How to Write a Soap Opera Script

By Gail Cohen ; Updated September 15, 2017

They’re like bearing witness to family shenanigans at holiday time – only better. Soap opera scripts hold audiences spellbound, tumbling out one climax after another to feed the appetites of addicted fans. Bob is the father of Erica’s baby and Denise is dying of a rare disease, yet only viewers are aware that the ex-boyfriend who vowed revenge falsified her test results. The plot stays thick and you’re hooked – hooked enough to want to try writing about long-lost brothers, juicy trysts, and the town that’s kept a dreadful secret for generations. Gather helpful tips in this article, then get out your legal pad or boot up the computer to start conjuring scandals and plotting redemptions. Just make sure you don’t bump anyone off until his or her character has been fully developed.

Study the skeletal structure of at least one popular soap opera to get the hang of how the plot unravels, how the dialog sounds, and what types of gimmicks are used to get characters in and out of scenes. Try writing a synopsis of each day's episode to understand how the story ribbon plays out from day to day.

Invent a great name for the town in which your story will take place, then write short biographies of eight people you’ll develop as the central characters in your soap. Some writers assign characters astrological signs to guide and develop their personalities as they take each from one catastrophe to the next.

Draw a diagram or flow chart to visually lay out the relationships between the eight characters. Place these facts into each box: the character’s name, age, relationship to the other seven, and motives they could have for future conflicts that will drive the show forward and keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

Pick your favorite scripting format. This is an individual choice and tends to be the one a writer learns in screenwriting class. Some prefer the breakdown method consisting of 15-page (approx) outlines while others like a side-by-side format; dialog is scripted down the right column and visual queues appear on the left. Old school writers rely on paragraphs interspersed by sub-heads and blocks of dialog. Visit actualdownload.com to see examples of scripting styles or purchase software with a tutorial.

Begin writing the script once characters are fleshed out and you’re comfortable with one of the scripting methods described in Step 4. Restrict each episode to approximately 20 minutes (commercial breaks fill the remainder of half-hour episodes.) You may wish to take a tip from commercial writers: stick to around 135 spoken words per minute to track the approximate length of the script as you write, but always allow extra time for visual actions and reactions that replace dialogue.

Become a continuity maven. Your characters are real in the minds of viewers and you can’t afford to have one say or do things that contradict past actions. Keep a record of each character's experiences. This smart move means you won’t have your main character saying, “I’d give up everything I own to see Paris just once,” when she told a former boyfriend - in an earlier episode - that she lived near the Eiffel Tower for years as an exchange student.

About the Author

Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.