Top 10 Soap Opera Cliches



Top 10 Soap Opera Cliches

VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton
Script written by Nick Spake

Just as soaps seemingly never end, neither do the use of these clichés. Join MsMojo as we count down our picks for the top 10 soap opera clichés.

For this list, we're taking a look at tropes and storylines that keep popping up in both daytime dramas and primetime soaps.

Special thanks to our user Andrew A. Dennison for submitting the idea on our Interactive Suggestion Tool at

Top 10 Soap Opera Clichés

Just as soaps seemingly never end, neither do the use of these clichés. Welcome to MsMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Soap Opera Clichés.

For this list, we’re taking a look at tropes and storylines that keep popping up in both daytime dramas and primetime soaps.

#10: Love Triangles

Assuming you’re a regular soap watcher, chances are you’ve shipped more than a few couples together. If your “One True Pairing” finally comes to be, keep in mind that the honeymoon probably won’t last long. Another guy or gal is eventually bound to enter the mix, instigating a love triangle. Of course, love triangles aren’t always limited to just three people. Four, five, or even more people can be linked by a mutual attraction… just look at the cast of “Nashville.” No matter how many lovers are involved, somebody ultimately has to make a difficult decision, and at least one heart has to be broken.

#9: Alternate Personalities

In reality, Dissociative Identity Disorder is a rare condition, affecting approximately 1% of the population. In soap opera world, however, it’s an everyday occurrence. Victoria Lord from “One Life to Live” in particular has shared her body with six alters over the years. This trope gives a performer a chance to shake things up and demonstrate their acting range. Sometimes an alternate personality is a party animal, other times, it’s a childhood manifestation, and on occasion they’re total hell raisers. In any case, drama, confusion, and mischief are guaranteed when a split personality gets behind the wheel.

#8: Blackmail

Blackmail is practically a hobby for the more calculating characters on soap operas. They get a kick out of digging up the dirt on someone else, whether it’s an affair, a pregnancy, or other some kind of juicy bombshell. Rather than exposing the secret immediately, the blackmailer will use this information to get what they want out of the other person. They’ll keep their mouth shut in exchange for money, power, sex, or a favor. Since those who commit blackmail aren’t exactly the honorable types, however, they’ll just keep coming back for more.

#7: Long-Lost Children

Seeing how so many soap opera characters have sex out of wedlock, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when long-lost offspring show up on their doorstep years later. The bastard child usually comes to town to confront the mother who gave them up for adoption, the father who never knew they existed, or the sibling who got everything. Long-lost children rarely reveal their true identities upfront, as they’re usually out for revenge. After getting to know their estranged family members, though, the bond of blood may start to overshadow their resentment.

#6: Siblings Rivalry

Whether they grew up with each other or met later in life, soap opera siblings tend to butt heads every now and then. The animosity between brothers and sisters typically stems from jealousy. Maybe one is envious that mommy and daddy loved the other more. Perhaps it’s a common love interest that is driving the two siblings apart, potentially leading to a good old-fashion catfight. Hell, one of the siblings may simply be flat-out evil, on a conquest to destroy the good seed. Whatever the reason, you can count on seeing plenty of slaps, punches, and bad blood.

#5: Multiple Marriages

Even if the wedding goes off without a hitch, that doesn’t mean the bride and groom will live happily ever after. It’s only a matter of time until something separates them, be it an affair, a secret, or an unforeseeable tragedy. Fortunately, long-running soap characters have little trouble finding another spouse. Erica Kane from “All My Children” has been married a total of ten times. That’s not even including her invalid marriages. One can’t help but wonder if some of these people are really searching for true love, or if they just like getting dressed up, throwing extravagant parties, and walking down the aisle.

#4: Affairs

As previously discussed in some of the earlier entries on this list, you can’t have a soap opera without a few affairs. After awhile, watching a committed couple lie around in bed together starts to get pretty boring. So to make matters more interesting, one person will start sharing their bed with someone else. Characters have affairs for multiple reasons. They might grow tired of their significant other or somebody better may come along. No matter what, they’re destined to get caught cheating somewhere down the line. Drama!

#3: Character in Coma

At some point, every soap opera character becomes temporarily comatose. Sometimes a coma ensures from a random accident. Other times, it’s caused by an assassination attempt, amounting to a murder mystery. After falling into the coma, the doctors won’t be especially optimistic about their patient’s odds of waking up. Don’t be so hasty to pull the plug, though, because some sort of inexplicable medical miracle will come along and snap them out of it. However, they’ll more than likely suffer from a few side effects, such as amnesia.

#2: Secrets Revealed

Many soap opera characters harbor a deep, dark secret. Yet, they’re always horrible at keeping that secret under wraps. Most of the time, they’ll foolishly talk about it wide in the open, ceasing to make sure nobody else is eavesdropping. Once the secret is revealed to the wrong person, gossip will spread like wildfire. Over time, you’d think that these people would learn that honesty is the best policy and the truth will inevitably come out anyway. Alas, there’s always a new secret waiting to be exposed.

Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

Lovers Turn Out to Be Related


Unplanned Pregnancy

Fighting at Funerals

#1: Back From the Dead

The people on soap operas have more lives than a cat. Most of the time, a character will never even be dead to begin with. They were just missing in action or died in a dream. Even if somebody’s cold body is buried in the ground, you can never be certain of their ultimate demise. It doesn’t matter if they fell off a building, drowned at sea, or got blown up in a plane crash. There’s always an absurd way to bring them back from the dead in the realm of soaps, especially when they’re a fan favorite.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite soap opera cliché? For more entertaining Top 10s published every day, be sure to subscribe to MsMojo.

I never really thought about how many soap opera tropes are also sci-fi/fantasy tropes. The difference is that sf/f usually does a better job at foreshadowing them.