Monday, March 29, 2010

Losing the Plot

One of my secret pleasures is reading those one-line synopses of soap opera episodes you get in newspapers and TV listings magazines. Their attempts to sum up twenty-five minutes, or so, of plot and character development in under thirty words is frequently unintentionally hilarious. In their attempts to summarise without giving away plot twists, the writers of these synopses often become masters of understatement. Some years ago an episode of Neighbours was summarised as: "Jim suffers a setback." He certainly did. He died. Some seem to be worded so as to actually put you off of watching the episode in question. I once read a synopsis of an Eastenders episode which told me: "Phil gets romantic". Quite frankly, the horrible image of that overweight, bald headed thug wheezing away as he fumbled to get some poor woman's clothes off, which that summary conjured up, guaranteed that I didn't tune in that week.

Of course, most of these summaries rely upon the fact that the reader is familiar with the ongoing plot and characters of the particular soap, otherwise they are completely meaningless. Indeed, they can seem quite surreal or, still worse, contrive to make the episode seem utterly uninteresting. Take, as an example, the Radio Times' synopsis of today's episode of Neighbours: "Kate sprains her ankle". As far as the casual reader is concerned, if the highlight of an episode is someone twisting their ankle, then it must be a pretty dull soap. For that synopsis to have any impact, it is necessary to know that Kate is a professional dancer, thus a twisted ankle could have serious consequences for her. Personally, I'd like to see more intriguing episode summaries. How about: "Toadie breaks wind in court, but thinks he's got away with it." The impact of that is undiminished, even if you don't know that Toadie is a lawyer. It could be followed up the next day by: "Toadie faces the consequences of his outburst when the judge finds him in contempt." How about that for a cliffhanger?



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