Soap operas are maybe the furthest thing from the literary short story we can think of –low-brow, long-form, and commercial. But today, after intensive morning workshops with editors Will Allison and Patrick Ryan, followed by a healthy lunch, our students sat down for a craft lecture with One Story Contributing Editor Karen Friedman to discuss how soap operas can relate to the editing process.
With clips from Dallas, Guiding Light, and General Hospital, Karen walked us through how to revise our opening pages, and what vital info needs to be dropped in the opening paragraphs.
“As writers, we sometimes do ‘throat-clearing’ while we’re figuring out how to get from the first line to the rest of the story,” Karen said. “But openings need to quickly establish the main characters, where they are situated, and what the emotional situation is. If you don’t do those things in the first two pages, you’re missing your best chance to get out of the slush pile.”
Using clips that covered amnesia, evil twins, and ‘it was all a dream!’ surprise endings, Karen showed us how to approach rewrites with a big-picture plan, so that “editing” doesn’t just mean fiddling with the details. Everyone’s favorite clip was by far “The Slut of Springfield”–from a famous 1980s episode of Guiding Light–that Karen used to show “movement” within a scene. Reva and Josh are the characters. Some background: Reva and Josh were in love, but Reva married Josh’s father. Josh was so mad he got into a car accident and is now in a wheelchair. This scene happens at the end of a party. Josh starts off berating Reva, but she turns the tables on him.
It’s no wonder that Kim Zimmer, the actress who played Reva, won an Emmy for this scene!
In the evening the drama continued, as we enjoyed cocktails and cupcakes and chatted with three talented literary agents. One Story Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti moderated the official panel, beginning with the question that we all wanted to know but were too nervous to ask: “What the hell is a literary agent?” Our guests – Sarah Burnes, Jim Rutman, and Samantha Shea – had different answers. Primarily working as the intermediary between writers and publishing houses, literary agents play many roles, from finding and editing manuscripts, deciding when a book is ready for submission, finding the right editor, ironing out contracts, putting out fires as the book hits the shelves and sometimes playing “bad cop” in negotiations. Sarah Burnes cited the importance of the gut check in picking new writers: “It comes down to this question: do I feel this thing?” And Jim Rutman explained that he often corresponds with writers for a long time before he finds the right project to work on together. “A rejection is not always a ‘no.’ It can also mean ‘not this book, but maybe the next’ if the agent is encouraging and asks to see more.” Regardless of all the industry talk of pitches, query letters, and market trends, all the agents agreed – the text itself is the most important. “The writer I pick is the one whose manuscript I can’t get out of my head,” said Samantha Shea.
Tomorrow, we’re meeting with a panel of editors and listening to a craft talk from One Story author Seth Fried. Stay tuned for more secrets from behind the editorial curtain!