Writing telenovelas goes beyond what is actually seen on the show. It also involves what goes behind the scenes, what goes on under the surface of the story, how everything connects. Here are some tips to help you out on those areas, if you want to write a telenovela.
Casting your Characters
If the male lead and female lead are a couple, they must be played by a celebrity love team. This saves you the effort of writing any backstory or exposition, since the audience will know by virtue of the couple’s actors that they will end up in each other’s arms.
The male lead’s best friend/sidekick must be played by an established comedian. That way, he can be the comic relief. The same goes for the female lead’s best friend/confidant.
The characters must be played by actors/actresses who played similar roles in the past. It is the industry’s way of ensuring the show’s success by making it similar to previously successful shows, but at the same time, the industry’s way of limiting the actors/actresses’ roles in the future (typecasting).
Conversely, the actors can play a reversal of the previous characters they played. You can make an actress who played the female lead in a previous telenovela the evil female lead of your telenovela (this already happened with Andrea Brillantes, switching from the female lead in Annaliza to the evil female lead in Kadenang Ginto). Of course, this is a very risky move because it would require that the actor can convincingly switch from a protagonist to an antagonist or vice versa, and because die-hard fans may be outraged by the switch.
The male lead must master the “I’m constipated” look.
The female lead must master the depressed look, the righteous fury look, and the I-love-you blush.
The evil male lead must master the diabolical evil look. If he is the mayor of a town or a politician, he must master the false humility look and the hammy evil smirk.
The evil female lead must master the hammy evil smirk, the angry look, the jealous look.
A poor, beautiful girl (the female lead) meets a rich, handsome guy (the male lead). He breaks up with his rich, evil and frivolous girlfriend (the evil female lead) to be with the female lead, at first to annoy his wealthy and unscrupulous family, but eventually falling in love with the female lead because of her kindness and compassion. The evil female lead, usually accompanied by the male lead’s elderly female relative (the evil matriarch) stands in their way to happiness. The real father or mother of the poor heroine will be revealed to be incredibly wealthy. The story usually ends with the villains meeting spectacularly violent, gruesome, painful and gory end and the two heroes end up getting married and with a child—, sometimes, even twins.
A poor, beautiful girl (the female lead) is in search of her missing relative and ends up working in a mansion. The rich, evil, frivolous daughter (the evil female lead) abuses the female lead. Eventually, it is revealed that they are partly related, or maybe they knew all along that they were related, but the evil female lead still abuses the female lead because the former is the legitimate child and the latter is the illegitimate child. Near the end of the series, someone (an old servant of the family) or something (DNA test, CCTV, diary) proves that the two were switched at birth, and the female lead is the legitimate child and the evil female lead is the illegitimate child. At this point, you can give the evil female lead a chance at redemption or let karma take care of her. As for the female lead, she will find out that her missing relative (usually her birth mother) is a woman in the mansion who has been kind to her since she arrived and with whom she feels a special connection.
A man with principles goes to the city and starts working in a seemingly mundane government job, but eventually gets caught up in a web of intrigue that escalates to the national level. He takes on petty thugs first, but eventually takes on organized crime, corrupt cops and politicians, even subversive and secessionist elements. Because his identity is well-known, his enemies continuously target his friends and family.
FORBIDDEN LOVE – If the male and female leads are a couple, they must belong to different groups. Different social classes is the favorite of many telenovela writers, but you can get creative here. Different ethnicities, different fantasy species (vampires vs. werewolves), even different worlds.
KARMA – The male must be framed for a wrongdoing committed by the evil male lead. Or, the female lead must be constantly abused by the evil female leads. This is so that the audience will be enraged and keep watching the show in anticipation of the time when the evil leads will get what they deserve.
REDEMPTION – The evil female lead can gain redemption in one of three ways. 1) A relative (her beloved son/daughter, etc) gets caught and dies in her vengeful plot and she has to watch helplessly while that relative dies, thereby making her see the error of her ways. 2) She dies and learns that she has to do good deeds with her new, limited life in order to go to heaven. 3) She undergoes a near-death experience and comes back with a total personality change.
ADVOCACY – A recent trend is to make your telenovela an advocacy for an oppressed or marginalized group. Although it borders on virtue signalling, it’s a way to make your show look woke.
HOLIDAY EPISODE – This is an episode in the series that takes place during a particular holiday. You as a writer have a lot of options here. You can have the male and female leads go out on a date during the Valentine’s episode. You can have them spend time with their families during the Christmas episode. You can even have the female lead be temporarily possessed by a vengeful ghost during the All Souls episode and have the male lead save her by helping the vengeful ghost finish its unfinished business. Most writers would write this episode as filler, but some actually write this episode in a way that pushes the plot forward.
THE KIDNAP EPISODE – One of the protagonists (usually the female lead) gets kidnapped through the machinations of the evil female lead.
THE BIG REVEAL – This is usually the penultimate episode of the series. It’s when the female lead finds out that she was switched at birth, or is the daughter of an extremely wealthy couple.
THE WEDDING EPISODE – For telenovelas that focus on a couple, this is the final episode. It ends the series and gives them a happy ending.
RICH VS POOR – One of the central conflicts is the struggle between those who have it and those who want it. Those who have it, have it good. Those who want it, want it bad. The male lead (rich guy) and the female lead (poor girl) are the exception, but by the end of the series, the poor female lead is already as rich as the male lead.
FAMILY FEUD – Another central conflict is among relatives/half-relatives, usually over an inheritance or legitimacy.
INNER BEAUTY VS OUTER BEAUTY – For telenovelas where the female lead has a deformity, this is the central conflict. The female lead who has a deformity (inner beauty) must be abused by the evil female lead who looks like a model (outer beauty).
LOVE TRIANGLE – If the triangle involves your male lead choosing between two girls, one of them must be a poor, kind, compassionate girl (female lead) and the other must be a rich, evil, frivolous girl (evil female lead). If the triangle involves your female lead choosing between two men, one must be a poor, compassionate guy and the other must be a rich, arrogant guy. One way to twist this is to make your male lead choose between a girl and a guy. The conflict becomes conformity to society’s expectations of being the ideal husband and honesty to oneself/coming out of the closet. (This already happened in My Husband’s Lover.)
FIRST MINUTE/LAST MINUTE – The first minute of your show must be a recap of the previous episode. The last minute of your show must be a preview of the next episode. It’s a way of making sure that fans of your show will still understand what’s going on even if they’ve had the misfortune of missing one episode due to things happening in their lives.
PRODUCT PLACEMENT – A lot of viewers get angry when a commercial interrupts their show. One way around this is to actually put the products being advertised in commercials inside your show through product placement. For instance, you can show your female lead in her room with a skincare product conspicuously placed right next to her during the shoot.
SOCIAL MEDIA – Place hashtags on your show, or have a facebook page dedicated to your show. Not only does this save you a ton of money in advertising; if it goes viral, it makes your show trendy.
FINAL THOUGHTS: No telenovela is too final. Watch out for part 3. It’ll be different.