What Romance Writers Can Learn From Watching Bridgerton

What Romance Writers Can Learn From Watching Bridgerton

Are you a romance writer? In this post, we explore what romance writers can learn from watching Bridgerton.


Who knew that a regency romance would end up being  Netflix’s biggest hit to date? I read the books more than 15 years ago and I was gobsmacked when I first heard the news that The Duke and I by Julia Quinn would be adapted.

Romance novels are usually relegated to a shelf in the back of the shop where a romance reader can browse without the disdainful glares of other genre readers. So yes, a romance novel was chosen for an adaption. It was dragged from the back of the bookshop and was allowed to share its happy ending with the world.

Did The Timing Help?

Bridgerton For Writers

It first aired on Christmas Day in 2020. Perhaps the world was looking for something light and happy after a difficult year, but there was much more to the production than just good timing. We should also remember that many of us had already watched Outlander and Downton Abbey, and we were more than ready to don our corsets again.

Why Did The Adaptation Work?

For a novel to be successfully translated to screen it first and foremost needs to be a good story. Julia Quinn‘s The Duke and I was first published 21 years ago. The Bridgerton series has always been popular with romance readers, but the Netflix series has caused book sales to skyrocket. It’s safe to say that people like the story.

And then it needs a good screen-team. It’s even safer to say that Shonda Rhimes ticks that box. Watch this video that talks about how Shonda Rhimes first found the books. It’s a writer’s fairy tale.

Why They Changed The Story

When it comes to adaptations there will always be a debate about the changes and if it did the book justice. I am not going to discuss that in this post, but you can read the posts below if you would like to know about the specific changes.

  1. The Book vs The Show – this article contains major spoilers for ALL the books. Do not read this if you are still planning to read the books. It is a good breakdown of the differences between the book and the show.
  2. What Julia Quinn said about the changes: “I was not going to tell Shonda Rhimes how to make television. It’s not a word for word adaptation, and it shouldn’t be,” she added. “I never expected that. I didn’t want that. It’s not what television should be about.” Source
  3. Julia Quinn was involved as a consultant throughout the production. She kept her fans excited with sneak peaks, behind the scenes photos, and trailers on her Facebook page.

What Romance Writers Can Learn From Watching Bridgerton

What Romance Writers Can Learn From Watching Bridgerton


Now, let’s look at the book, and what romance writers can learn from watching Bridgerton, because we’re here for the writing.

What Romance Writers Can Learn From Watching Bridgerton

1. Does The Prologue Work?

We’ve been told time and again that we should avoid prologues and epilogues, but the romance genre has always been indulgent of them and many, many movies start with a short prologue before plunging us into the inciting moment. The prologue in The Duke and I deals with the circumstances of the Duke’s birth and childhood.

The story starts…

2. Does The Epigraph Work?

In literature, an epigraph is a phrase, quotation, or poem that is set at the beginning of a document, monograph, or section thereof. Source

Julia Quinn starts her chapters with an epigraph, in this case a scandal column written by Lady Whistledown. This is a simple and effective way to introduce the characters and set the scene, but finding out the identity of Lady Whistledown, who narrates the TV series, also becomes the series goal of the first few books.

3. What We Learn In The Inciting Moment About The Story Goal:

  1. Inciting Moment: We meet Violet and Daphne. They are reading Lady Whistledown and we learn that Daphne must find a husband.
  2. Story Goal: Later, when we meet Simon, Anthony warns him about the marriage-minded mamas. Simon has sworn he would never marry. So, Simon and Daphne concoct a plan that finds a husband for her and keeps the mamas away from him. It’s as simple as that.

4. Why The Dialogue helps:

Julia Quinn uses lots of dialogue, but also a fair amount of internal thought. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I believe books with lots of good dialogue are easier to translate on screen because dialogue is a ‘showing’ tool and TV is a ‘showing’ format.

5. Why We Need To Create Memorable Characters:

The Bridgertons are a boisterous bunch and there are so many of them. We meet them all in the first series, although we only spend a little time with Francesca(When He Was Wicked tells her story and is my favourite book in the series.) Quinn has managed to create a cast of characters who are memorable, fun, and strong enough to carry their own story line. I don’t need to remind you about the eh, how shall I put this…formidable Lady Danbury, do I?

6. A Dash Of Humour Goes A Long Way…

The story is set in 1813, London. A time the was governed by strict rules and etiquette. The Bridgertons are an alarmingly informal and fun family, which I think relates well to a modern audience. Julia Quinn also uses lots of humour in her books. She is really funny and funny always wins.

7. What About The Relationships?

We read romance to fall in love again and again. We want to learn how the relationships develop and in The Duke and I we know the arrangement between Daphne and Simon is doomed to fail and we can’t wait for that to happen. The setting forces so much conflict for the couple given the rules and etiquette of the time. The lack of female sexual education, the courtship rituals, and the surrounding rules all form part of the conflict.

“There’s this feeling out there that period shows are a little conservative,” Van Dusen said. “With Bridgerton, I immediately saw there was ample space here to do something different, and put a spin on the genre in a way that I don’t think anyone has tried or done before.” Vanity Fair

It’s safe to say that if you have watched the series you’ll agree that there is nothing conservative about the sex scenes. When we read a romance novel we can filter as much as we need to or simply turn the page, but on a screen the depictions of the sex scenes are pretty graphic. Once again, an adaptation like Outlander has paved the way for female orientated sex scenes. These are relationships that develop over time and we are privy to their progress. It’s why we read romance books.

Julia Quinn writes good sex scenes and, because it is written for a female audience, the sex scenes are from the female point of view, so it caters well to the intended audience. You can read more about it here.

(Here is a handy list of time codes should you need to rewatch a few of those specific scenes.)

It is also important to note that not all the relationships we enjoy watching are sexual. The friendships play a big role in the story.

Watching Bridgerton

8. Why We Need A Happy Ending

When we read a genre novel we have certain expectations. In romance, it’s the guarantee of a happy ending. It is our reward for enduring the ups and downs of the relationship. The Duke and I definitely has a happy ending. It was Julia Quinn herself who said:  “You always get more respect when you don’t have a happy ending.” And I think we can happily agree that she has proven herself delightfully wrong in this case.

More Reading:

  1. The critics have found fault with the historical accuracy of the story. Read this article if you’ve wondered about it.
  2. I’ve seen many posts about what to read after the Bridgertons and I had to add a suggestion. The Bedwyn Series by Mary Balogh also features a group of siblings and their love lives. It was also a fun read. I hope you enjoy it!
  3. And if you are a behind-the-scenes enthusiast. Click here.

The Last Word:

I hope we’ve learned a bit about what romance writers can learn from watching Bridgerton. I think we can all agree there were a number of factors that came together beautifully to create this series. I hope that this post will inspire you and show you a few things you can add to and focus on in your own writing, while we wait for series two, of course.

TOP TIP: If you want to learn how to write a romance, sign up for our online course, This Kiss.

Mia Botha by Mia Botha

If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

  1. A Sneak Peek At The Dialogue Workbook
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  3. Writers Talk 5 | Short Stories
  4. The Craft Of Not-So-Subtle Conflict In Fiction
  5. The Art Of Subtle Conflict In Fiction
  6. 5 Essential Tips For Meeting Writing Deadlines
  7. When To Ignore The Writing Rules

TOP TIP: If you want to learn how to write a romance, sign up for our online course, This Kiss.

Posted on: 17th March 2021