Friday Speak Out!: Learn from the Scriptwriters

Friday, March 06, 2020
by June Trop

Unless you’ve been hooked, you can’t imagine how addicting a soap opera can be. When I was teaching in the local school, I could leave there at 3:20, just in time to make the beginning of a 30-minute soap, The Edge of Night. I didn’t run anybody over, but I broke the neighborhood speed limit. That’s for sure.

Scriptwriters know how to keep their audience captivated. Their scenes are all action. (Don’t forget dialogue is action too). You can use dialogue the same way they do. You can lace it with foreshadows. The actor’s complaint of pain could mean he has a hangnail or a brain tumor. Or not. Foreshadowing will keep your readers captivated too.

Is your character speaking sarcastically or mournfully? Instead of cluttering your dialogue with adverbs and adjectives, zoom in on what the soap actors are doing. Is their upper lip curling, their brow furrowing, or their cheek twitching? Use those fine-grained gestures rather than modifiers to communicate your own character’s feelings. And when a new character is introduced in a soap, notice how the actors gossip about his or her past. Here too, you can use dialogue instead of description and exposition to tell your readers whether the woman being brought home to Mama is a brazen hussy or motherly widow.

And while you’re watching, observe the transitions. No lengthy explanations bridge the scenes. Trust your readers to navigate the same kind of shifts. Begin the next scene with action. Throw your characters into the center of a conflict. Then end the scene with a cliffhanger like the scriptwriters do every Friday.

Finally, see how scriptwriters weave subplots into their story. Subplots add breadth, depth, and complexity to a story. Moreover, they can slow the pace of the main plot, throw obstacles in the protagonist’s path, and prolong suspense by interrupting the action of the main plot.

So, take an occasional break from writing to watch a soap opera and concentrate on how the scriptwriters use dialogue to foreshadow and reveal a character’s past and how they use fine-grained gestures to clarify a speaker’s meaning. Then focus on how they manage transitions and weave subplots into their story.

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June Trop is the author of the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series set in first-century CE Roman-occupied Alexandria. Her books have been cited for excellence at the New York Book Festival, by Wiki Ezvid, the Historical Novel Society, and as a 5-star Readers’ Favorite. Kirkus praised The Deadliest Thief for its “vibrant imagery and an entertaining plot ending with a most unexpected twist.”

As an award-winning middle school science teacher, June used storytelling to capture her students’ imagination and interest in scientific concepts. Years later as a professor of teacher education, she focused her research on the practical knowledge teachers construct and communicate through storytelling.

June, an active member of the Mystery Writers of America, lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, NY where she is breathlessly recording her plucky heroine's next life-or-death exploit.

Connect with June on her website or her Facebook page: June Trop Author.

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Margo Dill said...

You are so right about this. My favorite used to be As the World Turns! :) I like what you said about the Friday hook...thanks for giving us something to think about!

June Trop said...

Oh, Margo, I remember As the World Turns as well. In fact, I think it was among the longest running soaps on TV! In New York, it was on in mid-afternoon, too early for me in those days before a VCR to watch it regularly.

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