Always a fan of soap operas, my dream was to work on one. My neighbor happened to be a songwriter and he introduced me to his managers. They got me a meeting at ABC and a deal to write a sample script for General Hospital.Happy Dance!
Until they read the script and said I'd never work in daytime. To ease my disappointment, I wrote a YA novel about a 17 year old girl who becomes a star on a soap. This novel, In Real Life I'm Just Kate, now titled Just Kate, got me into daytime television and I worked in soaps for a number of years.
Having experienced both, I can now compare the two worlds of writing.If I sit down to write a novel, I'm on my own with complete autonomy to make all artistic choices without input.
In television, you have no autonomy and everyone including the guy on the corner of 66th Street and Columbus Avenue who sells Italian Ices out of a cart has input.
Life is a little dull here when I'm writing. I'm at the computer and then for excitement I visit my neighbors.
Life in the television studio is never dull. It's one crisis after another. Once I had to write a scene that was going to be inserted into a show that was taped three weeks earlier and was airing in two days.
When I was the headwriter for NBC's show, The Doctors, word came from the higher ups that a character needed to be killed off. They weren't happy with the actor, or he wasn't happy with them, I'm not quite sure was the problem was but he had to leave. It was Alec Baldwin and I didn't want to kill him. He's handsome, he did his job and he was always nice to me. What more can you expect?
I thought I would have to come up with a way to kill him. No, I was told. Two guns would be fired at him from different directions at the exact same moment. You know what it looks like. A disembodied gun coming around a door.I said to the producer
"You can't be serious. How is the gun being aimed?"
"Just write the scene."
Okay. You don't necessarily have to make sense in television. In my world, you have to make sense. I want to know why the characters behave the way they do and I want it to be in line with reality.
Is writing for television different than writing a novel? You bet! For years after I left television, I would catch myself writing or thinking in that soapy way. In television, you have the time pressure which doesn't give you the luxury of thinking things through. You grab any idea and run with it. Now I think. I still write fast, but I think slow.
Most writers have a choice to make between writing for speed or writing for substance. It's the rare writer who can do both. I know I can't.