Conflict using the SATC Model


I had an epiphany last night while watching a 2001 rerun of Sex and the City. I’d been thinking a lot about how to infuse heartbreaking conflict into a paranormal story line with multi-dimensional (and seemingly unrelatable) characters. In other words, how to make far from natural characters, natural. And how to make you FEEL for them and their circumstance even though you’ve never been able to shift shapes or empathize with something that needs to suck someones blood in order to survive. (At least I hope not…and if you have please keep your dirty fangs away from me.)

Back to Sex and the City. In order to set up the awesome conflict in the specific episode I’m talking about, you have to know the most basic character points of the leading ladies.

So take the characters–what do they want most?

Carrie: To be independent, yet find Mr. Right (or Mr. Big, as the show would have it) ON HER TERMS.
Miranda: To be successful at her career with no strings attaching her to family of any sort.
Charlotte: To have a loving husband, 2.2 babies, a house in the Hamptons with a white picket fence.
Samantha: To be in complete control over her relationships, whether they be sexual or otherwise. Absolute freedom where she has the opportunity to walk at any point is her saving grace.

So now take the scene from last night’s episode “Just Say Yes”–what’s going on?

Carrie: She’s losing her apartment. To stop her from having to move, Aiden buys her apartment, the one next door, and a ring…a very hideous ring.
Miranda: Learns she’s pregnant.
Charlotte: Can’t get pregnant. Wants to try InVitro, while her husband is against it.
Samantha: Sleeping with her boss. He takes her to Rio…on his plane and his terms.

See the conflict taking form?

The brilliant writers of the show took what the characters want most and flipped those goals on their head. Then they set some of the characters directly against one another and watched the blow up.

All Charlotte wants is a baby and in the breakfast scene I’m talking about, Miranda shows contempt for having morning sickness and a growing belly. Can you see the resentment building between them? How good would the show have been if Charlotte got pregnant with Trey on their first try? How about if she had the perfect marriage she’d always dreamed of? I’m guessing you wouldn’t relate. Most people have to give baby-making a go for awhile. And there is no such thing as the “perfect” marriage.

Samantha’s the easy one. She needs control in the form of the ability to walk out the door on her partner at any given moment. Even if she’s giving it up in the bedroom she has to be the one to say when, where, how much…wait…no, that’s Julia Robert’s in Pretty Woman, isn’t’ it? Well, I suppose the control issues are the same. And yet, in the scene, her boss is the one in control. They take his jet to Rio and she’s whisked away to his world…only when she starts to feel like a side character does she run home to her friends.

Oh, Carrie. The writers completely screwed her over time and time again. In this scene, Aiden couldn’t have made a bolder move in buying her apartment so she wouldn’t have to move. I think a normal gal would’ve been appreciative of the gesture. Not Carrie. She’s Miss Independent. Miss Do For Herself. Leaving the conflict at this level would’ve carried the show…but then the writers up the ante by tossing in an engagement ring into the mix. BUT WAIT! Not just any ring–a hideous pear shaped diamond on a gold band. Oh, the irony of it all. No designer ring for the designer gal.

The minor conflicts (the ring gets replaced for a gorgeous one, Charlotte apologizes to Miranda for her feelings, Trey comes around with InVitro for the time being, Samantha comes home and moves on, etc, etc) get resolved by the end of the show, but the core conflicts remain throughout the series. Most SATC watchers would tune in next week to see the new minor conflicts form and swirl inside the larger ones…and people like me will watch the movies no matter how far-fetched (hello Abu-Dhabi *see below) just to see how the major conflicts will be resolved.

(For the record, Carrie does rope in Mr. Big and learns to depend on him despite herself, Charlotte reaches her dreams of having the “perfect” family {albeit with a “perfect” nanny}, Miranda keeps her job and her sanity by balancing both work and family and accepting love, and Samantha finds happiness within herself)

So that’s my take on conflict using the SATC Model. Take your main characters. Find out what they want most and WHY. Then scramble them up so it seems like they have no chance in hell at achieving their goal. Then when you think you’ve piled them under enough baggage that they’ll never get free, throw another couple pounds on the stack. Isn’t that about par for the reality course? Doesn’t it sometimes feel like the world couldn’t possibly throw another log on your already raging fire?

For my own writing, I have to remember my characters are resilient. I tend to be a little to easy on them. But they’ll bounce back, won’t they? In order to make paranormal creatures believable and relatable, I have to make their conflicts resemble ones from believable and relatable people…ones like Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha.

When it’s all said and done I’m going to miss the show. But where the writers really nailed it is here: I’m going to miss the characters the most. THAT’S how good writing should be.

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3 comments on “Conflict using the SATC Model

  1. Kristin, wow! It's like you reached out and thunked me on the forehead with this post. Thanks. I needed that. *grin*

  2. Anonymous says:

    i think you hit the nail on the hed one of my favoret quotes is "happy people are boring" there has to be somthing wrong a fun game to ply is what would the worst thing that could hapen net be and just keep piling on new trubbles and obsticalesc anderson

  3. Deb–anytime. 🙂 Glad you found something I said helpful.C–I've heard "happy people are boring" before, but that was from one of my Abnormal Psychology courses in college. LOL Guess you're both right. Without the troubles and obstacles we face Psychologists would be out of business and television shows would be a bust.

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