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The Writing Process


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One thing that always fascinated me is the writing process of the shows especially by the (good) industry veterans such as

Agnes

Irna

Bell

Labine

Marland

and so on.

Anyway, after reading that Clair Labine/Bill Bell interview a 3rd time I am intrigued by the way they differ in there writing process.

So, does anyone know about the writing process the masters of the industry used? I am curious on how Marland/Irna wrote a soap. I always want to know more about Bell's and Nixon's approach. I am sure others here are curious on the writing as well.

Oh, if anyone wants the link to the interview here it is:

http://www.serialscoop.com/2014/07/bill-bell-claire-labine-on-writing.html?m=1

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Marland's ATWT bible and storyline projection documents were still around because Hogan read them when he got the job. In an interview he talked about how meticulous they were.

I also remember reading an interview with Rick Hearst where he said during that golden age of early 1990's GL, even the actors were given some projection where the story was going, to play their scenes better.

From what I have read, most pre 2000 era soap writers still did storyline bibles, projecting 6 months to a year of storylines. Some even had up to 2 years. Now they seem to map it out in shorter increments.

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From what I have read, most pre 2000 era soap writers still did storyline bibles, projecting 6 months to a year of storylines. Some even had up to 2 years. Now they seem to map it out in shorter increments.

I assume it varies widely today depending on the show and the writing team. I know in 2011 when Susan Lucci was on her book tour and people kept asking if AMC was being canceled, she kept saying no, it was NOT canceled, and in fact, she'd just been given storyline projections and a schedule for the rest of the year. I don't know how detailed the information was that she was given, but it sounds like TPTB at AMC were at least attempting 6-12 month projections.

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I've been to Irna' archive in Madison, WI and she essentially wrote her shows like this:

1.) 6-12 months of long story. This long story wasn't 100 pages long, but it gave the basic thrust of what would happen to the characters during the period. Irna always mentioned in her long story that things could change, but this is the tract she imagined for them right now.

2.) From the long story, Irna would dictate breakdowns in batches of five episodes. These were detailed scene-by-scene. The breakdowns provided all of the pertinent information to the script writer from character intention, dialogue, and how Irna wanted a character to act or not to act within the scene.

3.) The script writer (Agnes, Bill, etc.) would take the breakdown and write the dialogue for the episode. Irna would make notes on these scripts and then send them to the network and/or sponsor for notes. Sometimes Irna would instruct the writer to make changes, or she would include a new scene or re-write to the writer if there wasn't a lot of time before the script had to be in to the production office.

4.) The production scripts had to be in to the production office about two to three weeks before broadcast.

Agnes' process was very similiar to Irna's.

Bill Bell's process was nearly the same, except he would hammer out weekly story with his breakdown writers and then they would breakdown the dily story. Once the script was in from the script writer, Kay Alden (as Associate Head Writer) would edit them for continuity, etc. That's why Y&R stayed so consistent over the years...they never messed with their process and someone who knew the show from its beginning edited those scripts.

For Labine, I know that when she worked with Paul Alva Meyer on RYAN'S HOPE and WHERE THE HEART IS, they crafted long story, breakdowns, edited scripts, and even wrote scripts.

It should be noted that Phillips, Bell, Nixon, and Labine/Meyer never hired an army of writers in the half-hour format. I think this is why the shows had superior stories and scripts. They had a tight hold on their shows, but when the shows went to an hour, they had to hire more writers and, well, churn out twice as much story...

I hope this helps with your question!

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I've been to Irna' archive in Madison, WI and she essentially wrote her shows like this:

1.) 6-12 months of long story. This long story wasn't 100 pages long, but it gave the basic thrust of what would happen to the characters during the period. Irna always mentioned in her long story that things could change, but this is the tract she imagined for them right now.

2.) From the long story, Irna would dictate breakdowns in batches of five episodes. These were detailed scene-by-scene. The breakdowns provided all of the pertinent information to the script writer from character intention, dialogue, and how Irna wanted a character to act or not to act within the scene.

3.) The script writer (Agnes, Bill, etc.) would take the breakdown and write the dialogue for the episode. Irna would make notes on these scripts and then send them to the network and/or sponsor for notes. Sometimes Irna would instruct the writer to make changes, or she would include a new scene or re-write to the writer if there wasn't a lot of time before the script had to be in to the production office.

4.) The production scripts had to be in to the production office about two to three weeks before broadcast.

Agnes' process was very similiar to Irna's.

Bill Bell's process was nearly the same, except he would hammer out weekly story with his breakdown writers and then they would breakdown the dily story. Once the script was in from the script writer, Kay Alden (as Associate Head Writer) would edit them for continuity, etc. That's why Y&R stayed so consistent over the years...they never messed with their process and someone who knew the show from its beginning edited those scripts.

For Labine, I know that when she worked with Paul Alva Meyer on RYAN'S HOPE and WHERE THE HEART IS, they crafted long story, breakdowns, edited scripts, and even wrote scripts.

It should be noted that Phillips, Bell, Nixon, and Labine/Meyer never hired an army of writers in the half-hour format. I think this is why the shows had superior stories and scripts. They had a tight hold on their shows, but when the shows went to an hour, they had to hire more writers and, well, churn out twice as much story...

I hope this helps with your question!

Thanks for sharing. I found this to be very interesting.

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I've been to Irna' archive in Madison, WI and she essentially wrote her shows like this:

1.) 6-12 months of long story. This long story wasn't 100 pages long, but it gave the basic thrust of what would happen to the characters during the period. Irna always mentioned in her long story that things could change, but this is the tract she imagined for them right now.

2.) From the long story, Irna would dictate breakdowns in batches of five episodes. These were detailed scene-by-scene. The breakdowns provided all of the pertinent information to the script writer from character intention, dialogue, and how Irna wanted a character to act or not to act within the scene.

3.) The script writer (Agnes, Bill, etc.) would take the breakdown and write the dialogue for the episode. Irna would make notes on these scripts and then send them to the network and/or sponsor for notes. Sometimes Irna would instruct the writer to make changes, or she would include a new scene or re-write to the writer if there wasn't a lot of time before the script had to be in to the production office.

4.) The production scripts had to be in to the production office about two to three weeks before broadcast.

Agnes' process was very similiar to Irna's.

Bill Bell's process was nearly the same, except he would hammer out weekly story with his breakdown writers and then they would breakdown the dily story. Once the script was in from the script writer, Kay Alden (as Associate Head Writer) would edit them for continuity, etc. That's why Y&R stayed so consistent over the years...they never messed with their process and someone who knew the show from its beginning edited those scripts.

For Labine, I know that when she worked with Paul Alva Meyer on RYAN'S HOPE and WHERE THE HEART IS, they crafted long story, breakdowns, edited scripts, and even wrote scripts.

It should be noted that Phillips, Bell, Nixon, and Labine/Meyer never hired an army of writers in the half-hour format. I think this is why the shows had superior stories and scripts. They had a tight hold on their shows, but when the shows went to an hour, they had to hire more writers and, well, churn out twice as much story...

I hope this helps with your question!

Do you have an example of her breakdowns and projections?

I do appreciate this BTW as I'm trying to create my middle-class soap.

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Do you have an example of her breakdowns and projections?

I do appreciate this BTW as I'm trying to create my middle-class soap.

I do, but they are photographs of the originals in her archive. The archive (Wisconsin Historical Society) has strict rules about useage of the photographs. I'll type one out for educational use on this forum, if that helps.

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I do, but they are photographs of the originals in her archive. The archive (Wisconsin Historical Society) has strict rules about useage of the photographs. I'll type one out for educational use on this forum, if that helps.

Yes! Do you have to pay to see the archive? Did that have any video footage of Irna or audio recordings of her dictations?

I do have an old B&B outline from the early 2000s... I'll see if I can dig it out...

:)

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Yes! Do you have to pay to see the archive? Did that have any video footage of Irna or audio recordings of her dictations?

smile.png

The archive is totally free to the public. If you can't get to Madison, Wisconsin, they may be able to photocopy documents for you, but I can't confirm that. In her archive, there are some reel-to-reel tapes of Irna's notes for a soap opera writing class she taught at Northwestern in the late-60s or early-70s.

On a sidenote, the original pilot of AS THE WORLD TURNS is in her archive. I didn't get a chance to see it because it is in cold storage and needs a few days to be prepped for viewing.

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On a sidenote, the original pilot of AS THE WORLD TURNS is in her archive. I didn't get a chance to see it because it is in cold storage and needs a few days to be prepped for viewing.

This would be great to see!!

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Here's part of a letter from Irna to Agnes (who was writing the radio soap YOUNG DR. MALONE at the time) about their writing process:

THE YOUNG DR. MALONE
Letter from Irna to Agnes prior to the next batch of breakdowns:
June 2, 1954
Dear Aggie:
I still feel you are writing above the lines too much. Dave has this criticism to make and I don’t know exactly what he means by it - he says you resort to “cliches” and I should tell you that for him. My feeling is that the more familiar you become with the characters, the more you will write between the lines. I’ll have to admit that we don’t have a director who quite understands what we’re doing today, but all will be straightened out I feel when Dave and Bob come to Chicago next Monday.
….
At the end of the letter, Rose Cooperman (Irna’s secretary) noted: (FRIDAY’S WILL BE COMING ALONE - THIS IS ALL IRNA DICTATED TODAY)


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