What makes a great lovers meet scene? Find out when Valerie and Leslie analyze the turkey curry buffet scene in Bridget Jones’s Diary, the 1996 Love Story by Helen Fielding.
Genre and Three-Act Summary
Bridget Jones’s Diary is a courtship love story, and in the beginning hook, Bridget is in search of a romantic relationship. She meets Mark Darcy at a New Year’s Day turkey curry buffet, but doesn’t think much of him. She goes on a date with her boss Daniel Cleaver and they have sex. While it’s a one night stand for him, Bridget thinks it’s a much more serious relationship and writes in her diary that she loves him.
In the middle build, Mark Darcy returns briefly but he and Bridget still don’t get on (as far as she’s concerned anyway). Bridget continues her ill-fated relationship with Daniel until she discovers that he’s been having an affair. Daniel confesses that he’s engaged to the woman (Suki) and breaks things off with Bridget.
In the ending payoff, Bridget leaves her job at the publishing company and begins a new career at a television studio. Her relationship with Mark Darcy finally kicks into gear. They go on a date, he grants her an exclusive interview with his client and when her mother becomes involved in a fraud scandal, Mark Darcy saves the day. The novel ends much like it began (with a holiday party) only this time, rather than snub Bridget, Mark takes her out for Christmas Day brunch.
Analyzing the Scene
- What function does this scene serve in the story? This is the lovers meet obligatory moment. It establishes several conventions, including the setting location, period, duration, to give us the scope of the story. We meet some of the main characters, and the true force of antagonism, Bridget’s failure to respect herself, is present in the scene.
- What kind of scene is this? It’s a party scene.
- What does this scene type accomplish within the context of the novel as a whole? Establishes ordinary world. It allows Fielding to provide a social context for Bridget, Mark and dating in general. The rebuke is much more powerful.
- How many people are in the scene? Eleven are mentioned, but likely 25(ish) for a home party.
- Where does the scene take place (location)? Una Alconbury’s home.
- What is the power dynamic at play in this scene? Neither Bridget nor Mark are particularly in power given the context (neither of them wants to be at the party and neither wants to be set up). However, between the two of them, Mark has the upper hand. Bridget is being offered to him and he has the power to accept or reject her.
- What is the point of conflict, and how does that relate to the characters’ objects of desire? Pam and Una want them to date, and while they’re not keen on it, they also don’t want to cause a scene at the party. The conflict between them really kicks in when Mark refuses Bridget’s phone number. That’s when the real slight occurs. Bridget can brush off being left by the books, but this really stings. (The slight is in two phases, abandoning her by the bookshelves and refusing her number.)
- Objects of Desire: Bridget wants a relationship and she wants to feel attractive to men (this is where her feeling of worth lies). Mark wants to be left alone.
Story Event Questions
When we analyze a scene we need to answer four story event questions, and identify the five commandments of storytelling. These are covered in detail in Story Grid 101 which is available as a free download from the Story Grid website.
1. What are the characters literally doing—that is, what are their micro on-the-ground actions?
This question is about what’s happening in the scene on a basic level. So if you hire actors to dramatize the scene, what would they be doing? There are multiple things happening in the scene: Bridget is recording her life in her diary, and she has a conversation with her mother, but the main thing happening is Bridget is attending a party.
2. What is the essential tactic of the characters—that is, what macro behaviours are they employing that are linked to a universal human value?
If question 1 is about what the characters are literally doing, question 2 is about why they are doing it. What’s their essential tactic? What do they hope to accomplish with what they’re doing? We ask this because it helps frame the conflict in the scene. Usually we’re looking at the main character or the POV character, but if the conflict isn’t clear, ask what the other characters in the scene are doing.
In a way, Bridget is resisting or avoiding her mother’s interference in her life and wants to avoid being awkward or being pushed into unsatisfying romantic entanglements. This is a subset of her larger goal to adhere to her resolutions.
Bridget’s mother and Una are setting up Bridget and Mark. In this scene, they act as helpers, a convention of the Love Story, to push the lovers together.
3. What universal human values have changed for one or more characters in the scene? Which one of those value changes is most important and should be included in the Story Grid Spreadsheet?
Many conditions or states can change in the course of the scene, so it’s useful to think about multiple changes until we zero in on the one that’s most important to the global story. This should be the main value at stake raised by the Turning Point Progressive Complication.
Bridget begins fairly determined to stick to her resolutions, but by the end, she Surrenders to eating, drinking, smoking, and obsessing about her boss. This change is important to her internal shift. She’s naive about how challenging it will be to change her behavior. But what about the Love Story?
When first mentioned, Bridget thinks of Mark as kind of a loser, “another strangely dressed opera freak with bushy hair burgeoning from a side-part,” but when he walks away from her with everyone looking, she hates him.
Uninterested to Hate
4. What is the Story Event that sums up the scene’s on-the-ground actions, essential tactics, and value change? We will enter that event in the Story Grid Spreadsheet.
Bridget attends the turkey curry buffet where she comes to hate Darcy when he abandons her after they’re pushed into conversation.
Five Commandments of Storytelling
Inciting Incident: Bridget arrives at the Alconbury’s home for the New Year’s Day turkey curry buffet.
Progressive Complications (and how they escalate the stakes):
- Geoffrey asks about her love life (makes her feel even more uncomfortable)
- Pam Jones has been talking about Mark Darcy for weeks (Bridget is sick of him before she even meets him)
- Una and Pam are obvious in their match-making (embarrasses both Mark and Bridget)
- Mark is wearing an ugly diamond-patterned sweater (it makes him look old and out of touch)
- Bridget lies about the book she’s reading (but Mark has read it and when he begins to discuss it, she doesn’t have a reply)
- Bridget fumbles through a conversation (makes the situation even more awkward)
Turning Point Progressive Complication: Mark suddenly bolts for the buffet leaving Bridget alone by the bookshelf with everyone staring.
Crisis: Does Bridget take Mark’s rejection in stride (and retain some dignity), or does she allow it to upset her?
Climax: Bridget takes it in stride and teases Mark about the gherkins.
Resolution: Bridget wants nothing to do with Mark Darcy.
What’s special about this scene?
Leslie: This is a picture perfect scene when it comes to the fundamentals of the Story Event and Five Commandments. From the inciting incident, Bridget wants to avoid her mother’s meddling, and her mother and Una push her into an awkward conversation. She doesn’t see that it is the internal work she needs to do (hinted at by the items on her resolutions list) that would allow her to show up as her authentic self and make navigating awkward social situations easier.
So this is a lovely scene, but it also does a lot of work for the global genre. It establishes several of the conventions in the story, including the setting with its locations and period, multiple layers of conflict brewing just beneath the surface, dueling hierarchies. We meet the lovers and some helpers, and society is onstage through the behavior of the attendees of the party.
It’s the inciting incident of the global story and the beginning hook. So it’s one of the obligatory moments of change in the story. Compare the January 1, and December 25, entries, and its the whole story in micro.
Every time I read this book, I find new aspects to appreciate. I don’t read a lot of love stories, but Fielding solves many of the same problems every writer faces when they want to write a novel. This is important whether it’s your first novel or fiftieth.
I’ve written about the narrative device in the story, and here it’s on display very clearly. Helen Fielding moves deftly between the epistolary elements of anticipation and reflection and the dramatized parts. This is not highbrow literature, so you could easily miss the skill with which the writer executes the narrative situation and drops us into Bridget’s world and establishes all we need to know to settle in for the story. The challenge presented by a love story like this is that the reflection could turn into spending too much time in a character’s head, just hearing thoughts. Put those on paper, and it creates a different dynamic.
We know the value of studying masterworks, but a lot of writers are still reluctant. Maybe they see it as a waste of time? Can you imagine a sculptor saying they don’t need to study great examples of sculpture? No way. Lawyers who don’t read legal cases and articles? It’s malpractice.
The first time through, you get a high-level view because you’re reading to figure out what’s happening. You don’t know everything there is to know about a person the first time you meet them, and the same is true of stories. Think of your first read as being like the initial written draft of your novel. There are many layers to add.
Valerie: Managing the Narrative Device: Journal entry begins with a fragmented sentence and then transitions into a flowing narrative (transition happens over 5 sentences).
In UP we talked about where ideas come from. Bridget Jones’s Diary was obviously inspired by Pride and Prejudice, and Helen Fielding establishes that right out of the gate.
Pride and Prejudice references – leaves reader in no doubt:
- Turkey curry buffet reminiscent of the Netherfield Ball: lovers meeting in a social context which makes the rebuke all the more powerful
- Difference: Mark Darcy is largely out of the story until the ending payoff, and we don’t get his pov. Austen gives us Darcy’s perspective quickly. Netherfield Ball (chapter 3), Darcy’s comment on Elizabeth’s fine eyes (chapter 6)
- Books: Mark asks Bridget if she’s read any good books lately. First conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth is about books as well (chapter 8); Elizabeth chooses a book over cards, Darcy says that in addition to the skills a woman of the day should possess, “she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading”.
- Other references (1) Mr. Darcy (2) standing alone, (3) brushing Bridget off, (4) Pam Jones = Mrs. Bennet + Lydia, (5) Bridget’s relationship with her father like that of Elizabeth and Mr. Bennet, (6) Fielding’s language: throwing Bridget into Mark’s path (Mrs. Bennet uses that same language – Jane’s relationship with Bingley will throw her other daughters into the path of other rich men), (7) Mark’s public rebuke (refuses to take Bridget’s number) and Darcy’s public rebuke (won’t dance with women who’ve been slighted by other men) (8) Bridget’s response to rebuke is to tease, Elizabeth’s response is also to tease
- Key difference: Elizabeth has self-respect and self worth. That’s why Darcy’s first proposal is rejected – Darcy is a gentleman, she is a gentleman’s daughter. Bridget lacks self-respect and confidence. She doesn’t feel worthy which is why she allows Daniel to treat her the way he does.
Leslie: I feel a little like a broken record, but this is vital, so I’m going to keep saying it periodically. If you don’t have a masterwork for your current work in progress, find one right away. And if you haven’t read your masterwork multiple times and analyzed it from different angles, start doing that. Start with small steps. Analyze a scene a day to identify what’s literally happening and the essential tactic. In your next pass, choose another angle. It takes time, but it’s worth it.
Valerie: I think it’s interesting to see how many Pride and Prejudice references Helen Fielding managed to fit into this very short scene. She’s clearly signaling to the reader what kind of story she’s writing, and what kinds of things they can expect.
Join us next time when we analyze “The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe.