>> It's kind of difficult to get the right bits of information, especially when several sites tell me varying things about how to get SDL to work.
Well Im going to add to that list you have..
This is where I got the tutorials when I started.. he has not updated for a while but there are 4 or 5 tuts there that will get you clear up to making a side scrolling shooter... I dont know if this stuff even compiles with the newer versions of SDL, I know there have been some changes recently.. it would however be well worth a shot, as he has clear examples and explanations and wrote the code well enough also..
also you cant go wrong digging around the docs on the sdl site.. http://libsdl.org