I've said it before, and I'll say it again: happily, ever after is the worst thing that can happen to a soap couple. It means there's nowhere left to go, No conflict means no drama, which means who gives a damn? I stand by this. The mightiest soap super couple of them all, Luke and Laura, thrived on conflict. The minute everything seemed calm and sane in their world, they'd find themselves involved in a stolen diamond caper, or a plan to control the planet by manipulating the weather (I kid you not), or a long-buried secret would surface and rock the boat. The point is, Luke and Laura were only interesting as long as there was something for them to do, some foe for them to battle, some way to illustrate that their relationship was truly a you-and-me-against-the-world proposition. If there were some bible for soap opera writers, this would definitely be listed as one of the tenets.
One would think, then, that I'd be behind the decision to have Guiding Light's Natalia discover she's pregnant and suddenly run off and go into hiding, leaving Olivia in the lurch. I mean, it doesn't get much more angsty than standing in a church yard, clenching your fists and yelling at the top of your lungs, "Nataliaaaaaaa! I Love you!!!!" But there's angst, and there's angst, and this particular dose of angst doesn't sit well with me, at all. I think it's not so much angst, as total bullshit.
Bearing in mind that there is, in fact, no official bible for soap writers, and annoyed as allhell at recent developments, I've decided to make things easy for the writers of GL by making up my own:
Soap Writer's Ten Commandments
1. Thou Shall Know Thy Characters
Know them. Know how they think, how they act, how they react. Know their histories because, I promise you, gentle writer, your audience does. Know that Natalia "would die" for Emma and that she would never just not show up when she was expected, let alone abandon her. Know that Natalia "knows what it means when you tell somebody you love them." I don't think you know any of these things, and you really should.
2. Thou Shall Do The Fucking Math
Human pregnancies last for 9 months, and pregnant women usually start showing towards the end of the first trimester. A pregnant woman starts having symptoms of pregnancy long before it's obvious to the public that she's pregnant. Symptoms include, but are not limited to: a halt in menstruation, weight gain, morning sickness, increased appetite, and odd cravings. Frank and Natalia's no-go wedding was in April, which is three months ago in real life time. In soap opera time, Rafe recently referred to the no-go wedding as having happened "a long time ago." Frank and Natalia had sex only once, and this was before the no-go wedding which, according to your own words, occurred "a long time ago." Do the fucking math. The only way Natalia would or could be unaware of having missed her period for four or more months would be if she were brain dead. If she were pregnant all this time, she'd have experienced other symptoms...possibly even felt the baby move. Do the fucking math. Again, you can bet the viewers have.
3. Thou Shalt Not Lie
We understand there are secrets that must be kept, in order to keep us, the audience, engaged, but don't lie to us. We heard - over and over again - that Jessica Leccia's pregnancy would not be incorporated into the Otalia story line. This was clearly a lie. Not cool, and not a good way to treat loyal viewers. Better to say that you're undecided or that there are elements of the story that have not yet been decided upon. But don't look us in the eye and feed us a load of crap. It's just not the right thing to do to people who have put a lot of energy into supporting what you do, which brings us to....
4. Thou Shall Honor The Hand That Feeds You
I'm not talking about kissing butt, but let's call a spade a spade: soap operas are products. Soap viewers are customers. The customer is always right. In this case, we, the customers, made it perfectly clear that we did not, under any circumstances, want the next dose of angst for Otalia to be a pregnancy. Some fans/customers felt so strongly about this that they posted comments such as, "Die, baby, die." Now, I think that's sort of insane, and definitely disconcerting, but I digress. The point is, there has to be some give and take. We expected angst. Some of us even welcomed it - just not in this form. We made it clear. We expected hoops and hurdles that made sense, maintained the integrity of the story, and had some basis in common sense. Having Natalia suddenly realize she's four months pregnant, and then run away without so much as a word to Olivia or Emma that she's ok? It's an insult to us.
5. Remember The Story Arc, To Keep It Holy
Do you even remember how this story developed? Because we sure do. And here's one thing we remember: Olivia trying hard to suppress her feelings because she was sure that nothing good would come from opening her heart to Natalia. We remember Olivia saying "there is no 'us'". And we remember Natalia chasing after her, being the strong one - hell, I even called her a power bottom! - and forcing the inescapable issue: that they were in love and meant to be together. We remember how satisfying it was that, to everyone's surprise (sort of, but not really) Olivia seemed afraid, while Natalia seemed fearless. Hell, just two weeks ago she declared, "I'm tired of waiting!" How, then, did Natalia overnight become a woman who would run with her tail between her legs at the first sign of - what? An inconvenience? Because, really - for two women who love kids and love one another, and want to raise Emma together, a baby wouldn't be a tragedy, at all! (see Commandment 1)
6. Disbelief Shall Be Suspended Only So Far
You asked us to pretend not to notice Jessica Leccia's ample bosom, large belly and glowing moon face for months, months. And we did. We suspended disbelief and ignored the fact that Jessica was pregnant, even when it became ridiculous. We did this because the character, Natalia, was not pregnant. Or so we had been led to believe. Now that Jessica has given birth and is, I assume, getting back to her pre-pregnancy shape and weight, you ask us to believe she's pregnant? Seriously? No. Just no.
7. Angst Is Necessary, and Shall Be So - In a Proper Context
In storytelling, conflict is good. Hurdles and obstacles are good. Angst is very good. Angst and conflict that make no sense, have no bearing on the story at hand, or are caused by outside forces that seem to drop out of the sky? Not so good. Rafe being a holier-than-thou idiot about his mother's declaration of love for Olivia? Good angst! It's been painful to watch. It makes me hate Rafe. It makes me want to punch the tv. But it makes sense, and I can believe it would have a bearing on what Natalia chooses to do. A freakish, unexpected pregnancy leading to a total personality change in Natalia? Not so good. In fact, pretty freaking lousy. I repeat: that's not angst, it's bullshit.
8. Thou Shalt Not Lose Track Of Time
We'd probably have more patience if you, the writers, hadn't lost track of the fact that Guiding Light's final episode will air on September 18th, and we haven't even had a peck on the cheek between these two women. I'm all for taking it slow, and building up to a crescendo, but let's be realistic: the show has been cancelled, a pick-up is unlikely, and Crystal Chappell has already signed on with another show. Otalia is coming to a close, and you haven't delivered the goods. It's almost as if you'd lost your watches and calendars, thrown caution to the wind, and decided, "Hey....let's throw another wrench in the works and let them wait an extra six months before the girls kiss.' Well, guess what? We don't have another six months, so you've screwed up, big time. What can you have been thinking?
9. Thou Shalt Not Perpetuate Negative Stereotypes
Ok, this may not be set in stone, but it's my set of rules, after all: let's not have you writers rely on or perpetuate negative stereotypes, ok? Liz and Dani of Pancakes and a Valium made an excellent observation: Olivia's heartbreak over Natalia taking a runner was visually presented alongside the almost ridiculous level of happiness being experienced by every straight couple and heterosexual person in Springfield. Even Philip, who's dying, was having a big, old, jolly, hetero time that day. We don't want this. We've already seen every movie and tv show where the tragic faggot dies or ends up alone or loses everything, while his/her straight counterparts go for the gold. Some of us have even known that tragic faggot in real life. What we haven't seen a hell of a lot of are stories where there's parity, where couples are just couples. Why is the Bauer BBQ a festive occasion for everyone except the two women in love, and why were you so intent on sending that message out to the world? Why juxtapose the glee of heterosexual normalcy with the tragic, pathetic sadness of same-sex love in such a way? It's a cheap, obvious, insulting thing to do, and it doesn't even ring true for most of us. We don't want Springfield's Hispanics to all be street thugs, blacks to all be wife-beaters, or queers to all be miserable, unloved sad sacks.
10. Remember, Always, The Power of Revision
When it's broken, fix it. Take a cue from the top-rated daytime drama, The Young and the Restless. Last year on Y&R, they introduced a new character and immediately married her off to Victor Newman. No one liked her. The two actors had no chemistry. Their love affair was not even remotely believable. Fans revolted. The show became unwatchable. What did the writers at Y&R do? They paid attention to the feedback they were getting from viewers. They looked at Victor - an established character - and remembered who he was and what his history was. They pretty much followed Commandments 1-9, and then they fixed the problem by way of revision. Victor's marriage story line wasn't working on any level and, so, his young bride was immediately killed off -in a believable, plausible way. Victor acted in a way that was in keeping with his character. Within a month, Y&R went from being unwatchable to being must-see-tv
A storyline needs to be looked at as a living, breathing thing. If certain elements aren't working, they need to be revisited, retooled and, maybe, completely revised or rewritten. Hopefully, it's not too late to fix what you have so badly broken. Listen to your audience, and don't insult their intelligence. Know your characters. Remember where you've taken us with them, thus far, and keep it in mind as you plan to take us further. Pay attention to and use wisely the time you have left with these characters. Make choices that make some sense not just for the moment, but for the characters and plot, overall. Don't make the cheap, easy choices that send out negative messages and perpetuate stereotypes. If it's broken, roll up your sleeves and fix it.