Love in the Afternoon
Can Romance Readers Get Their Fix from Soap Operas?
A Write Byte by Alina Adams
A blonde woman in her mid-twenties, her beautiful blue eyes clouded with grief as she continues to mourn the death of her lover several months earlier, strolls along a tropical beach, lost in her memories of happier days.
A spec appears on the horizon. The spec becomes a vision. The vision, a dashing rider clad in skin-tight cream breeches and an azure shirt, sitting astride a snow-white horse. He is Richard Winslow, ruler and prince of the island of San Cristobel, and he is the answer to lonely Cassie’s sorrow.
But first, there are trust issues to deal with, a marriage of convenience, an evil brother plotting to steal the throne, and even banishment to an isolated, royal tower.
Is this the plot of a best-selling, historical romance novel? Or another exciting episode of television’s longest-running soap opera, “Guiding Light? (CBS)”
Susan Dansby, a writer for “Guiding Light’s” sister soap, “As the World Turns,” (CBS) asserts that, “Day to day, soap operas fulfill a romance fans’ needs better than any other genre.”
Monday through Friday, from ten in the morning until four in the afternoon, the true romantic can flip the dial and lose themselves in ongoing stories ranging from teens stumbling through the pains of first love, to men and women who’ve suffered repeated and agonizing heartache gingerly taking another chance at happily-ever-after.
“A romance novel is the story of a hero and heroine who are leading separate lives, who find each other and decide to join their lives together,” explains Dansby. “A soap opera, on the other hand, is many heroes and heroines engaging in many situations. What I personally prefer on a show is seeing different couples at different stages. You have one couple that’s falling in love, you have one couple that’s dealing with the challenges of new love, i.e. the: we’ve declared our love, now what? stage, and then you have a couple that’s been in love for a while, but they have challenges like kidnapping or illness that they’re dealing with. Because once you’ve told the story of their love, you’ve got to do something to keep the story going. You’ve got to break them up. Would we, as writers, prefer that they live happily ever after? Yes! Is it interesting to watch? No!”
It is, in fact, that stage of what happens after the declaration of love that most differentiates soap operas from a traditional romance novel.
As Robert Newman, who plays Josh Lewis on “Guiding Light,” points out, “A romance novel is finite, while we have 16,000 episodes worth of shows that people who have been watching their entire lives are drawing on. A romance novel happens. It comes and it goes. A soap is more complex than that.”
Part of that complexity results from trying to fit a romance novel’s sensibility into the seemingly reality-based setting of television.
“I don’t think a soap opera heroine should be different from a romance-novel heroine,” Dansby asserts. “I really love the young, fresh, innocent girls you find in historicals, who have this optimistic look at life that is just so endearing and engaging that the hero, who is usually more pragmatic, just wants to slap her awake and say: “Honey, please! Get real!” But, instead, he keeps falling into her view of life and ends up wanting to protect her view of life. Unfortunately, in daytime, we have very, very few heroines like that. That’s because we live in the real world, and we’re on television every day. We think the public wouldn’t buy someone who lives in 2004 and has that kind of perspective. It’s the contemporary romance novel heroines who are more like soap-opera heroines, in that they’re usually career women, they usually have more than one thing going on in their lives, and they usually have had some kind of sexual experience. Very few virgins left in daytime.” A soap hero, however, has a great deal in common with his romance-novel counterpart.
Mark Collier, who plays Mike Kasnoff on “As the World Turns,” describes his alter ego as, “Mike does a lot of things that women say real men don’t do, like talk about their feelings, show their feelings, be honest about their feelings, really listen to the other person, really care about that person. Everything that Mike does, he does out of love, not out of selfish need, because he is a romance novel kind of guy.”
The toughest part of writing a soap opera versus a romance novel hero, Dansby admits, is that, “If a hero doesn’t come on to a soap with a strong point of view at the beginning, he can go a lot of different places. The heroes in romance novels are strong guys. They have passions, they have interests, they have accomplishments. When a woman comes into their lives they either absolutely don’t want to love her, or they absolutely do want to love her, it’s very clear either way. When you’re writing a daily show, though, sometimes the heroes get vague. Today they love her, tomorrow they don’t, today they’re completely motivated by their job, tomorrow they’re more motivated by their home life. It’s a challenge because you’ve got so many other stories going on, that sometimes you’re just trying to get this person to serve you in this day. Sometimes this doesn’t work to the heroes’ benefit in terms of keeping him a character that the audience can always count on to respond in a certain way.”
“For Josh, the ideal man concept is somewhat of a myth,” concurs Newman, who, after twenty years of acting on daytime, has played the cad, the romantic lover, the jealous husband, and the grieving widower – all as Josh! “He makes some really extraordinary, huge mistakes, often in the effort to do the right thing. And that’s the part of him that I deeply relate to and understand.”
Soaps are also at a disadvantage to romance novels when it comes to revealing a character’s innermost thoughts. On the page, an author can dedicate paragraph upon paragraph to revealing what the hero and heroine are truly feeling, despite their seemingly contradictory actions. Soap operas have no such apparatus. Their options are limited to voice-overs, flashbacks, fantasies and, Dansby explains, “Subtext. It takes a lot of skill to rely just on your words or your lack of them, and the actors’ skill in playing against the words that you’ve put on the page to communicate that what he’s saying isn’t what he’s feeling. The tags of a scene are about that subtext a lot of the time. The look on the actor’s face has to convey that he’s thinking: I just told her to leave me, but my heart is really breaking!”
In the end, despite the marked difference, Dansby reiterates that a romance reader can “get the same fix from a soap opera as from a romance novel. A romance novel, with its focus solely on the relationship, is like drinking espresso; you get your hit right away. Watching a soap is like drinking a cappuccino. You get a little romance here, a little romance there… then all of a sudden, at the climax of the story, because you’ve spent all this time with the characters, you realize you really do care what happens to them. You can get completely hooked into people’s lives and whether or not they’re going to fall in love, and then, you even get to see what comes after!”
Alina Adams has written two Regency Romances for Avon, as well as two contemporary romances, Annie’s Wild Ride (Avon 8/98) and When a Man Loves a Woman (Dell 4/00), both of which have been reviewed at AAR. Her current project is a figure-skating mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime, featuring “Murder on Ice” and “On Thin Ice.” She can be reached through http://www.AlinaAdams.com.
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