Different Strokes - Christmassy Archetypes
This month Holly March runs us through two archetypes to get you in the spirit for winter. Readers need their Christmas romances, even pagans like Holly need to dive into new stories with familiar characters.
While The Pink Heart Society is by no means mono-cultural, I will be using the word Christmas a lot in this article. I am a dyed-in-the-wool pagan who practices shamanic journeying and yes, I celebrate the winter solstice, but I also live in Britain, and all the best bits of Christmas are pagan anyway. Fight me! My point is, give me Ramadan books, give me Eid books, give me Diwali books! I am always open to recommendations. This article, however, is about Christmas characters.
These characters above all can be criticised with the old adage "it's been done before". Well, screw 'em! At this time of year I need these books. I need the familiar: the descriptions of hot chocolate and marshmallows, the crisp feel of cold, and the soft, muting snow. While November rain does its best to bring out depression, and my bank account is reserved wholly for others, I need to be able to open up my e-reader's Christmas Folder, lovingly organised, and read away the blues.
I’m going to go with the predominantly female character first this time. This month she is The Waif. Now, straight off the bat: she does not have to be half-starved. Maisey Yates’ Hold Me Cowboy is a perfect example of the Waif Archetype in a plus size, muscled body. She does not have to be the Little Matchstick Girl of Hans Christian Andersen’s depressing-as-all-heck story. Though this story can be adapted suitably. Dilly Court has made a career out of this archetype, for example, and my second favourite Julia Justiss novel is called From Waif to Gentleman’s Wife.
The Waif is on hard times, but she is positive and she is prepared to work hard. No crying here; she is stoic and determined. This can come off a little self-righteous so watch out for that. You don’t want her seeming patronising or overly saintly. A perfect example of the hard-working but not even slightly annoying self-sacrificer is Morgan in AC Arthur’s One Mistletoe Wish. She is saving the community centre and she is not going to let how hard she has to work get in the way of being herself. She is not downtrodden even when she is exhausted, but she has a healthy dose of chutzpah and doesn’t love all the world in that awful saccharine way the overly good appear to do.
Give the Waif a direction. Morgan’s community centre is a perfect example. Mixing the Waif with the Governess results in a focused, empathetic main character. Going back to Take Me, Cowboy, Anna has a goal: she wants a fling and has an endpoint and somehow, of course, that fling suddenly isn’t enough time and... *Purrs softly*.
So if fiscal poverty is not what your character has at their back, try them with emotional poverty. They have cut themselves off from the world (Elisabeth Hobbes’ A Wager for the Widow, which also works for Archetype 2) or been cut off by forces outside their control (Christi Caldwell’s A Marquess for Christmas). The love interest is then a saviour of a different sort, rebuilding their trust in people in general, and their access to society and friendship.
The Waif can ask for help or be reluctant, but this character is on a back foot. Whether it is investment, friendship, or chicken broth, this Archetype needs something from their other half, and they can come across as needy. But in the winter, when people are feeling emotional because of seasonal expectations, a needy main character is sometimes what the reader… Well…
Speaking of need, let’s move on to the second Archetype: The Scrooge.
Now, Scrooges don’t tend to conjure up sexiness. Except for Young Scrooge in Muppet Christmas Carol, right? Woof! Anyway…
A Scrooge can be male or female. They usually hate Christmas for deep-rooted personal reasons. In Christi Caldwell’s For Love of the Duke there’s a dead wife to contend with, and in Christmas Serendipity by Liam Livings it is the drag of modern life, an ex-boyfriend, and the aforementioned seasonal expectations. It does not have to be a big dramatic Tragic Backstory™. It can just be a sense of jaded distaste. He doesn’t have to yell ‘Bah, humbug!’ to be in severe need of some mistletoe. Maisey Yates’ A Copper Ridge Christmas features a hero who just does not want to make the effort this year, and a determined heroine who does not want him alone on his boat all season.
The Scrooge definitely needs that determined lady, one who will not give up on him despite his grumpiness, emotional distance, or freezing sangfroid, depending on the era you’re writing.
Or indeed, a brittle lady calmly explaining that this time of year is not a good one. Frequently a dead mother or oppressive father is the cause here. Christi Caldwell’s To Wed His Christmas Lady is a good example, as is—and I promised myself to branch out into different authors—Maisey Yates’ Maddy in Hold Me, Cowboy with her tight-lips, taut stress levels, and tempting cowboy-artist resists the Christmas season right up to the end.
The Scrooge is an excellent way to delve into grief, self-worth, and neglect patterns. Like Disney’s Beast, he may well smash mirrors and hide portraits of happier times away (For the Love of a Duke). She may set severe boundaries and time limits (Christmas Eve is a favourite for deadlines on flings and romances, because then their Christmas Present is breaking that silly deadline into tiny pieces). It is excellent for Enemies to Lovers too, even if the starting point is just:
“How can you not like Christmas?”
“*knuckle bite* I just… don’t…*stares off into middle distance dramatically*”
These two Archetypes have been written before but, as I said, need to be written and read again and again. Christmas books save us when we cannot quite get into the mood, and we’ve already read Hogfather or The Night Before Christmas, or whatever your tradition may be. Scrooges help us work through our own issues with the expectations of the season. Waifs give us that little push to reconnect and work on the season instead of waiting for it to happen to us.
They work brilliantly together or apart, whether in the cold aftermath of a hurried marriage to avoid scandal, or after a hot one night stand in the pub. Our hope returns with them, so please, do not stop writing them.
It’s not the story, it’s how it’s told.
Holly March likes Happy Ever After The Characters Have Suffered A Bit. She writes romantic fantasy and you can find out more about her writing and worldbuilding podcast From the World Up on her website. She can also be followed on twitter (@marcherwitch).
What are your favourite holiday reads? What gets you in the mood for coping with the influx of family? Please tell us in the comments below or on social media with the hashtag: #differentstrokesxmas .