Different Strokes. Or ARE they?
Whether we recognize them or not, we all have our favorite archetypes. Holly March talks about two of the best known: Brooding Dukes and the Pamela.
Archetypes are wonderful things. The popularity of Overwatch shows us just how effective playing to these archetypes are in capturing the imagination and affection of gamers, readers, and viewers. They draw readers back to favourite authors, or send them scurrying through libraries, bookshops and e-stores in search of anyone who writes That Guy, or That Girl, or That Couple.
To start with a classic, let’s go with The Brooding Duke.
Now, he does not have to be that most illustrious of nobles. In fact, an excellent example of the Brooding Duke is universally worshipped Mr Darcy. I have read him as a corporate soliciter, an architect, and several ranch owners. He is rich, he is arrogant, he is sharp-tongued, and he is, of course, deeply shy and terrified of not pleasing underneath it all. He is a man of power, who has drawn away from the friendship and influence of others.
He just needs The Right Woman ™ to make him realise how much of the world he is missing.
The Brooding Duke is such a classic figure that authors like Christi Caldwell have successfully parodied the concept without diminishing him in books like In Need of a Duke or Once a Wallflower, at Last His Love. Georgette Heyer, whose books are second only to Austen in influencing modern regency romance, wrote a slew of 'odious' and arrogant men of influence.
Underneath the strong jaw, the autocratic attitude, and the imposing wealth, the Duke is lonely. He needs someone to fill the void and take him down a peg or two. The Duke may never be entirely comfortable with everyone, but he learns to bend, to compromise, and to gentle himself.
Often with a cold set of parents, or their early deaths and assumption of their manor/money/private army, the Duke’s childhood was not easy. Toadying, shyness coming across as aloofness, the heavy burden of responsibility making fun and shenanigans difficult, all these factors can be used to explain the Duke’s distance.
What is harder to explain is that the Duke frequently has a long list of exes. Often very recent, and very jealous exes, who want to stop the other protagonist getting close. Since the exes don't trust human interaction, the Duke has come to assume all lovers will leave eventually and are easily replaced. His future Happy-Ever-After has to accept that with great sex comes great… big lists of ex lovers.
And the Duke is always good in bed. (We must presume with Jane Austen et al, but come on, come on, *winks* come on!)
He is experienced, and in the bedroom his strong will is seen to advantage. Not above edging his beloved, the Duke has to control every aspect of his life. The fall from grace that follows is often utterly delicious. A strong man surrendering control and learning to enjoy sex as more than a competitive sport is a gorgeous thing to read, no matter how often it is written.
His body is not the only battle we love to read. The main focus of any Brooding Duke novel has to be his acceptance of another human being into his life and into his heart. He has been cut off so long, the poor darling struggles with this. Frequently he will push his beloved away, and then we get chapters of glorious, chest aching angst, while his pride battles his need.
To write a Brooding Duke it is necessary to have some understanding of PTSD, and if it helps, Aspergers Syndrome. Both can be very useful in mapping the actions of your Duke so he does not become a door-slamming, cruel man who does not deserve his redemption. To understand the near sociopathic tendencies of someone who has been isolated for much of their life, Asbergers especially can help as an example of behavioural tics.
Used to getting his way all of his life, to controlling every aspect of it, having someone disrupt that routine can throw him totally off guard and out of his comfort zone. The smallest thing, like new curtains or cushions where manly leather chair used to sit as testament to his power in his home, can set a person like that off. Not into fury, but into complete confusion.
If his parents were cruel, understanding that PTSD is more than flinching at loud noises is absolutely necessary. I recommend reading The Love of a Rogue by Christi Caldwell, Unravelled by Courtney Milan, and anything by Rachel Thompson, especially her Broken Pieces essays. PTSD, for example, is completely different to depression, and rewires the neurological pathways of the brain. It cannot be cured with kisses. It cannot be overturned. Just as the Brooding Duke adapts to his love, so his love must learn to understand why he is the way he is.
Written well, the Brooding Duke can be utterly glorious. Beware, however, of the Byronic Hero creeping into your portrayal. Too much sneering and he starts to feel dismissive and abusive. Too much slamming around and he appears dangerous. The Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast can get away with his rage because of the sorrow shown afterwards, the instant regret and self-loathing, but it is a tightrope to walk. Never let him touch her in anger, or even break something close to her unless he is going to immediately grovel in apology.
If the #MeToo movement has taught us anything, it must be to realise how many people have been abused. People read romances for the Happy Ever After, not to be triggered into their past when they were trying to escape from themselves for a short while.
The Archetypes of female characters in romance are far more disparate across genres, so I will be far more general in this example.
This Archetype is Pamela.
Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded was written by Sam Richardson and was first published in 1740. It is, with modern feminist eyes, extremely difficult to read. The Archetype, however, lives on, and has been given a hearty dose of Chutzpah.
Pamela is a servant who marries her lord, after refusing to sleep with him for a while, and being just so very good and sweet and gentle. The servant to wife character (and it is almost entirely this way around, but please, do let me know if you know of any gender swaps that do not stray into Lady Chatterly territory) is an excellent example of the way Archetypes evolve.
Pamela might have been sweet and gentle, however adamant her refusal, but she is outdone these days by women who get to have sex too, even if it means leaving with her head held high before my preferred ending of, Grovelling Man on his Knees Admits He Was an Idiot.
In The Leopard King by Ann Aguirre, the Pamela Archetype is perfectly rendered in the opening chapters, with her attaining marriage quickly so that she can then rise to be an equal leader alongside her mate. She is caring, tending, vulnerable, and beholden, but then rises like a savage phoenix in the second half. This can be a good way to use an Archetype, adapting it for your own use and to fit your book, rather than picking the type and trying to build a story around her. It also works for a modern reader, who might struggle to read an entire book about scrubbing potatoes.
Take The Governess, as an example. She is seen in a nurturing, feminine role beset by social mores and standards. It is bad enough that she is in contact with a single man with smouldering good looks and usually a Reputation, but she is usually these days possessed of feistiness and inner strength. She is a teacher, perhaps as in Christi Caldwell's application, armed with Mary Wollstonecraft’s attitudes on female education. She has responsibilities and will ensure that her affection and desire do not get in the way. Even when they do. This version of the Archetype is intelligent, and strong-willed enough to have taken the step to be a teacher. She is best paired with Brooding Dukes, Wounded Commanders, or Sad Clowns.
Maisey Yates has done sterling work with women forced to act as housekeepers to rich ranchers or businessmen in her Oregon-set Copper Ridge series. It ensures close contact, and affected domesticity, and makes the menfolk start to think not only of hot sex on the dining room table, but also of how nice having a wife would be.
The Pamela is an excellent candidate for racier sex too, as she is in a naturally subservient position
as an employee. This can lead to wonderful angst and guilt on behalf of the hero, who has 'taken advantage', even when he hasn’t, but also for the heroine, who feels she has lost her dignity. It can be an opportunity to dabble with, or dive into, a BDSM relationship. The master and his willing slave, or a more flinky (mixture of fluffy and kinky) level of trust play, stockings, and light restraints.
Obviously, writing anything with this sort of relationship requires understanding of the levels of trust and predetermined rules needed in a true BDSM relationship. Despite outside opinion, BDSM relationships are not the same as abusive ones. The Dominant party always knows where the limits of their Submissive are, and will not push past them. That is why the relationship requires so much trust.
And the Pamela needs trust too. She is often at the financial mercy of her future other half, and the perception of society in any day and age is negative when she is seen to make the transition from paid employee to mistress, girlfriend or wife. The isolation from anyone outside the relationship can be a daily grind, and gossip has never been killed. No matter how hard we try. This can lead either to a clinging terror of losing the one person they depend upon, or to distancing out of fear of eventually being rejected and being alone.
The Pamela will frequently run away.
Everything becomes too much, and in modern-written novels, she realises that she needs to be her own mistress, her own self. She needs space to realise that the relationship is a part of her, not the whole of her identity, and that it is worth the loss of independence to be with her erstwhile employer.
And screw the gossips!
During the separation, it is always nice to have the former master driven demented with loneliness and despair. Mwah! Mwah! Delicious!
The dangers of the Pamela lie largely within the need we all have to be feminists in our writing. She must be her own woman, her own character, and the Pamela can skate dangerously close to Mary Sue territory. She paints! She sings! She speaks eighteen languages! Oh she’s clumsy and so bad at chores because she was not Born to This, but she’s so very perfect in every other way. Remember that she must have flaws, we all do, and they make us relate-able, interesting, and human. Julia Quinn is a master at this!
The best advice for research I can give in this case is to know what it's like to do the work your character does. If she is a governess, at the least do a wiki search on the different topics and how they were taught in the 18th to 19th Centuries. If she is a groom, you had better know how blisters feel. If she is going to cook, you need to know either how to do it, or how to muck it up and cause a fire. The actions are part of the character, especially when watched by the love interest. Therefore, they have to be accurate or you will lose any reader who has enough experience to know that you don’t just shove all the milk into the roux at once.
And just for me, stick an epilogue at the end with the hero doing the cooking for her!
Holly March loves happy endings, where the hero and heroine ride off into a metaphorical sunset after a suitable period of angst and suffering. You can find her on her website, or catch up with her on Twitter.