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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mythbusters, Soap Style - Part Three

I'm jumping in and tackling the third myth I think soaps need to bust open...

The C-Story Myth

Even if you don't know the term "C-story", you've seen hundreds of them. They're the least important story on the show at the moment, and it's usually used as a cutaway from the big heavy-hitter storylines. Examples from shows I've worked on include Touch the Sky on Days, Dorian hiring a real stalker to faux-stalk her own daughter on OLTL, and Isaac and Bonnie go to Scotland and get stuck in a castle on ATWT.

Do we sense a trend forming here?

They're usually the stories that involve the characters least important to the canvas at that time. The characters least developed. And they're usually (but not always) the stories that get the least amount of focus by the writers, and have the least amount of depth.

There seems to be a myth that if you just play this story one or two days a week, and just get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible, you've accomplished your goal. I've been as guilty of feeling this way about a C-Story as the next writer, and I'm a lot of fans feel stuck with the C-story, and use it as easy exercise for their fast-forward button.

I've been thinking a lot about C-stories lately, and how usually plot-heavy they are, usually involving day players from outside the show's regular cast of characters. Forgettable villains, stories with a beginning, middle and an end, and no real evolution in the character's lives to spin them off into their own B-or-maybe-someday-A-stories. But not always. Look how well Ron Carlivati moved Rex and Adriana from C-story-land to A-story-land, and pretty organically as well. Sometimes they're with characters no one's able to get a handle on, and other times they're characters the audience loves, but the show doesn't have a long-term plan for them.

So while the writers are focusing on the show's big umbrella A-story that's building to a climax, and kick-starting the B-story into its second act... there's the C-story. Getting only a quarter of the attention it should, and usually falling like a lead balloon to the ground.

I wonder if maybe instead of inventing some non-sequitur of a plot for a show's C-characters, maybe the idea should be scrapped in favor of some good old-fashioned character moments for them, while the show's writers find a way to incorporate them into the other stories better. Frankly, I'd rather learn more about a character's dreams, desires, fears and regrets, then wonder if they'll escape the day player prostitute holding them hostage on a plane over Las Vegas, or if Isaac will beat the Scottish Duke in his sword dual.

These stories almost never work, so instead of the writers beating their heads against a wall trying to make a story like this work, and the fans scratching their heads wondering what in the hell the writers are smoking, maybe the C-story should be retired for awhile, and these characters just given room to breathe, and the audience time to see how three-dimensional they can be. Their deepest insecurities, their ambitions, their quirks... these are the moments that make us fall in love with characters, as flawed as they are. These moments make us want to keep watching them, because they feel more like us - like human beings. Not when they're being picked up by Bruce, the Psycho-Stalker on the side of the road.

We want to fall in love with all of these characters, so maybe instead of filling their guaranteed episodes each week with cookie-cutter stories meant as throw-aways, we can better use those scenes to give us real human moments with the characters who need them most. We understand the Carly Tenney's and the Sami Brady's and the Todd Manning's of these shows. We've been given an unending wealth of information about who they are. It's the C-characters who need the most work, and that work can't be accomplished when we're playing them in stories with little emotional depth as a plot filler for a summer teen story, or a comical adventure meant to balance a dying baby story.

C-stories don't have to be meaningless. In fact, they should be the exact opposite - they should surprise us be getting us to care about characters in ways we never thought we could.

Tomorrow, I'm throwing one at the fans - the biggest myth fans need to overcome, as opposed to the executives. (Crikey! Get your flame-throwers ready, kids!)


Anonymous said...

thank you for writing to me (a soap fan) in a way that challenges my thinking and peaks my interest in the soap opera industry even more/further. I found just in the nick of time... i was getting very bored with my long time obsession. The C- Story... hmmm...

Anonymous said...

ohhhh ohhh - i must read the 1st and 2nd myths! off to find them...

Paula said...

Great blog, Tom. I was thinking about this basic idea watching Days of Our Lives on Friday. The scenes between Maggie and Melanie made me long for the show to just give us their relationship as Melanie's story for a while. First off, you'd be using the marvelous Suzanne Rogers in a role she could play the heck out of, and you'd establish some layers in Melanie's character as she and Maggie forged a fragile but eventually fulfilling surrogate mother/daughter relationship.

Sigh. So not gonna happen.

bl said...

C-story doesn't have to be filler, I just think over time this has happened even moreso. When stories were more balanced and three/four or even five were told at a time, the smaller stories were needed breaks for the actors and the characters.

Some shows seem to get rid of these "minor" stories and replace them with just more of the leads or are dropped for so long that even if I like the people involved I get more frustrated than anything else. I'd rather see a C-story than have characters ignored for months on end or only brought on as their on screen work function like we only see AMC's Jackson if he is in lawyer mode (which for the most part since Carmen and Jack have been involved has happened--as we haven't seen her in months is she gone--no idea.) If a particular character isn't the focus on the story, they sometime get overlooked which is a detriment to the show, the performer, the character and the viewer.

When long term people are on and get stuck in such material, usually we can get enough information via their performances to be able to ascertain the character's point of view. There are some C-stories over the years I've liked even if they were weird, like way back on Days when Tom Horton was a beatnik poet. That was hilarious and it was so nice to see Tom and Alice be more than just the grandparents.