watched the first episode of North and South on BBC4 last sunday. Richard Armitage! Period Dress! Lots of smouldering repressed northern passion! Definite Charlotte Bronte style soap potential. Excuse me, but why did nobody tell me about this serial before???