How to Write a Soapie
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How to Write a Soapie

Jennifer Stewart here lays it all out for budding soapie writers: its conventions and key elements.  Learn about heroes, families, babies, medical emergencies, crimes and self-talk.

Despite the advances made in telecommunications, and the various devices used by characters in every episode — mobile phones, telephones, hands-free phones, lap-top computers etc — it's imperative that every vital phone call goes unanswered.

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How to Write a Soapie — Jennifer Stewart


As the Antipodean winter approaches, why not try your hand at writing? Nothing too taxing, mind; something light airy would be best; something like . . . a soapie.

A Soapie is just like every other genre of writing — it has its conventions and key elements: a sonnet must have fourteen lines; a Shakespearean drama must have an exposition, a climax and denouement; a Three Act play must have . . . well, three acts.

Here's a list of Must Haves if you're planning to write a Soapie:

Number 1

A square-jawed hero — it's absolutely essential that you make it crystal clear in your directions that the actor playing the hero must be able to show the whole gamut of emotions from A to B ( . . . sorry, I pinched that line).

He must be able to look:

a) sexy — this is done by half-closing the eyes and parting the lips
b) anguished — this is done by furrowing the brow
c) puzzled — (this is where you really test the acting abilities of your hero) — the eyes must be half-closed AND the brow must be furrowed (phew . . . challenging stuff).

For academy-standard actors, those who know that less is more and that subtlety rules, learning how to twitch that little muscle that runs down the side of the jaw is well worth the effort. Then, as a writer, you simply have to give your directions thus:

Hero (hearing that lover is leaving): You're leaving? Now? (twitches muscle in jaw)
Hero (receiving news that child he thought was his is really his father's): Not mine? (twitch)
Hero (watching plane bearing his wife, mother, new lover and father off to Paris for the weekend): (twitch twitch)

Number 2

Forget the nuclear family with its 2.2 children — family relationships must be as tangled and convoluted as is humanly possible. Allow me to illustrate: Mum and Dad have two grown-up sons; Dad trades Mum in on a younger, spiffier model and has two children with her. Mum hates new wife and vows to bring ruin down upon her pretty, blonde head.

New wife ditches Dad and takes up with son number one (her step-son as it happens . . .) Just before the wedding, new wife is in a plane crash and is rescued by . . . wait for it . . . a billionaire sultan who decides to keep her for his harem.

Hero, being a tad thick, continues to plan the wedding, apparently not realising that a wife is somewhat de rigueur for such events. When the hour of the nuptials arrives, hero decides to cut his losses and marry nearest available female who has been consoling him through recent episodes.

Wedded bliss must then be interrupted by the unexpected return of spiffy blonde. Unperturbed by the fact that she's ditched Dad and missed out on son number one, Spiffy sets her sights on a hat trick and seduces son number two.

Mum, meanwhile, has hatched a plot, with number one son's second-choice wife, to finally rid themselves of Spiffy. Plot must backfire and son number one must ditch second-choice wife and marry Spiffy.

Now toss in a disputed paternity for one of Spiffy and Dad's children — could it be that son number one is the father? (While Spiffy was married to Dad, she was already making it a family affair.)

Number 3

Any baby of disputed parentage must have a birthmark. This birthmark has only ever been seen by the natural mother, the adopting mother and the nurse who was present at the birth but who has since left the country for an exotic location.

The baby, naturally, has been secretly adopted by a key member of the family who must be kept on tenterhooks in case someone discovers that the baby isn't really hers.

Number 4

Despite the advances made in telecommunications, and the various devices used by characters in every episode — mobile phones, telephones, hands-free phones, lap-top computers etc — it's imperative that every vital phone call goes unanswered. In fact the only person who ever hears the phone ringing on these occasions is the camera-man, and he knows exactly where the ringing is coming from.

Number 5

It goes without saying that every character must be either a Mover or a Shaker. Normal human beings do not a Soapie make.

The medical profession is always a good choice — plenty of opportunities for your hero to look anguished and puzzled here — and there's nothing like a white uniform to get the pulses racing. The Law too allows you scope for intrigue and passion. But the hands-down winning field has to be Fashion — no other background gives you quite the same scope to deck out the heroines in flash frocks or to liven up the settings with foreign locations.

Number 6

One or more medical emergencies are required, preferably occurring at a crucial point in the plot — before a court case, prior to an important meeting, when a birth is imminent. Don't feel at all inhibited here — who knows what advances medical science is going to make? Be in the vanguard of modern technology and technique.

It's quite permissible for your hero or heroine to die at the end of one episode and then to miraculously come back to life in the next (see "advances in medical science" above). In Soapies, unlike real life, death is not always permanent.

Number 7

On the subject of medical emergencies . . . don't overlook the dramatic potential of amnesia. It's an undisputed law that a hit on the head will cause amnesia and a similar hit on the head (after a suitable passage of time) will cure it. The amnesia is of a special kind, it never causes the victim to forget how she did her hair or how she applied her make up, only who she is.

Number 8

Some criminal activity is, of course, essential. A stalker is good — giving ample opportunities for your heroine to be seen walking around in a flimsy negligee; a hunky cat burglar adds a little spice if he's hurt while getting away and forced to take off his shirt while the heroine (still wearing that flimsy negligee) dabs cotton wool soaked in that lotion that causes grown men to grimace, on his brow.

Best of all, however, is a kidnapping. And best of all kidnappings are the ones that nap kids! For the ultimate plot twist, have the kidnapper take the child of disputed parentage (come on now . . . keep up . . . remember the birthmark?) If the kidnapper happens to have connections to the nurse (remember her?) and the billionaire sultan (you must remember him) and be doing all this because . . . but I don't want to give you too many ideas . . .

Number 9

All your characters will be self-educated — they must be, because none of them ever goes to school, not even the little children. This is just as well, since it provides excellent training for their later lives when none of them ever actually works. They'll all spend a great deal of time organising meetings and conferences and flying around the world, but no-one ever really does anything.

Number 10

All your characters must have a fondness for talking to themselves, expressing all their innermost thoughts, deepest desires and dastardly plots — but only when the one person in the whole world they don't want to hear them is standing outside the half-opened door or under the half-opened window.

Good luck!

[ Jennifer’s successful Internet-based writing business, which she runs from her Queensland home, may be found at ]

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