Tuesday, August 4, 2015

FLASHBACK: Revealed! Serial Writers' Secrets (Part 3 of 3)

Revealed! Serial Writers' Secrets

The Soap Box
Vol. V No. 9 September 1979
by Linda Susman

(continued from Part 2)

While Slesar doesn't specify "repition," he notes that, "after 11 years, you find yourself using story elements you said you'd never use, things that are dictated by logic. I always said I'd never bring anyone back from the dead; but when Maeve McGuire (ex-Nicole Drake) wanted to come back to the show, I managed to turn it into a good storyline." Slesar says he'd "write about anything interesting and entertaining" and likes to avoid "cliche subjects."

Part of the individuality of each soap lies in the names of its characters. Slesar feels that "if you are going to introduce a character with a personality, the name should be appropriate so it helps the audience define the person." For 'Raven,' Slesar envisioned a flashy, dark-haired dangerous kind of woman; young, with as yet unsharpened claws--the predatory bird. He knew a 'Draper' many years ago, who was "a dashing, boyish personality. The name also connotes sartorial splendor and, coincidentally, so does Tony Craig, who plays the part." 'Steve Guthrie's masculine, with a western sound, while 'Brandy Henderson' was to be a memorable woman, feminine yet strong. Since she was an attorney, Slesar named her after Justice Brandies.

Lemay says he starts with the idea of a character, and then has a dialogue with himself: "what if you had a certain kind of girl come to Bay City"; then comes the name--'Blaine'--for example, a tomboy kind of name that comes from her background on the ranch. The story, Lemay notes, comes from the character. Some names are suggested by friends and family. Louise Goddard is a friend from Fire Island, and Lemay invited actress Anne Meacham to dinner to introduce them. The Connellys are friends; Vivian's a relative.

Mayer points out that the "hardest thing to be true to is making sure the character's attitudes are clear, which is important in making people individuals," and that "favorite characters aren't always the major players. Sometimes, we delight in a character who isn't seen too often, because that person is fresher." Mayer's example is 'Kevin,' the bartender. "We are devoted to him. He fleshes out the Ryan family all by himself."

Like their characters, writers are individuals with a variety of "pasts." Labine was a playwright, and also wrote Captain Kangaroo. Mayer's areas were educational films and plays. Slesar was in advertising, and still runs a small agency from his home. He'd also written scripts for the old Alfred Hitchcock nighttime series. There are several daytime actors who switched to writing the words instead of saying them. Gillian Spencer (ex-Jennifer Hughes, ATWT) now writes for the show. Former castmate C. David Colson, who played Tom Hughes, had a recent stint as co-writer of The Doctors; Mary K. Wells, remembered as Louise Capice on Edge several years ago, does scripts for All My Children, whose star, Ray MacDonnell (Dr. Joe Martin) played her husband in Monticello. ATWT has also used Clarice Blackburn (nurse Marion Connelly) and Keith Charles (Ralph Mitchell) on its writing staff.

Like the actors who "soap hop," serial writers sometimes leave one soap and turn up quickly on another. And there are the husbands and wives of some daytime stars whose names run with the show's writing credits: Elizabeth Levin (Michael Levin, RH) most recently wrote for The Doctors; Nancy Ford (Keith Charles) is one of the several sub-writers for her husband's ATWT; Wisner Washam (Judy Barcroft, ex-AMC, AW) is a long-time AMC script writer.

While actors, sets, music and direction work together to create the final drama that comes into our homes, the writer is at the very core of the soap. As Goethe wrote, "In every man's writings, the character of the writer must lie recorded."

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