Friday, May 27, 2011

Writing A Soap Opera Novel

I think that one or two people got a little testy when I declared that I thought their favorite author, George R.R. Martin, was writing a fantasy soap opera. This led me to make this blog entry. First, I want to define what a soap opera is. From the Wikipedia article, the definition of a "soap" is as follows: stories run concurrently, intersect and lead into further developments. An individual episode of a soap opera will generally switch between several different concurrent story threads that may at times interconnect and affect one another or may run entirely independent of each other. Each episode may feature some of the show's current storylines but not always all of them. Another thing that "soaps" are famous for is that they can go on without end. Could Mr. Martin's books do that? Yep...without end.

Does this not exactly fit A Game of Thrones and all other books in the series? The answer: Yes...yes it does.

Should you be offended that you love reading a soap? I don't think so. But stop fooling yourself that this is "high-brow" literature because it isn't. What it happens to be is one hell of an addictive story. My own confession: I go home and sometimes watch "Desperate Housewives of Beverly Hills". I can't turn it off. The same goes for Mr. Martin's books. I have to know more.

I've noticed a certain "arrogance" from the young men in the world that read Mr. Martin. For example, if I were to take my copy of Percy Jackson and the Olympians or even perhaps Harry Potter to a comic book or game convention where Magic: the Gathering tournaments are held, I might be scoffed at. These young beta males would say things like, "Oh...I read real fantasy. Have you tried George R.R. Martin?" My reply at present would be, "You dare to look down your nose at me for reading this Young Adult fantasy when you're reading a soap opera? Please...just...stop."
This brings me to another point on writing. Since many authors are often the source of inspiration, if you are writing to the standards of Mr. Martin, are you unwittingly trying to recreate a soap?

Do you think that "soap opera" style novels are the best way to squeeze money out of a book market?

My personal opinion is that if you can do's the way to go. I think there's huge money to be made in writing a successful soap as opposed to a finite storyline told in three books. You can keep milking this thing over and over. It's like the goose that lay the golden egg or a cow with infinite milk.

I kind of despair a little in knowing that I'm hooked by something that really won't ever have an end until Mr. Martin "declares" it over. I mean the story really could run its course anytime. But it can also keep going at any time. I wonder if capitalism encourages this unnecessarily? Everyone wants to have a constant income but if money weren't an issue, do you really think that these kinds of tales would keep flowing from the publishers? I have to think that they wouldn't. People would wrap shit up and you'd get an ending.
This is totally Game of Thrones.


  1. I still do not get this whole "writers being inspiration" to write thing. I just have a need to write, that's it.
    Soap operas were a new thing to me when we moved to the US and very soon I was tired of them. I did not realize that a book can be like a soap opera. Are you sure the end of the book is not hidden somewhere in the book or is it leaving you with a cliff hanger?

  2. Munir: The end of every one of his chapters is a cliffhanger of sorts (some better than others) but the author tries.

    And yes, I'm sure (to the other question).

  3. I tend to tire of series books after about 5 books. No matter how much I love the story, I just lose interest afte awhile. I kind of hate the idea of a story never ending. Sometimes Ijust want to yell at certain authors 'wrap it up already!'

  4. I believe every story has a bit of soap opera drama in it. People live for that shit!

    I agree with Alyson, it can get a bit daunting when a series never ends! I stopped watching General Hospital because it took too much work to keep up, plus they constantly change the face of many of my favorite characters.

  5. I consider my book to be a literary soap opera. Just because everyone's sleeping with everyone (or wanting to). My mom watches "Days of Our Lives" and back in the day when I was little I watched quite a few episodes of that, "Another World," and a few others long-deceased like "Santa Barbara" and "Ryan's Hope." I don't think there's a lot of difference between soap operas and comic books except comics have less sex (or used to) and more people with capes. Otherwise they feature the same plot twists and cliffhangers and such.

  6. I hesitate to respond since I'm holding off reading the books since I'm watching HBO's version first. From what I've seen there's lots of action in Martin's world but everything moves at a glacier's pace with lots of intertwining politics just like happens in real life. Epic fantasy tales like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter could be classified as a simple hero quests with a definite beginning and a definite end. Neither style is bad and calling Martin's a soap opera seems to me a bit overboard.

    One thing I really hate is when stories work like a hero quest and then the writers realize they want to make more money so they fabricate a weak add-on story because they know fans will buy it. Imagine if Tolkien decided to make LOTR2 - The Return of Frodo. That is much more disrespectful of readers than leaving unanswered questions that could potentially lead to a sequel.

  7. Kevin: How is calling a story series a soap opera going overboard. There is a "snooty" implication in your response that says "Soap operas cannot be full of entertainment".

    I disagree. Soaps can be incredible fun, incredibly entertaining, and have real life issues in them down to the nitty gritty unpleasant and horrific details. So I guess my question to you is this: Why does it bother you that I would call these books a soap opera?

  8. I'm just about finished with the third book now and have been just as hooked as you are. I see the soap opera elements, and I won't quibble with the definitions.

    In what I hope will be the difference between the soaps my grandmother watched and what I'm reading now, is an ending.

    Good sir George has said (I think)in interviews that he intended for this to be a trilogy but, like Tolkien before him, found the story 'grew in the telling'. Now he thinks he can tell the story in Seven books.

    I have faith that he's being honest. That he's not going to string me along for the next several decades without an ending in sight.

    For me, that is the biggest thing, I don't care if there are 600 page long digressions along the way, as long as the journey has a destination, and we're not all wondering along together, lost.

  9. *giggles* I happen to LOVE Soap as a genre, and like books that do that to a point. I also like the outrageousness of soaps... but I think the real skill is feeling like the characters are SO REAL--they are sort of family. I prefer my 'weekly drama' shows to run like soaps, too--Grey's Anatomy is a soap and I love it. the only difference is that each week a certain story line gets to be central, but the other ones are THERE.

    btw--I tagged you today in my meme...

  10. Thanks for the correction. I will write a blog with the corrections. Sorry about the flood. I did mean to write "most" natural disasters. As a matter of fact my ancesters had told me that Nature loves us and it is us who mess up with it. I was carried away with the emotions of wanting people to know their kids. I mean come on, how could parents or care takers not have known if a kid is showing signs of derangements. I don't even know if it is a word. You know what I mean.
    I will make the corrections ASAP.

  11. Unfortunately, I don't know if it matters if Martin has an end in sight. So did Jordan with Wheel of Time, but the publisher kept pushing him to carry it further, so a trilogy turned into 5 books, and 5 books turned into 7, which turned into 10, which turned into him dying before he finished the story.

  12. Whatever you call it, people love a good story. If a story keeps me engaged, I don't care what genre or sub-genre it get dumped into. . .if I'm hooked, I'm hooked.

    I wish more books did that for me.

  13. I agree with E.C.--if it's a good story, I don't mind what genre it's technically filed under. But it is nice to know that a story has an ending or some kind of conclusion.

  14. The danger of soaps is in the burnout. There comes a point in which you (or at least I did) have enough. And then you stop following or caring.

  15. I love an engaging story or series no matter what genre but I agree with Liz, if it goes on too long, I get over it pretty quick. My brain needs to read something else for a while.

  16. This is great. I like this conversation you've started.

    For the record, I have no problem with soap opera stories, but I think even soaps have plots.

    I also think the individual books are more cohesive than they're getting credit for. For instance, the last book published (Feast of Crows) doesn't include the stories of several characters he'd been building from the beginning. The next book (Dance of Dragons) is supposed to leave the Crows stories and take up the left-out stories. That sounds pretty deliberate to me.

  17. Michael, tag, you're it!

  18. Hmm. When I was younger I wrote parodies on my favorite soaps. My best was Garbage Hospital, modeled after General Hospital. It was quite funny but my biggest problem was that I eventually ran out of characters. They either died or were in jail. But it was fun.

  19. I can't get into soap operas because the same plot getting updated twists from now and then are still boring to me. I have read some books that have been repetitive and redundant. If you want to continue a story, at least make your new twists more fulfilling and draw the reader in instead of regurgitating the same information out there over and over again.

  20. Be careful Michael; if something happens and you miss about 3 months worth of your "soap" you might find the addiction less appealing.

    And that is more devastating than missing a single episode.

    Withdrawal, in any form, isn't pretty.

    I did this with General Hospital. After several months of not being able to "hook up" I had to admit the attraction just wasn't there anymore. I was devastated emotionally.

    Ghads; you neveer know what you will obsess over. Get sucked into. Enjoy the cheap thrill :)


  21. I love to watch soaps and read soap opera type novels to get inspiration. For decades, I've watched Days of Our Lives and find it often inspires my creative side. There are so many reality-based television shows rather than ones using imagination. I don't watch any of them. I do wonder if interest in soap opera stories is waning since the recent cancellation of One Life to Live and All My Children.

  22. Game of Thrones is absolutely a soap opera. In fact when I started watching the HBO series and recommending it to other people, I would start off by describing it as a medieval soap opera!