Characteristics of a Soap Opera

by James Stuart
Soap companies originally sponsored soap operas, hence the name.

Soap companies originally sponsored soap operas, hence the name.

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The soap opera is a staple of daytime television. They tell the stories of the day-to-day interactions and relationships of several characters. Producers originally designed soap operas for homemakers, but they now enjoy viewership among a wide demographic. For many people, keeping up with the goings-on of their favorite soap characters is a daily duty.


Most soap operas have a standard serialized format. They appear on weekdays and generally run for about an hour, although some soap operas, particularly in countries outside North America, appear at night. Episodes usually end in cliffhangers designed to bring viewers back for the conclusion of a story. This means that most soap operas feature story arcs that can last for several episodes. Most episodes deal with several story arcs at the same time.


Although every soap opera is different, most follow several story lines. Soap operas do not usually end, so even in an episode in which one story concludes viewers will be at the beginning or in the middle of several others. As the name suggests, soap operas are often overly dramatic. Unlike other serial dramas, most soap operas are windows into the lives of others, and feature characters in their everyday -- though often highly exaggerated and sometimes unrealistic -- lives.


Several themes recur in many soap operas. Many center on one or several families and the inherent drama in their lives. Sometimes, soap operas try to tackle very serious real-world issues, such as AIDS or domestic violence. Every soap opera explores the theme of relationships in some way, whether they are romantic, familial or even adversarial. Soap operas often have complicated narratives and usually focus on the emotional lives of their characters.


The characters in soap operas are often melodramatic and can change their personalities quickly. Characters may be evil in one story arc only to find redemption in another. Their personal lives interconnect, even when characters are not seen interacting, and their may be a social hub, such as a restaurant, where all the characters regularly gather. Many characters become very popular, developing followings and fan bases.

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