Learn From These Writing Missteps in Bridgerton

Right off the bat, I’m gonna tell you that there are spoilers galore in this piece.

The show Bridgerton has been very popular, partially due to it’s sexy scenes between beautiful people, partially because we’re all cooped up and looking for something to watch, and partially because the characters can be quite compelling (looking at you, Danbury). But there are three big problems with the storytelling in this show, and addressing those problems will help us all become better writers.

For the sake of time, I won’t go over all the good stuff that’s done or the awesome way they just drop people of many ethnicities and races just about anywhere in the story. Instead, I will focus on the bad stuff, because that’s what’ll stick with you and is what you can learn from.

Final disclaimer: We can’t expect readers to go over our work so many times that they’ll catch every tiny detail. They’re going to read it once and form an opinion. This post is written from that perspective. What can we glean from watching the show just one time?

The three big problems are:

Danbury’s Love and Race Talk

Daphne and Simon’s Weird Argument

Penelope as Whistledown

For each one, we will talk about why it’s a problem, what mistakes in your writing it might reflect, and how to avoid or fix it. Let’s get into it.

Danbury’s Love and Race Talk

The worst single scene in Bridgerton is when Lady Danbury tries to convince Simon to go after Daphne because love makes everything possible. If you missed it, there’s just a quick line that’s thrown into an otherwise innocuous conversation about pursuing love at all costs because love is worth it. Danbury says, “We were two separate societies divided by color until a king fell in love with one of us.” It is the worst because it is one of the only times in the entire show that race is addressed, and in so doing it ignores the timeline presented in the show and undermines the awesome way (beautiful) people of many races and ethnicities are just put into the show. It is somehow both insulting and confusing.

If they truly were two separate societies, then how did it come to be that Simon was from a long line of dukes? How could his father and mother have inherited their stations in society if Black people were only incorporated into society after the king married the queen? And how awful that Danbury says that the only reason they (Black people in this place) are accepted is at the whim of a powerful white man who took one of them as his mate? Pretty awful.

Another point where race is mentioned is in a conversation between a Black professional boxer and businessman and the heavily indebted father of a side character. Trying to convince the boxer to throw a match in order to make them both enough money to be comfortable, the indebted man brings up the boxer’s father and his struggle in the New World with slavery and inequity. Why? Why include this?

If they wanted to create an escapist fantasy where people from around the world were seamlessly integrated into all echelons of regency-era society, why do they need to bring up race at all? Or, if they want to throw in complicated clues about how it was a purposeful choice to include POCs into society, why wouldn’t they do a better job of incorporating that very important story into the series?

What writing problem might this reflect?

You get so wrapped up in the world you made that you don’t know how it will come off to those of us on the outside.

You don’t think about how your “cool line” would fit into the grander story.

You sound insensitive to your readers about issues of race, gender, or other identity topics.

How can you avoid a mistake like this?

Recruit some beta readers. You might know all the answers to every question in your world, but you aren’t going to have the time to write all that down. So it’s important to get some fresh eyes on your work and have them ask questions like “Why does this person say this line? From what I understand of the story so far, it seems like xyz is the case, but that line kind of seems like it’s the opposite, so I’m confused.” And then you can include supporting details and answer the reader’s questions before they have to ask them out loud while reading your book/watching your show.

Print out your finished work and put it away in a drawer for a few months. Write some other stories. Come back to it with fresh eyes. Read through the whole thing as a reader would. Write down all the questions you have as you have them in the manuscript. Then you know when readers will be confused, too.

Find some “sensitivity readers,” or people who will read over something you’ve written to make sure it doesn’t come off sounding offensive or weird, especially to a community to which the writer does not belong. My friend is a cisgender, heterosexual male middle grade author who often writes female early teen protags, some of whom are sgm (sexual and gender minorities). Rather than not telling his stories at all, he does a call out for sensitivity readers on his social media accounts once he’s finished a manuscript in order to double and triple check that his story is believable and relatable.

Daphne and Simon’s Weird Argument

The worst aspect of the show is that Daphne doesn’t give Simon a chance to heal slowly and open up to her about his traumatic childhood. Think about if the genders were reversed. We will replace Simon with the female Simone. We will replace Daphne with the male Daveed.

Simone and Daveed agree to a rush wedding because they are in lust with each other and there is a lot of community pressure for them to do so. Simone says from the very start, before they marry, that she does not want children and that if Daveed does, he should find someone else. He says it’s fine. They begin their marriage happy and in love, satisfied to just enjoy each other without needing to add any complications or children.

There is a misunderstanding. Daveed is upset and feels that Simone withheld valuable information about reproduction from him. He maliciously and purposefully puts Simone into the position of mothering a child very much against her will. She wants some time away from him. He is angry with her.

When they finally talk to each other and come to a place of understanding the other, Daveed is still angry with her and doesn’t agree with her desire, that she stated from before they were ever married, not to have offspring.

Why does the reason Simone doesn’t want children matter more than Simone’s want not to have children? And then the writers gloss over Simone’s will, her traumatic childhood and forced “healing,” and then next thing you know they’ve got a baby.

Why is this problematic?

They frame the ultimate solution to this couple’s weird disagreement as Simon giving in to Daphne’s will and producing offspring. Because she likes kids. Daphne says something about him choosing his anger with his father over his love for her, but isn’t it just as true that she is choosing her obsession for children as more important and valid than his need to heal from his horrible childhood and his decision not to have kids? Why does he have to give in? Why does he have to give her children to prove that he loves her?

In making this weird argument so important, they are also emphasizing the value of offspring to the family, which is no good for people who can’t have or don’t want children. Do they never get to be complete because they haven’t reproduced? That doesn’t seem correct.

In doing all this, they are sidelining the work it takes Simon to overcome his awful upbringing. If she loves him, why can’t Daphne wait for Simon? Talk it out with him? Understand that his trauma isn’t about her, so she shouldn’t take it personally? Of course, an obvious response is that Daphne is a privileged 18-20 year old with no understanding of the work it takes to be in a healthy relationship with adequate boundaries and support. That might be an excuse for Daphne, but that doesn’t let the writers off the hook. And it doesn’t change what the writers have chosen to emphasize or frame as important. In the show, they aren’t portraying Daphne as an unreasonable baby, they are showing her on equal footing with Simon, even though one of them is much more obviously right and the other is out of her mind.

What writing problem might this reflect?

You are letting your characters’ flaws take control of the story.

You’re not thinking about what messages you’re sending with your piece.

You don’t have a set theme (or themes) that run through your story.

You ignore developing one of your main characters because you want to create conflict.

You give more screen time or page time to a wrong opinion or belief, and less time to the facts surrounding the situation, which makes it seem like both sides are equally correct.

How can you avoid a mistake like this?

Every character has flaws. But don’t let those flaws control the narrative unless it is meaningful to the message you are sending. Usually characters overcome or accept their flaws, so think about if either of those options works for you.

Some people plan themes before they write a single line. Some people don’t think about themes at all, some people let the themes grow into the story organically as it’s being written. Whatever path you choose, you just need to consider whether or not the themes written are reflections of what you want your story to tell people. If you’re not sure, ask a beta reader, ask a trusted friend, ask an English major, “What themes do you see in this piece?” Take their answers and decide if you need to rewrite sections to strengthen your themes or to stop supporting false or unexpected themes.

If you’re just trying to get a draft down and you allow your characters to do things that don’t make sense, it’s ok. But you should try to go back and correct it. Think about if it were you in their position. Or ask a friend, “Hey, if this happened to you, what would you do?” Do a personality test for your character and see if that gives you insight. Draw out some character arcs and see if you have fully developed all of your main characters. And finally, just ask yourself if this is something that would make sense. Have you supported it with enough evidence in the story so far? Have you made sure the character’s motivations and baggage are clear?

When you allow a false belief to be on equal footing with facts, especially if you never address how the false beliefs are wrong, you can create confusion in your reader and can perpetuate all kinds of awful bigotry in real life. Again, this is a place where trusted beta and sensitivity readers will help you quite a bit. When one of them tells you that a part of your book seems kinda racist or a scene seems kinda rapey, you need to listen and look at it with fresh eyes. Get the opinions of people who are different from you: different race, different background, different gender, different political leanings, etc.

Penelope as Whistledown

And the final big problem is Penelope. Pronounced like cantaloupe. She mustn’t have been their original idea for Whistledown, because Whistledown has way too much information to be this naive kid.

Firstly, she doesn’t know anything about what happens between two people on a honeymoon and naively thinks she could get pregnant from being near another person who’s pregnant. And yet Whistledown wrote knowingly about all the intimate things that might happen during Daphne and Simon’s honeymoon.

Secondly, where did she get the money to freely distribute all of these pamphlets? Especially since her family was highly in debt. She had to pay the printer, the paper boys, the carriage drivers.

Thirdly, why was Penelope smiling at the end? That scene, chronologically in the world of the story, came right after she got hardcore rejected by the love of her life and almost caught out by the Queen (she would have been severely punished). Why would she be grinning like an evil genius? Purely for the visual during the reveal at the end, which is where the scene played in the show.

If this show had been done like a regular series on tv, it might have made sense that the writers would have to wing it week to week. But this was a Netflix show. They had to have written it all out beforehand and known what was to come. Not like they were releasing one episode a week for 6 months and needing to figure it all out on the fly based on actors quitting and audience reactions and broadcast ratings.

And let’s talk about the weirdly insulting way they portrayed Penelope as an outcast. She’s clearly smart and wants to get married and seems sweet. Sure, her family is weird, but she has plenty of good qualities to offset that. She’s even got lovely hair and a plump figure, which would have been desired by a good portion of the single male population. So why is it that she, as Whistledown, could have been ignored by society enough to catch every bit of gossip? How could it be that no amount of yellow could make her stand out enough to get caught sneaking into people’s conversations? It just doesn’t make sense.

Also, the final quips by Whistledown were written while she was in the carriage after nearly getting caught. She wrote in perfect script about having a worthy opponent (in the Queen, who almost caught her). This was presumably written during the time right after getting away from the Queen’s hired hands. So, while the carriage was barrelling down a cobblestone alleyway?

What writing problem might this reflect?

You’re trying to add a twist, but forget to go back to make sure it makes sense. It makes it so no one saw the twist coming, but only because the twist doesn’t make any sense at all and is nonsense.

You’re trying to be too clever. Your readers might get upset because it’s like a puzzle they were never going to be able to solve. It’s like you gave them a jigsaw puzzle one piece at a time, they spent the whole book (or show) putting it together, and then at the end you jump in with a totally different and complete puzzle that you had been holding all along and say, “Aha! Look how clever I am! You weren’t even solving the right puzzle. #4dchess #ididit #sosmart” You deny them the satisfaction of figuring it out or getting close to the solution.

You forget the basics of practical actions, like not being able to write a scathing review in perfect cursive while riding over a bumpy road.

You’ve written yourself into a corner and you just pick the first solution that comes to mind.

How can you avoid a mistake like this?

If you add a sudden twist at the end, you and your betas need to go back to the start of the story and make sure that all of the details support that twist or that they get changed to do so.

If you’re being too clever, you should back up a minute and think about whether this is actually a reasonable path for the story to follow. Twists are good, but twists that make sense are even better. Those are the twists we love as readers. Ask a trusted friend or writing partner. Trust your betas if they say, “Uh, but why? Nothing before indicated that this was a possible solution, so I don’t get it.”

If you have forgotten to check how things work practically in your story, your betas might pick up on it for you. Make sure you’ve got a range of betas who are big-picture and detail oriented, who will count the number of rounds your mc fired and compare that to how many the weapon’s magazine could hold, who will hold their breath for the length of time your character is underwater, who will point out that your character can’t be in two places at the same time.

If you’ve written yourself into a corner and you’re not sure where to go, it’s ok to take a little while and reason out what could happen. You want to subvert expectations, but not to the point of reader disbelief or confusion. And it’s also ok to go back to an earlier place in your writing and change some things so that you don’t get trapped in that same corner again. Another solution is to start at the end of your story. Plan out where you want it to end, the physical place, the major character arcs, the main plot. And then work back from there. How could the characters have gotten here from the start? It’s like solving a maze backwards. No one is gonna know whether you started at the beginning or end once they’re looking at the completed work.

Final Thoughts

So, my overall advice is to find beta readers, go to writing workshops, look at problems in shows and books and think of ways to solve them. You will get better. Good luck!

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