What I Learned From Two and a Half Men & Sophie Kinsella

27 Oct

Conflict on every page. It’s advice I’ve heard repeatedly, and it is no easy task. Just grasping this concept was a struggle for me. I couldn’t envision anything short of Raiders of the Lost Ark or a Rambo movie. How could I apply THAT to the romantic comedy I was writing.

My heroine had caught her husband with another woman. That was good for about seven pages of conflict. Then there was an altercation during a robbery–another ten. Two big arguments between hero and heroine over a piece of property–five pages each. These were good, but what about the other three hundred pages?

A couple things helped me finally get it.

First, I read Sophie Kinsella’s Undomestic Goddess, with pen in hand. After completing each page, I made notes in the margin about what it was on that particular page that constituted conflict. When I finished I went over my notes. Here’s what I learned:

  • There was indeed some sort of conflict on every single page of that book.
  • The conflict was different than the action-adventure movies I’d envisioned.
  • The intensity of the conflict had peaks and valleys, ranging from rip-roaring fights to sexual tension to a general dissatisfaction.

Recognizing the different forms of conflict in Kinsella’s book helped me realize I had all sorts of it in my story that I hadn’t considered. I didn’t need to put my characters in constant and imminent danger. Not only was a fluctuation in intensity acceptable, it was necessary not to overwhelm the reader.

Have you ever read a book that includes one wild, life-threatening scene after the next? I read one recently (or rather tried to) and it was exhausting. I only made it a hundred pages in before abandoning that read. It made me too tense. I couldn’t take it.

The second thing I did to study conflict was to evaluate a sitcom. Two and a Half Men was a perfect choice. EVERY single scene included conflict between two or more of the characters. It’s all conflict, all the time.

I love the Charlie Harper character, and I’ll seriously miss him, but I think Sheen was wrong when he took credit for that show’s success. THOSE WRITERS ARE BRILLIANT!

The lesson I learned from that show is that the characters I create need to be diverse. Creating characters that are vastly different sets-up a story that is rife for conflict. It makes the tension come easier, thus making my job as a writer easier.

Thanks to Two and a Half Men and Sophie Kinsella I finally get it. I finally understand how to write effective conflict.


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25 responses to “What I Learned From Two and a Half Men & Sophie Kinsella

  1. johannaharness

    October 27, 2011 at 5:32 AM

    Isn’t it great when you know a concept, but then you finally get it? 🙂

    • Carley Ash

      October 27, 2011 at 6:46 AM

      Love it!

  2. ramblingsfromtheleft

    October 27, 2011 at 6:23 AM

    I agree Carey, it’s a matter of defining for ourselves the real meaning of “conflict.” Once we get that and find the peaks and valleys, we can write this into any story. In this we are in perfect agreement.

    However, what the producers and the writers of Two And A Half Men neglected to remember is that the character of Charlie who was created for the original concept, and Sheen’s flawless interpretation of material was the combination all movie and tv producers dream of. Sorry, but I don’t think The Seventies Show “cute but clueless” kid translates into this senario ); The writing is no longer the same because the other characters no longer have the snark of Charlie to play into. Without having the balast of his humor all you have left is another cast surrounding a kid who might be cute, but he’s no Charlie.

    Take the main character of one of Sophie’s best comedies and change her personality and you no longer have the brilliant contrast that makes her writing work.

    • Carley Ash

      October 27, 2011 at 6:46 AM

      I agree that the Charlie Sheen/Charlie Harper personalities appear to be one-in-the-same, and he was the strongest character. But we’re still watching it. We didn’t expect to be. We only intended to watch the season premier to see how they wrote him out. BUT the writers still make us laugh, so we’re still watching.

  3. Janis McCurry

    October 27, 2011 at 7:07 AM

    Carley, I’ve read Kinsella and enjoyed her work. I think another aspect that works against us is no matter how WE like and write the subtle conflicts, nowadays, editors are often looking for the “two-by-four in the face” type, especially in unpubs. Bigger, better bread and circuses, if you will.

    That said, I’ve always liked the nuances of conflict just as much as the “OMG, he’s a rebel and he killed my Yankee brother, how can I love him?” conflict.

    • Carley Ash

      October 27, 2011 at 5:06 PM

      Love that last paragraph, Janis.

  4. Meredith Conner

    October 27, 2011 at 7:12 AM

    The AHA moments are always the best.

    • Carley Ash

      October 27, 2011 at 5:07 PM

      Thanks, Meredith.

  5. Amity Grays

    October 27, 2011 at 7:31 AM

    Thanks Carley, It really is a hard concept, but you’ve explained it beautifully.

    • Carley Ash

      October 27, 2011 at 5:07 PM

      Thanks, Amity.

  6. Peggy Staggs

    October 27, 2011 at 8:13 AM

    It’s the pits knowing you don’t quite have it right. Then the light comes on. That’s always a great moment.

    • Carley Ash

      October 27, 2011 at 5:08 PM

      Gotta love it when the light comes on.

  7. Janie Emaus

    October 27, 2011 at 8:23 AM

    Great blog! And advice

    • Carley Ash

      October 27, 2011 at 5:08 PM

      Thank you, Janie.

  8. Clarissa Southwick

    October 27, 2011 at 9:09 AM

    Great advice, Carley. No matter how long we’ve been writing. 🙂

    • Carley Ash

      October 27, 2011 at 5:08 PM

      Thanks, Clarissa.

  9. Liz Flaherty

    October 27, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    Good post and a good way to check things out. I miss Charlie, too, BTW.

    • Carley Ash

      October 27, 2011 at 5:09 PM

      Yeah. The new guys too much like Alan.

  10. Mary Vine

    October 27, 2011 at 5:05 PM

    Great post, Carley. I think it would be hard to be a TV writer, to keep coming up with funny or interesting writing in a timely manner.

    • Carley Ash

      October 27, 2011 at 5:09 PM

      I’d love to sit in a room with those sitcom writers as their creating the scenes.

  11. Liz Fredericks

    October 27, 2011 at 5:23 PM

    Carley, you’ve almost convinced me to fit TV into my schedule! You’ve done a great job of explicating the many ways conflict comes to the page. Thanks for this –

    • Carley Ash

      October 27, 2011 at 7:10 PM

      Thanks, Liz. The best thing that happened to my writing was the invention of the reality shows. But I do like a funny sitcom.

  12. Rose

    October 27, 2011 at 6:11 PM

    Learning from two and a half men, I have to give you credit! (Visiting from Kana’s Notebook) And I hadn’t thought of conflict in quite that way before, but it does make good sense – thank you.

    • Carley Ash

      October 27, 2011 at 7:12 PM

      Thanks, Rose.

  13. Lynn Mapp

    October 29, 2011 at 8:17 PM

    Wow. You are ahead of the game.


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