Teaching narrative structure: soap opera consequences
While devising scenes around a given topic or premise, students can often get so caught up in creating characters and practising the dialogue that they forget about developing a narrative structure for their scene – they’ll create an opening to get to the meat of the scene but then it just fizzles out or they keep improvising on the spot until the teacher calls a halt.
Soap Opera Consequences is a fun exercise to help encourage students to think about narrative structure, by taking a scene from a set opening line to a closing line. However, rather than the lines being random (or the same for each group), the different scenes slot together – one group’s closing line is the opening line of the next – to form a serial/soap opera. This highlights the need for each group to stay on task: if they don’t end with the correct line, it causes problems for the next group.
Based on the old parlour game Consequences, each group are allowed to interpret the opening and closing lines however they wish, using whatever characters they feel are appropriate. The resulting soap opera serial is often amusingly disjointed as a result.
Divide the class into around five sub-groups (between 2-5 people per group – add more groups/segments to the soap opera for bigger classes) and assign each of them an opening & closing line as below:
|Group||Opening line||Closing line|
|1||“It stinks in here, doesn’t it?”*||“I’m back”|
|2||“I’m back”||“I’m pregnant”|
|3||“I’m pregnant”||“But I love you!”|
|4||“But I love you!”||“You’re under arrest”|
|5||“You’re under arrest”||“I hope I never see you again”**|
Allow 10-15 minutes for the groups to prepare. When older groups are nearly ready, give them another short task: ask them to form three freeze frames (with one line of speech from a character for each freeze if necessary) to tell a “previously on” story for their scene. These will be performed before their scene, to key the audience into their interpretation/world. (Very keen/musical groups may also want to devise their open theme tune!)
Encourage soap opera melodrama – but also let them use whatever style/genre each group wants for their own scene. As long as they open & close with their set lines, they should have free run in between!
When ready, ask the class to perform the scenes in order (with freeze frame introductions if used).
Length of exercise: Allocate around half an hour – around 15 minutes planning and the same for showcasing in order.
Group size: Suggested for five sub-groups of between 2-5 people (so between 10-25 people). For smaller groups, skip a scene; for bigger groups, add another.
* & ** These were the first opening line for Eastenders in 1985 and the final closing line for Brookside in 2003 – real soap opera writing!
(Photo by reverte)