WRITING FOR SOAPS –
Very few programmes ever reach the Olympian ratings heights of our much-loved, much discussed soaps. Having spent a large proportion of my script editing and producing career making them, I can honestly say that apart from a memorable shopping frenzy in Marlylebone High Street back when I had an empty new flat to fill and a concrete credit rating, I have rarely enjoyed myself more. However, Soapland can be an unforgiving place and an un-prepared, wet behind the ears writer can come a proper cropper if he/she is not careful.
SOME TIPS IN HOW TO BE A GOOD SOAP WRITER
Watch a lot of telly –
It may sound obvious to say this, but I would recommend you watch a lot of television before honing in on a soap writing career. In my experience, most people engaged in the all-consuming task of making soaps are usually pretty much addicted to the whole process of storytelling and can not get enough of television drama across all genres. It’s a highly competitive business, this story generation lark and a producer worth their salt is aware of the storylines being covered by their rivals and are obsessed with the task of generating better storylines to appeal to more people. They will love you to bits if you can aid this process.
Have strong opinions about the characters –
It’s hard to be a shrinking violet in Soapland. As a writer, you will be expected to have strong opinions about the characters that populate this world and as a result, you will have to prove you can create story for them. Be prepared to fight your corner (preferably without shedding blood or resorting to name calling) and nurture your favourite characters like you would your real life friendships – it’s always more fun spending time with people you like – and in the workplace, this makes for better results and a more enjoyable experience all round.
Look ahead as much as possible –
Generating story and scripts that fills a year of television drama output is no easy feat. The producer and the script team need all they help they can get from writers that not only understand the size of the task in hand, but can clearly help solve some of the problems inherit therein. The show will need both short and long term storylines to keep the audience happy and the character groupings productive. I have found in my experience, that writers in general do not come to the story table with long-term storylines as easily as they do the shorter variety. If possible, don’t fall into this trap. If you can get used to seeing the bigger picture and generate material that arcs across a body of episodes and not just one or two, you will be making a vital contribution to the story bank and providing the script team with a firm foundation on which to build a strong through line of stories across a healthy number of episodes – thus lightening their burden. If you can take the attention, they will all fall in love with you.
Have strong story ideas –
As everyone knows in Soapland, stories are like oxygen to the production process. It is vital therefore, that you make sure the stories with which you arm yourself at your first Story Conference are not just one note wonders. They could be anecdotes that sounded good in the pub but in fact fall apart horribly when pitched to a room of fellow writers and a story savvy script team. Again, I may sound like I am stating the obvious, but a lot of ideas do turn out to be turkey twizlers when spoken out loud. Your story will need a clear shape, and in the telling, explore the characters involved and reveal something about them to your audience. If you can’t succinctly summarise your story to yourself in the privacy of your bathroom at home, spare your own blushes – the story needs clarification and talking it up in front of your fellow writers will only highlight it’s flaws.
Familiarise yourself with the script team –
Forearmed is forewarned. Do your homework. Find out, before you enter Soapland, the names of the key players and especially those on the script team who will be able, should you make it a pleasant experience for them working with you, to make your life positively marvellous on the show. Conversely, the opposite can also apply here.
Find out as much as you can about the production process –
Not all soaps are run on the same lines. Show interest and ask questions (when appropriate obviously!) about the process of production without being in the way or a burden. If you understand something of the pressures your script editor, for example, may be under to deliver your script to deadline, then you go a long way to creating a harmonious partnership and that editor will want to work with you again.
Be positive and helpful to work with –
Script editors are your friends as are the storyliners. These fabulous creative people are here to help your labours run easier and smoother – use them, don’t fight them, they speak on behalf of the producer and so keeping them on side and not fighting every script point because you feel protective about your work will get you a regular slot on the writing team. Being open-minded to script changes, collaborative in your approach to your writing task and even though it may smart, saying yes and doing the rewrites without having a mini breakdown about the time frame they have given you will ensure you get invited back time and again.
Embrace the Fast Turnaround and Keep At It –
Like pretty much everything in life, soap writing gets easier with practice.
Be organised. You are about to enter a story factory with very fast script turnaround and an ever-hungry camera team wanting to shoot on time with an ever-demanding producer wanting great scripts on time and on budget with an ever-urgent cast wanting their scripts on time and an ever-ready director wanting your script changes to be on time and to make the script better to boot. Everything is about timing on a soap. There is never enough time, but you have to work within the deadlines you are given. Don’t panic. The structure and rigours of soap writing are put in place to help you generate an amazing amount of drama hours in a very little amount of time.
Be Collaborative –
Show respect and listen to the opinions and ideas of your fellow writers. You will have to top and tail their scripts and again, getting your colleagues on side and encouraging them especially at Script Conference will make your life a whole lot easier when you pitch a storyline you think is a winner and it gets the thumbs down.
A word about Rejection –
Take the rejection of your storyline as you would the acceptance of it. Both reactions are from the same soap family and one will more than likely follow the other in rapid succession.
And Last But Not Least –
Keep your interest fresh and true in the show by taking time out to watch it. When you feel jaded – write a radio play and come back to the show refreshed.
Remember, good soaps need good writers – and that means you – get out there, get in touch, give it a go and HAPPY SOAP WRITING!