My mom and I went to see Sex and the City 2 last weekend. First, let me say that I did not regret purchasing the ticket or spending two-and-a-half hours of my sunny Saturday in the theater—I was perfectly entertained which, these days, is all I really ask for. BUT… this movie was not exactly fine cinema. I couldn’t help but wonder: What is it about the SATC franchise that makes it so successful, even through bouts of mediocrity? And what is about this movie in particular that made me excuse away a whole lot of flaws and actually enjoy it?
Most importantly, how can I apply this stuff to my writing? (Because really, isn’t that all that matters?J)
ONE – The Characters – The four main women of Sex and the City are distinct in their characteristics and wonderfully flawed. Charlotte is a perfectionist who keeps her emotions bottled up. Miranda is a no-nonsense workaholic. Carrie is funny and romantic and a bit self-involved. Samantha is a makes-no-apologies sexual revolutionist. Say what you will about these women, their quirks, and their not-so-demure sexual practices, but their motivations are always clear. You can pretty much always predict how they’ll react to certain situations. The most shocking dialogue isn’t a real surprise because it always fits the character who utters it. Even their clothing fits their unique personalities: you’d never catch sultry Samantha in one of the buttoned up power suits that Miranda rocks.
**Lesson: Characters must be distinct, fresh, and with clear motivations. They must have attributing characteristics that define them in the reader’s mind. Though surprises can be wonderful, characters shouldn’t behave in a way that makes the reader think, What?!
Two – The Bond – Above everything else, this series has been about friendships and the bond between women. Sure, they argue and bicker. Yes, they all have their own lives: families, jobs, and personal struggles—but when it comes down to it, Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha are each others’ soul mates. They support each other, though they also question each other, something that makes their relationships feel more organic and honest. The interactions between the four women are all unique, for example, Carrie’s dynamic with Charlotte is slightly different from the way she interacts with Samantha. They stick together through thick and thin and their bond feels strong, sympathetic and real.
**Lesson: Main characters must have a friend or two (especially in YA) but the camaraderie must feel genuine and authentic to be truly appreciated. Contrived friendships are a throw-away.
Three – The Romance – SATC has some of the hottest relationships on TV/in movies. There’s a reason this show began on HBO! People like romance. Women like romance. Women like steamy romance. We like relationships we can cheer for, blemished or not. We like relationships that grow and evolve with the characters. We like to see characters challenged by their romantic relationships. SATC’s romances take a leading role, second only to the friendship between the four main characters. Through the revolving door of men, we learn more about the women, about their goals, ideals, and weaknesses.
**Lesson: Strictly my opinion, but I wouldn’t read (or write!) a book without some romantic element, no matter how small. Too much is to be gained through romantic interactions to leave them out completely.
Four – The Setting – SATC is set mainly in NYC. I’ve never been there, nor do I really want to visit. That fast-paced, crowded lifestyle isn’t really for me. That being said, NYC is a fascinating place, AND the perfect setting for such a colorful show. In SATC2, the girls take an impromptu trip to Abu Dhabi, one of the few cities on the planet that might be even more vivid than New York. When I first heard that some of the movie was set in Abu Dhabi, I thought it was an interesting choice of locale. Upon seeing the movie, I whole-heartedly believe it was a courageous and powerful choice. Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda learn about themselves through experiencing the much more modest Middle Eastern culture very different from the lifestyle they’re used to. But, they also learn that women can be a united front no matter what background we’re brought up in.
**Lesson: Setting isn’t just a backdrop. If done well, it can become a force all its own.
Five – The Complete and Utter Outlandishness – Okay, the stuff that happens on SATC—the stuff of this movie in particular—will never, ever happen to most of us. It’s all way, way out there. Glamorous dinners in NYC? All-expenses-paid exotic vacations? Gorgeous men around every corner? No. Not in my world, anyway. But isn’t it fun to watch?! It’s a total escape from reality, which is what we want when we pay big bucks to go to the movies (or bug bucks at the bookstore). But even through all the glam and craziness, there are still elements of SATC that the average person can relate to. Pressures at work, crying kiddos, a stale phase in a relationship. Those elements of the story bring us back to the real world and give us something to hold on to, investing us in the characters and the storyline.
**Lesson: Your plot, your setting, your characters—they can all be as eccentric or as bizarre or as out of this world as you choose to make them, but if there’s nothing the reader can relate to, you’re in danger of losing their emotional investment.