The same tricks that hook a soap opera audience are the same ones that can keep your reader turning the pages. What follows are some of the ways writers of soap operas get their audiences tuning in day after day.
- Secrets. Untold ones. Soap operas overflow with secrets. People find them out and tell them to others and the secret gets twisted and people who aren’t supposed to know them find out and then stuff happens. But there are also secrets that the audience doesn’t know yet and they tune in faithfully so they can find it out. Readers love secrets.
- Open-ended possibilities. A character dies, but soap opera viewers know they could somehow rise again. Maybe it was a twin and not really the character themselves in the coffin. Or someone who had plastic surgery. Or a robot. Or…That type of wondering, leaving the viewer with the “I just gotta know if that guy really died” feeling, works for your novels, too. Create several scenarios for the outcome and leave the reader turning the pages wondering what might happen next.
- Relationships with the characters. Because the audience loves the character or hates them, they develop an emotional attachment to them and want to know how they are doing, what’s happening to them each day, and whether or not their goals will be fulfilled. They cheer or boo for them and it’s a very real relationship. Forget to record a soap opera addict’s episodes and see what happens.
- Curiosity. Humans are inquisitive, curious creatures. We want to find things out. The only way to learn what happens next is to watch. Create events in your stories to entice curiosity. Will he or won’t he? Is that rumor really true? What’s on the other side of the door? On the next page?
- Drama. We say we don’t like it but the fact is, we do. Our culture bears this out. We may not like it in our own life, but human nature does enjoy watching it outside our family circle. Our logical side likes think about what we’d do in that situation. Or judge the character for the choices they make. Give the reader an emotional ride with drama.
- Escape. Riches, jewels, designer clothes, mansions, fancy cars, exotic locations—we wonder what it’d be like to have them. Readers open books to escape. Give it to them. Soap Operas are a great escape for people because they last longer, and the viewer can escape every single day from their dull routine and fall into the fictional world of glamorous people. Are your stories providing a great escape?
- Reality. Even though readers want an escape, it has to be realistic. That’s where relate-able characters come in. If characters feel reachable, then viewers will become attached. Create characters readers can relate to as easily as they do their friends and neighbors. Make them touchable, relevant and accessible in their experiences of people they know. Create people they can identify with.
- Cure for loneliness. Some people watch soap operas because they perceive the characters as people they invite into their home each day. Are your protagonists and their friends the sort of people readers would enjoy inviting over for coffee or tea? On the other hand, are they people they'd like to fantasize about meeting? Will they want to open the book when they’ve been away to visit with them again and again?
- Feelings. Soap Operas create dramatic feelings as people grow to love the characters, develop relationships with them, and begin to have visceral reactions to the things they go through. Are you writing in such a way that the reader feels what the characters feel? Does your book leave readers feeling good? Wanting more? Wishing the story wasn’t over?
What are some books that have kept you turning the pages? I’d like to know so I can read them, too!
Karla Akins is a pastor's wife, mother of five, grandma to five beautiful little girls and author of O Canada! Her Story and represented by Hartline Literary Agency. She lives in North Manchester with her husband, twin teenage boys with autism, and three rambunctious dogs. Her favorite color is purple, favorite hobby is book-hoarding, and favorite food group is cupcakes.