Tag Archives: Psychology

Romance Readers and Authors Can Increase Their Love IQ with Mating Intelligence Unleashed from Oxford University Press

30 Oct

When you read romance, you’re an armchair psychologist. “Oh, he’s got some commitment issues here” or “She’s still experiencing that inadequacy and body image baggage from before she lost the weight” are comments that run through most readers’ heads as we pick up the hints and character shadowing the writer has so carefully placed for us, like a trail of breadcrumbs leading us through the emotional forest of the story. Like all fiction readers, romance enthusiasts are damn smart – let’s face it, are you going to try to masquerade as your twin or not communicate after a misunderstanding? Nuh-uh, because you’ve seen how great that goes over in a relationship in the books you’ve read. We learn through reading.

Romance authors should have a fictional therapy license bestowed upon them, as their job involves metaphorically putting that character on a couch and listening to their deepest fears. Of course, their role is a more challenging one as the writer takes that understanding and translates it into visible action which hints at the mental makeup of our hero or heroine.

Thought I was joking, didn’t you?

But I’ve begun to worry that the creation of characters has grown to be based on secondary or tertiary sources (other romance works or stereotypes) rather than primary material (the personal experience of writers or actual psychological research). This makes a lot of romance reading derivative, like that moment when you say, “Yes, he’s a billionaire playboy doctor with mommy issues” and know every move said hero is going to make because, hey, you’ve not only seen it before, you’ve read it before, and so has the author writing the story. *bored glance to the left*

One of the areas that is super tricky for romance writers is the ephemeral moment of attraction or, even more complicated, when one of the characters decides that this person is IT with the writing solidifying the hero or heroine’s holy-cow-I-can’t-get-enough-of-this-person feeling. What really attracts two people to get them to that point? Enter a fantastic source for romance writers and readers everywhere, Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love by Glenn Geher and Scott Barry Kaufman. Both authors have Ph.D.s, Kaufman in cognitive psychology and Geher in social psychology (with a speciality in evolutionary psychology) and fortunately for us, both men are highly entertaining and thorough writers.

The book, published by Oxford University Press in January of this year, reads as a literature review of all the major research done recently on why people are attracted to one another, with the focus on what evolutionary advantage it offers us to be attracted to certain people. (Naturally this means that the research is heterosexual in nature – I really wanted to read about same sex attraction, but that wasn’t the focus of the book.) This in turn, offers an amazing insight into some key features of the process of mate-choice, insights so illuminating it made my mind reel with possibilities from a romance writing perspective. [Please note, I used both the paper version and the Kindle version of the book, so the references are sometimes the traditional page number or the Kindle location. Sorry that they vacillate!]

As Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University puts it in the forward, “We are witnessing the true fusion of biology and culture, of psychology and brain architecture, of personality, neurochemistry, genetics and evolution, of brain and mind.” (Kindle edition, Loc 45 of 5908) What better basis than to take the science of attraction and overlay with the thoughts and actions that make up a character? It would lend an authenticity often lacking when a couple goes from hot glances to tangoing between the sheets with minimum preliminaries.

couple-168191_640Geher and Kaufman have their own reasons for pursuing the topic (I’m sure they weren’t thinking about romance readers and writers), namely that human mating is undeniably important (duh) and that “mating success” is the biggest predictor for life satisfaction and happiness – more than your education, how much money you make or your occupational status. Keep in mind that they mean “mating” in the purest sense – all life has one purpose and that is to reproduce and have a genetic line (yours) continue, whether you are a bacteria, an orchid, or a stockbroker. Even in a modern age where many people choose to not have children, our partner choices still are driven by our biology, even when we don’t realize it. While I could easily do ten blog posts on all the awesome research, here are some of the highlights.

“I Just Knew It When I Saw Him/Her”

Famous celebrities often possess all the traits listed as attractive, for example Elizabeth Taylor in her stunning heyday.

Famous celebrities often possess all the traits listed as attractive, for example Elizabeth Taylor in her stunning heyday.

Physical attraction is based on a few key factors, with strong physical predictors for men and women regarding what body and facial types characterize the most desirable mates, and these traits supercede dominant cultural expectations, crossing racial lines into universal ideals of beauty. For women, full lips, large eyes, thick hair and smooth skin are all elements  men choose as being “beautiful” and highly attractive. When choosing the future mother of your offspring, these factors give you clear indication of where the woman is in her crucial reproductive years as these are the physical factors which degrade over time, giving a window into whether the woman is nearing the end or passed her prime reproductive capacity. Keep in mind that when presented with pictures of the same woman at various points in her menstrual cycle, men are able to pick out – with astonishing accuracy, I might add – when women are ovulating since that is when they seem most attractive to them. They are simply picking the image that shows that woman at her most appealing, but biology is sending men a message that this moment means “get your sperm in this woman ASAP.” How’s that for the basis of your key sex scene ending in a baby epilogue?

Brad Pitt - Cad or Dad?

Brad Pitt – Cad or Dad?

Men have even more pressure physically since their anatomy must not only transmit how virile they are, but also audition them for role of protector (and keep in mind that an astonishing number of children of long-term relationships would not pass a paternity test – women often choose different men for the impregnating versus the person who financially and physically supports your offspring). Men who rock the short-term dating scene (see your romance shelf for books starring the reformed rake or modern manwhore) are tall, extremely masculine in appearance (chiseled jaw indicating testosterone up the wahzoo), facially attractive and socially dominant. For men who would like to go beyond the one night stand, they need to demonstrate kindness, warmth and loving – what the authors call going from cad features to dad features in order to convince a woman her children will be well cared for.

Other physical elements include one that romance readers will be VERY familiar with – that moment where the smell and taste of the other person is so drugging that all good sense is lost and it’s all about getting down to business. But there is serious biology at play in this moment, as we can actually smell and taste the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) of one another. MHC is important because biology has set us up so we are not attracted to people whose genes, when combined with ours, would not produce strong offspring. You think I’m joking? A famous study took college men, analyzed their MHC and had them sleep in the same t-shirt for multiple days in a row, sealing the shirt in a plastic bag and sending it to the lab. Scientists then recruited college women after checking their MHC, and asked them to smell each t-shirt, rating the smell of the shirt to determine which ones they thought smelled the best. To the letter, each woman rated the t-shirt which had been worn by the man most genetically compatible with her as smelling the most desirable and the shirts they labeled least desirable were the ones where the genes of the man were too close to her own (offering no genetic advantage if mixed). In addition to scent, we can also taste MHC compatibility in the process of kissing or even tasting a person’s skin, so close contact is vital to determining good mate selection. See my post on the Science of Kissing for more information on this fascinating quirk.

Cave paintings...possibly the earliest form of "come up and see my etchings" in the mating world.

Cave paintings…possibly the earliest form of “come up and see my etchings” in the mating world.

Yet it’s not just looks (obviously) that determines attraction. Traits such as intelligence (people are more likely to be attracted to a mate of similar IQ) and creativity are extremely important in mate selection. Geher and Kaufman present the scientific hypothesis that many of the arts were developed by our ancestors to not just express ideas but to…wait for it…attract a mate. Missing out on that shoulder to hip ratio, Cro-Magnon man? How about delivering the old “come back to my furs and I’ll show you my cave paintings” line? It probably worked. This explanation of creativity as a mating lure could explain the magnetic pull of various rock stars and artists who are not the slightest bit physically attractive, yet inspire the lingerie sections of entire department stores to be thrown in their direction. (Mick Jagger or Keith Richards anyone? It’s a scientific fact that creative people, even the average ones, have more sex partners, although this seems to apply to mostly men.) You want to pass those creative genes onto your offspring, although probably not the lips or susceptibility to addiction.

Which also brings into play the concept of emotional or social intelligence. “Mating clearly includes socially relevant tasks such as acquiring and keeping a mate, and it inevitably involves a degree of social interactions and navigation. Not only must an individual possess the ability to read another’s thoughts and feelings, but this individual must also possess proficiency in interpreting complex social stimuli.” (Kindle edition, Loc 402 of 5908) A mate candidate who has this type of ability is one demonstrating their openness to experience, their agreeableness, social competence, the quality of their relationships as well as how well they can control their emotions to suit their mate’s needs and a social situation. The types of courtship displays which transmit this ideal are usually related to music, art, poetry, acts of extroversion or visible kindness.

Humor seems so simple - woman want a man who makes them laugh and men want a woman who thinks they are funny.

Humor seems so simple – woman want a man who makes them laugh and men want a woman who thinks they are funny.

My favorite area of research is the one relating to humor. Both men and women indicate this is important to them, but when someone lists “good sense of humor” on Match.com, they mean very different things by gender. “Women tend to prefer men who make them laugh, whereas men tend to prefer women who laugh at their jokes.” (Kindle edition, Loc 677 of 5908) But what does humor indicate in a mating context? Once again, it’s about an individual’s ability to function in society (which helps your offspring). In addition to indicating a person’s playfulness and their creativity, humor also demonstrates a person’s emotional IQ (Did you ever date someone who was a lame joke teller? They clearly couldn’t read the room which made you think about how they weren’t going to read you too well either). Humor transmits feelings of interpersonal warmth and someone laughing at your jokes is one of the early indicators of sexual interest. Interestingly enough, the research suggests that if a person happens to be of high social status (see previously mentioned billionaire playboy doctor) he or she should probably adopt self-deprecating forms of humor in the mating marketplace as this is what makes him or her approachable to potential short-term or long-term mates.

Abandonment Issues

The presence of caring parents is of vital importance when it comes to adults being able to forming long-term, loving attachments.

The presence of caring parents is of vital importance when it comes to adults being able to form long-term, loving attachments.

If I had a dollar for every time a romance hero or heroine had been abandoned by a parent, had emotionally detached family members or was a foster child, I wouldn’t have to work my day job and could just stay home and write. While so many of the characters we love and admire have made the best of crappy life situations and showed their inner steel, in actuality this is a major uphill climb. For men, a father figure bowing out of the picture early gives a tendency for increased delinquency and aggression for boys, and even accelerates the onset of puberty for both sexes. (Loc 115 of 5908) While boys are more likely to manifest increased aggression and delinquency, girls demonstrate greater levels of manipulative attitudes, more risk-taking behavior including sexual promiscuity, as well as a lower attachment to romantic partners and offspring.

Loving, Conscientiously

Attracting a person, as we can see, is all about putting your best face forward and while that clearly has a physical connotation, it also includes personality traits that prove you are a good bet in the mating game. Gehrer and Kaufman cover the research regarding combinations of traits that are particularly influential in attracting mates. Some are tagged “meta-traits” because they combine personality factors, for example, stability, which is defined as “a blend of emotional stability (low neuroticism), conscientiousness, and agreeableness…Those who score high in stability have a need to maintain a sense of order in their lives.” (Kindle edition, Loc 1177 of 5908) The second meta-trait is termed plasticity and is a blend of extraversion and openness to experience.

Not only do people want both stability and plasticity in a mate but “they also tend to seek mates who are somewhat higher than themselves in terms of their own perceived mate value in levels of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability. People apparently want to feel as though they ‘acquired’ a partner of higher quality than themselves.” (Kindle edition, Loc 1199 of 5908) I’m thinking here of all the romance novels where each partner brings out something in the other which was underdeveloped or hesitant, helping that person become a healthier, more engaged person making positive decisions. Stability and plasticity at play, people.

Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Love

Keep in mind these traits also are directly correlated to actual love. Psychologist Robert Sternberg has actually developed a triarchic theory of love (don’t confuse it with a love triangle), demonstrating how different components produce various types of love. Prepare to be blown away:

Intimacy alone is “liking,” passion alone is “infatuation,” and commitment alone is “empty” love. Intimacy and passion combine to form romantic love, intimacy and commitment combine to form compassionate love, passion and commitment combine to form fatuous love, and if you can combine all three components, you get consummate love. (Kindle edition, Loc 1291 of 5908, emphasis added)

This fascinating theory reads like a litany of past relationships for either party in a romance novel, complete with lessons learned and the mistakes they don’t want to make again. How about the reunion trope which usually involves two people who had some form of romantic love (passion and intimacy) but lacked the commitment to make it the consummate ideal. Clearly the goal of the romance reader (and the writer) is to see the hero and heroine achieve consummate love which is going to sustain them in forming a successful mating partnership.

Crafting Your Villain: Using Narcissism

The myth of Narcissus, the boy who fell in love with his own reflection, forms the origins of the disorder narcissism.

We all know narcissists, those extraverted people who seem like they love the social scene, but in actuality these people have a high level of self-focus, self-importance and a sense of entitlement, always seeking to surround themselves with people who cater to their ego and avoiding anyone who might want to tell them the truth about themselves. (pp. 158-159) Narcissists suck at long-term relationships (the only one they want is with themselves) and fail at intimacy in general as their goal is always dominance, yet they inherently lack the self-control necessary for real success. While adolescents are naturally narcissistic (that feeling you had walking through the lunchroom when you were certain everyone was looking at you), it’s a stage we all grow out of. Well, not all of us.

There are different types of narcissists – check this list for the types that you have met:

  • leadership/authority – enjoys being a leader and being seen as an authority. Woe betide someone who challenges them or criticizes their work. You see these individuals not just in business but in classroom and coaching positions, as well as in doctor’s offices (and I’m not talking about the receptionist).
  • self-absorption/self-admiration –  focus strongly on their appearance and others’ perception of said appearance. Think of the date who spent her time admiring her reflection in a spoon rather than looking into your eyes, or the guy who spent more time looking at himself in the rear view mirror than making conversation.
  • superiority/arrogance – overestimate their own abilities. In adolescents this is very common, and I see teenagers all the time who have bought into their parent’s belief in how utterly special they are – hook, line and sinker. They usually are special but not because of the reason they think. This is the person who repeatedly says, “I’m really great at ________” but all evidence points to the contrary. They also have the gall to be super puffed up and arrogant about it. Barely okay in a 10 year old, and completely unacceptable in a 30 year old.
  • exploitativeness/entititlement – enjoys manipulating and exploiting others and expects favors from other people. My guess is that there are a lot of these people in politics (Lyndon B. Johnson fulfilled several of the narcissist criteria) but you can find them everywhere, sadly. From a mean girl clique to the White House, this brand of narcissist is around every corner.

I bet your blood pressure went up reading that list, because we all have known narcissists, but would it interest you realize that as a group they are more successful, at least initially in the mating game? Narcissism and attractiveness tend to go together and narcissists exhibit adaptive traits which offer success in the short-term mating game. If you want to spread your genetic material around quickly (leaving someone else holding the bag, or rather the baby), being a narcissist was probably a great evolutionary development. Narcissists are seen as being more attractive (they spend more time on their appearance), move with confidence, and are seen as being cheerful and outgoing. (p. 160)

But longer-term acquaintance has the scales falling from people’s eyes. Narcissists are sexually coercive, experiencing more fantasies about coercion and sadism and engaging in behaviors which support manipulation and power over the other person. Since their goal is to maintain power in any relationship, this can take the form of conversational narcissism (where they focus the topic always on themselves, use exaggerated hand gestures, a loud voice and express disinterest when others speak) or sexual narcissism when they are not focused on anyone’s gratification but their own (and BTW, there are more male narcissists than female ones – ladies, I know you are not surprised).

Promiscuity is the strategy that allows these people to maintain their hold on control since it enables them to feel like they have the most power by being the least committed (the other person needs to earn their loyalty). The more their partner is committed, the more likely a narcissist is to cheat since they believe they are more likely to get away with it. They get a rush out of high-risk behavior like cheating or in convincing their partners to perform behaviors out of their comfort zone. This entitlement has the flip side of narcissists becoming aggressive when sexually rejected, wanting to punish the person who denied them what they felt was their right. (p. 165)

Niccolo Machiavelli was so successful at manipulating princes and kings that he wrote a Renaissance best-seller, The Prince, which has become a foundational text for politicians.

There are some related disorders that romance villains seem prone to – Machiavellianism is the psychological trait of manipulating people (which involves a certain level of Emotional IQ) a quality that can be used for good, but often isn’t and psychopathy, which involves being callous or insensitive (wow, I think I just described several Harlequin Presents heroes!). The combination of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy is known in psychology as the Dark Triad. These traits are applied to individuals who will stop at nothing to manipulate others for their own gain and there is even a twelve-point assessment to determine where your villain/narcissist lands within them.

Arrogant Alpha or Laid-back Beta?

Both the alpha and the beta have something going for them (as paranormal romance writers and readers everywhere are well aware).

In the world of romance novels, we are far more likely to see the dominant alpha male than the supportive beta, but that beta is showing up more and more. The problem? Women seem to think of the beta as a “nice guy” and any chess player can tell you that particular label is the kiss of death. If the alpha qualities of dominance, pride, and ambition – maybe combined with a hesitancy if not an antipathy to being tied down – are crack cocaine to women, are we just attracted to the bad boy to our detriment? Or is there actual science at work here?

When surveyed, women clearly indicate that they want a “nice guy,” but as Geher and Kaufman state, “…when it comes right down to it, women choose the bad boy.” (author emphasis, p. 179) A main source of confusion seems to stem from early psychology studies which clearly interpreted non-dominant men as exhibiting truly submissive behavior, characteristics which naturally women did not find to be sexually attractive in a potential mate. More recent studies have narrowed women’s specific interest to men who fit the following description.

..it seems like the ideal man (for a date or romantic partner) is one who is assertive, confident, easygoing, and sensitive, without being aggressive, demanding, dominant, quiet, shy, or submissive…[other researchers] found across three studies that it wasn’t dominance alone, but rather the interaction of dominance and prosocial behaviors, that women reported were particularly sexually attractive. In other words, dominance only increased sexual attraction when the person was already high in agreeableness and altruism. (p. 182)

What emerges then, is that women don’t like assholes but do want men to be strong and confident, although men who practice dominance toward other men with over-the-top competition or physical force are quickly placed in the “jerk” category. Kindness and assertiveness are not exclusive traits; women feel both traits not only exist in the ideal man, but they are considered the sexiest attractant for both short-term and long-term affairs. Because these traits are heavily associated with prestigious, or high status, males, it’s not just their celebrity status that women find appealing. (p. 183)

Pretty close to the mark, actually, but not always.

If this is the reality then, that kind but assertive males have truckloads of women after them, why does the “nice guy” get such a bad rap? Geher and Kaufman conjecture that it’s because when women slap the label of celibacy on a man’s forehead “NICE GUY” in actuality “they mean overly nice guys.” (p. 184) This moniker speaks more about what the woman feels rather than says something about the guy. Women of high self-esteem and maturity are less negatively affected by incredibly generous behavior but less secure women don’t like how overly nice men make them feel – like they are a bad person but not being as altruistic or that they are unworthy of attention from such a giving man. But people in general don’t like over-the-top nice people – research supports that study participants looked with disfavor on individuals who were extremely competent, who offered too much help, or who adhered to a moral position strongly. (p. 184) Hey, goody-two-shoes, the angels want their loafers back.

But truly nice guys can finish last (and, ahem, often do, as the above generous traits of nice guys have women reporting more orgasms with them, and that they are more likely to perform oral sex on their partner – tuck that away for pondering, ladies). (p. 191) Bad boy traits may be fine for short-term relationships but women in it for the long haul are looking for good genes (men who are assertive, funny and physically attractive) and who demonstrate good parenting potential (kind and considerate). Clearly having both sets makes you a catch, but in studies, when a handsome asshole goes toe to toe with a homely nice guy, the nice guy always wins. (p. 187) Go beta!

So What Does All This Research Mean for Romance Fiction?

Naturally, this is the question I immediately asked myself on finishing the book. While entertained by the authors’ excellent writing and comprehensive approach to the evolutionary psychology of mating, I think they succeeded in blowing a few well-done (perhaps over-done) tropes out of the water.

Exactly. Love can only do so much and after that, it’s called therapy.

The first is that I’m calling for the death of the manwhore. A man who truly loves women and goes from woman to woman with intent and friendship (with hot sexy benefits) does not incur my ire, but all too often we get cold alpha heroes who use women like Kleenex and it’s explained away that “they knew the score.” I’m not sure a one-night stand where you barely can recall the person’s face and name actually says anything positive about a hero, who may very well not deserve that label until he can prove his worth. Consider that his inability or choice not to commit is often credited to a particular psychological trauma – his abandonment by a parent(s), a damaging first love, or his whole platoon blowing up in front of him and he’s working through the survivor’s guilt – and we have a recipe for our hero needing therapy, not a just a heroine who has what romance calls “the magic vagina” that cures all ills. Let’s not give the manwhore a pass without acknowledging his emotional damage and demonstrating that it takes more than the insta-lust and the love of a good woman to heal him. I’m just not a believer.

Villains might be able to have great dimension if the idea of the narcissist (or better yet, the Dark Triad) come into effect. There are numerous books on narcissism (and specifically narcissistic men) that have story after story to help flesh out what this personality disorder looks like in the context of women who have had relationships, either family or romantic ones, with a narcissist. When I read so many antagonists who are practically cardboard cutouts, I say, give the villain a backstory! Understanding his or her psychology is a big piece of writing that character well and infusing your story with conflict that will make the HEA that much more satisfying.

The Witness by Nora Roberts (Berkley, April 2012) – A great beta is just as sexy as any alpha.

Lastly, let’s bring back the beta. A great example of a book using a beta as hero is Nora Roberts’ The Witness. My mother and I not only adored this book, but had an entire conversation about how the small town police chief, Brooks Gleason, was certainly decisive and strong, but how his demeanor of a laid-back, easy going guy bent on protecting his town from any threats was very beta, and it was such a breath of fresh air. Let’s occasionally tone down the testosterone and demonstrate that some men can be the nice guy most of the time, and still show their dominance when they need it (and only then).

But more than anything else, I would ask that romance readers and writers be smart. We each have our own experiences upon which to draw in the world of sexual attraction but let’s not turn away or ignore what science can give us in insight into the dance that is the journey to a happily ever after. Glenn Geher and Scott Barry Kaufman have given us an outstanding resource in Mating Intelligence Unleashed, and we would all do well to use their efforts for good!

Happy reading!! 🙂

Ladykillers, Seducers and Manwhores: Re-envisioning the Promiscuous Male via Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them by Betsy Prioleau

17 Aug

Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them by Betsy Prioleau (W. W. Norton & Co, February 4, 2013)

I’ve been remiss in not doing any nonfiction reviews for a while, and that’s a shame since I think there are a lot of materials out there which can inform romance readers and writers. One of the best books in this category that I’ve read in a while is Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them by Betsy Prioleau.

Prioleau, who has a Ph.D. from Duke University in American Literature and is a tenured professor at Manhattan College, wrote Swoon while a Scholar-in-Residence at NYU and her total immersion into this project is apparent. Using modern psychological research, biographies and interviews of actual renowned seducers, and examples from modern romance novels to illustrate what women actually want, Prioleau elucidates the features that the majority of these men possess which keep women enthralled. The romance reader will find many common themes in terms of the personality traits of their favorite heroes, but the romance writer can mine numerous ideas from the data and the examples she offers.

The Elements of Seduction, or Anatomy of a Seducer

Not exactly what you think you’d run to, ladies, am I right? Yet rock star Rod Stewart never had a problem getting women even prior to his immense success, despite his physical appearance resembling a legally blind electrician (which would explain the hair and the poor clothing choices).

Perhaps the most interesting point when analyzing men considered prime seducers throughout history is that appearance has absolutely nothing to do with it. Prioleau’s book is filled with snaggle-toothed, short, bald, paunchy examples of men who had women literally stowing themselves into closets and brandishing pistols at rival lovers. The men in question obviously had qualities that made them irresistible and, before you scoff, think about a modern man who – based on appearance – wouldn’t normally get the time of day. Mick Jagger or Rod Stewart anyone? Neither of them are tops in the looks department but there are other qualities (besides being uber-rich rock stars) that give them that panty-tossing quality.

While ladykillers don’t necessarily have all these qualities, they usually possess the majority of them and romance readers and writers will readily identify these common personality themes.

Cary Grant’s romantic character of cat burglar John Robie in the film To Catch a Thief demonstrates the “honor among thieves” morality necessary for the seducer.

Morality – Even a bad boy has some kind of code that he lives by, even if it’s an “honor among thieves” system he uses to model his behavior. When examining the behavior of Prioleau’s seducers, I didn’t pick out any one of them who wasn’t upfront about his love of and need for women, with several of them actually going the route of serial monogamy rather than the bedhopping associated with a true playboy or manwhore.

Another side of the morality coin is the display of kindness or benevolence. The proverb “No love without goodness” seems to readily apply here. Followers of this blog know of my love for the Regency series by Stephanie Laurens, the Cynster series, and my fellow fans will remember the book that was the prequel to the series, The Promise in a Kiss, which chronicled the love story of Sebastian Cynster, the Duke of St. Ives and thirty-something rakehell, who nevertheless possesses a network of secret female admirers, not because he bedded them, but because he helped them with either personal or charitable concerns with complete anonymity and discretion.

Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice might be stuffy and stuck-up initially, but Elizabeth Bennet doesn’t really doubt his decency. The turning point in her heart comes not from seeing the grounds of Pemberley, but hearing his housekeeper sincerely extol his virtues as a person and as a master. From a psychological standpoint, our desire for this expression of morality isn’t shocking; picking a potential mate should involve someone we think we can trust. Determining the nature of our partner’s character is clearly an extension of the desire to choose a man we can rely upon.

Casanova so won the loyalty of the women with whom he had affairs that he had medical care and comforts lavished him on his deathbed by past lovers who heard of his plight.

Courage – Prioleau cites the recent study indicating that women actually value bravery more than kindness in men. This could take a traditional expression in the fictional romance heroes who have jobs requiring this quality (like firefighters or military heroes) but it can also simply refer to a man’s ability to put himself out there and take risks while being uncertain of the reward.

In Swoon, readers are treated to several examples of men who were fearless in their pursuit of a certain women, to the point of what might be alarming to a modern woman. Renowned lover Giacomo Casanova (who actually was a serial monogamist who loved women rather the manwhore his name has become synonymous with) escaped jail, uncovered a woman disguised as a man, and seduced women from right under their husband’s noses. Women reciprocated by falling head over heels with such a bold man. Like Casanova, a man who would run across traffic to meet a woman who caught his eye, risking not only life and limb but possible rejection, is a potential mate who will brave enough to get anything a woman or her offspring might require.

French actor, the award-winning Gerard Depardieu, whose raw sexuality and charisma has women of all nationalities flocking to him. And yes, this was one of the best pictures I could find of him, so this charisma thing is damn serious.

Charisma – This point was one that had a whole section of the book devoted to it, and it’s really the essence of the whole cachet of the seducer, isn’t it? I’ve seen absolutely beautiful men who really don’t earn a second look because they are missing several of the qualities in this list, yet a man who is a beanpole with coke-bottle glasses and unbrushed hair can get every woman (and some of the men) in a room to sit up and take notice.

It’s charisma, that “compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others” which seems to ooze out of the pores and scent the air of certain men. Case in point, French actor Gerard Depardieu who on looks alone could easily play a live version of Shrek with his almost ogre-like physique and facial features. Yet Depardieu has been in public relationships with six renowned beauties, fathering children with four of them. He has made no bones about having dozens more in his bed, crediting two prostitutes from his rough neighborhood who became his sexual tutors and taught him how to bring pleasure to women. Sitting in on an acting class with a friend in Paris literally turned his life around, as he brought all that raw energy to play in his career and in his love life.

Seducer actor Richard Burton and the woman he loved so much he married her twice, the stunning Elizabeth Taylor.

Knowledge/Intelligence – Real sparks can’t fly when someone doesn’t have a lot of “there” there, so intelligence, even if it is confined to one or two hobbies or passions, seems to be a must. If a guy has never cracked a book but knows engines inside and out, there’s a partner out there who is going to be enraptured because his interests match hers. An offshoot of this quality is that a true seducer plies his arts through conversation, which is clinically shown in studies to be a way to prime a woman’s pleasure receptors. Talking can literally be foreplay to women!

With that in mind, the timbre of a man’s voice also offers it’s own erogenous capability. Elizabeth Taylor, in speaking glowingly about Richard Burton, a man she was so in love with she married him twice despite their tempestuous, alcohol-ridden relationship, said that one of the sexiest things Burton would do to her would be to whisper – in that low, Welsh voice – erotic lines of love poetry as he worshipped her body. *fans self* Check, please!

Twice-married David Niven was a chronic womanizer who genuinely loved women, so much so that they found it easy to forgive his indiscretions when confronted with the full force of his personality.

Social IQ aka “erotic intelligence” – While actual intelligence is vital for true seduction, emotional intelligence cannot be overstated. This social dexterity gifts its Mensa followers with the ability to read people and adjust tactics accordingly to get what they want. As Prioleau states, “…we owe civilized behavior today to women’s preference throughout history for interpersonal finesse – empathy, rapport, and good manners – over brute physical prowess.” (p. 79) Whether it’s the “fine divination” expressed by early 20th century sexologist (and Margaret Sanger’s lover) Havelock Ellis, or the “eighth sense” possessed by actor Warren Beatty according to his lovers, real seducers have the ability to say exactly what is needed at a given moment in order to demonstrate they are in sync with the person in front of them.

Actor David Niven was purportedly a maestro at this. His ability to read people and respond accordingly not only opened numerous career doors for him, but had dozens of women enthusiastically pulling back the bedsheets. Arriving in Hollywood in the mid-thirties, his conquests included Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, and Grace Kelly and he remained good friends with them throughout their lives, even through their various marriages. He didn’t lack a tortured past, having been born out of his mother’s affair with a prominent politician (who she later married and who refused to acknowledge David as his real son in order to avoid scandal). His mother and “step”father sent the young David off to boarding school where he suffered brutal sexual abuse from an older boy, leading Niven to wrestle with depression throughout his life, a strong counterpoint to the bonhomie which attracted so many women. He always named his first wife, Primmie, as the love of his life and never fully recovered from her sudden death at the age of 28 from a fall in Tyrone Power’s house while playing a parlor game. Yet the combination of past tragedy and scintillating conversation led practically everyone who fell into David Niven’s orbit to be pulled toward him, including the many women, one of whom called him “as delicious as a French pastry.”

Renowned satirical writer Kingsley Amis charmed women on both sides of the pond into bed with his humor and lack of inhibitions.

A sense of fun – So many of Niven’s lovers named his “playfulness” as the key piece of his personality which drew them, and that sense of fun is routinely listed as a major attractant for women. While romance novels are certainly populated with the stoic, strong silent type of hero who needs to learn to communicate and have fun (and the heroine is just the person to help him), a growing percentage of leading men fall into a category of cajoling, occasional betas, who can be plenty strong when needed, but in the meantime can help a too-serious heroine, perhaps recovering from past personal difficulties, loosen up and enjoy life.

This approach has its roots in our early hominid past, as prehistoric men were prone to violence toward stepchildren (and modern statistics support this as a continued issue). “Playfulness, as psychologists Geoffrey MIller and Kay Redfield Jamison observe, is an excellent fitness indicator, denoting youth, creativity, flexibility, intelligence, optimism, and nonaggression.” (Prioleau, p 196) A man who makes you laugh makes you feel safe, listened to, and appreciated all at the same time and this quality is often shown as being a key piece in long-term relationships.

British novelist and poet Kingsley Amis was no great shakes in the looks department, but in 1950s England and America his lack of sexual inhibition and humor had women lining up to get him in bed. Even after he was married, his personality could and did charm women into going into the garden during a party for a quickie, but his personality was such that no one seemed to hold a grudge. Case in point, after his second wife died, his first wife and her husband were happy to take him into their house to live his final days. From the man who said, “Only a world without love strikes me as instantly and decisively more terrible than one without music,” it seemed that there were plenty of women who were willing to agree with him, presumably with a smile on their face.

According to his lovers, Rubioso Porfirio’s height was the only thing small about him (ahem) but it was his legendary lovemaking skills and utter focus on the sexual gratification of his partner that made him the poster boy for the 1950s playboy.

Sexpertise – If there is anything that a romance reader can tell you, it’s that the sex scenes in romance follow a specific formula, namely that the hero adheres to the motto “She comes first.” Our heroines never have to worry about whether or not an orgasm is on the horizon, whether it be in a bed, shower, or in the front seat of Porsche with the door open for leverage. Chances are she’s even going to have number two or three and the oh-so-elusive simultaneous orgasm as the man ejaculates, perhaps with him commanding her to come at just the right moment. Yowza.

Yet these “sexperts” exist in real life (I promise), namely in the form of men who love being with women. These seducers understand women are more than their clitoris (although that’s important, too), creating sensual environments of sexy conversation, couples’ baths, and kisses that last forever and turn the woman’s whole body into an erogenous zone (which the man then plays like an instrument).

Dominican diplomat and playboy Porfiro Rubirosa in his 1950s heyday could control himself indefinitely having mastered the art of semen retention (like his contemporary counterpart, Aly Khan) and his rather sizable package could supposedly “go for hours” guaranteeing his partner’s gratification. Despite his mere 5′ 8″ height, he seduced some of the most beautiful women in the world, including Ava Gardner, Veronica Lake, Rita Hayworth, and Zsa Zsa Garbor, and married the two wealthiest non-royal women at the time, Doris Duke and Barbara Hutton. Seemingly the playboy model Harlequin designed its Presents line around, he was also a ranked polo player and a Formula One race car driver. His skill behind the wheel didn’t stop him from dying at age 56 from crashing his Ferrari, and women around the world went into mourning at the passing of such a legendary lover. Yet despite his bedding what could reasonably be totaled hundreds of women, he always refused to boast or speak intimately of his conquests, citing that it would be “ungentlemanly” to do so. (Cohen, 2002)

Former model Carla Bruni with her husband French President Nicolas Sarkozy. No he isn’t a step lower than her, he’s actually that much shorter.

Self-actualization – The ancient Greeks had it right when they espoused the philosophy “Know Thyself” and seducers can say the same. The most powerful ladykiller is one who truly knows himself, possessing depths to his character and confidence that naturally accompanies this understanding. Because so many of these men are also financially successful, the billionaire doctor playboy of Harlequin fame doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched. Yet women are far more likely to ignore material resources (particularly modern women who can support themselves) in favor of multi-dimensional men who can continually surprise and intrigue them. Benjamin Franklin was a lady’s man from his teenage days as a printer’s assistant in Boston to his septuagenarian years in Paris, charming French women out of their powdered wigs with his witty salon repartee, much to the horror of the Puritan-descended John and Abigail Adams.

Modern day lothario and former French president Nicholas Sarkozy conquered supermodel, singer and songwriter Carla Bruni with his intelligence and ambition, as evidenced by her comment to a reporter, “He has five or six brains which are remarkably well-irrigated.” Bruni is his third wife and he met and romanced her almost immediately after his divorce from his second wife. Unlike America where that would cause a scandal, in France this actually rose Sarkozy in the people’s estimation. Heck, they claim to have invented romantic love, so who am I to argue?

Modern Lady Killers

With this long list of attributes (and I only skimmed the surface of Prioleau’s list, which had several more additions with outstanding examples – past, present and fictional), who currently walks among us ready to take on the mantle of some of these renowned seducers?

All the women of his acquaintance were thrilled that actor Jack Nicholson worked past his premature ejaculation problem to become a renowned modern lover.

A name that shocked the heck of of me was none other than Jack Nicholson, a man who I don’t automatically think of when the word “seducer” is mentioned. Yet this moniker has undoubtedly been earned by this Hollywood actor, who started off life with a premature ejaculation problem. Going through years of psychotherapy, Nicholson confronted his demons and embraced a spiritual approach to lovemaking focusing utterly on the woman who he was with. Preferring women he harbors emotion for, Nicholson has learned how to massage women “into the mood” with lovers mentioning such romantic gestures as carrying them into bed and asking them for verbal feedback on what brought them closer to orgasm. His string of women do nothing but gush about his prowess.

Don’t let the hair fool you, actor, director and Twitter powerhouse Ashton Kutcher has hidden depths which the adoring women he seduces are happy to plumb.

Ashton Kutcher is a more likely modern ladykiller in terms of his appearance, but that same brand of boyish good looks leads people to underestimate this industry powerhouse. He embodies a personality component of successful seducers (versus the more shallow manwhore) in that he genuinely likes and respects women, a factor he attributes to his upbringing due to his close relationship with his mother and sister. He sees women as friends, equals and ultimately lovers and lives his mother’s directive to “treat women right, to take care of them, to respect them.”

Seduction Today

Yet men like Nicholson and Kutcher are the exception rather than the norm. Prioleau makes quite clear that modern men are at a loss when it comes to learning seduction techniques. No longer do we have a set etiquette of courtship as in past decades and the majority of men feel the lack of this structure. Spotty sex education, pornography, and callous pick up experts producing best-selling books are where the majority of young men are getting their “information” and it’s hardly edifying. Incorrect, unrealistic, and downright manipulative, this data results in the majority of men being adrift at how to express an interest in women or what techniques actually work to properly seduce women and keep them coming back.

“At a glance, it doesn’t seem like a season for romance; in fact, writes Maryanne Fisher in Psychology Today, there is none on the dating scene. Gone are the old rituals and rules, and in their place reign confusion, anomie, superficiality, and cynicism…Rather than grand amours, we have ‘cold heat,’ desire without passion, and plural, light attachments. Although an advance for sexual liberation, casual coupling, hookups, and turnstile partners have shriveled eros.” (p. 223)

Prioleau’s work has the potential for tremendous impact on helping writers and readers think about the would-be heroes in their lives (real or fictional) while also advancing the conversation about what truly constitutes love and seduction. Having enjoyed this book so much, I am eager to read its predecessor, Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and the Lost Art of Love (Penguin Books, 2004), but I have a feeling there will be similar themes of passion and charisma in the ladies featured in that volume.

In a world currently populated with pick-up workshops like those by Neil Strauss, author of the Rules of the Game, or the more straightforward and offensive, Bang: More Lays in 60 Days (which women should read simply to be on the defensive), it’s not exactly a miracle when men who truly love women and their pleasure stand out. Yet there is a flip side to the manwhore and it’s an obvious one. Unlike the romance hero who finds the heroine and changes his ways, the biographical details Prioleau shares of both famous people and her non-famous interviewees rarely have a happy ending. These are men whose hedonistic love of pleasure and intimacy has them going from one woman to another. It’s understandable given their outlook on life, but it’s nevertheless sad to read if you are someone who truly roots for a happy ending.

Like any book which sheds insight on the human condition known as love, Prioleau’s book opens a broad door, letting us see behind the facade of these ladykillers to understand what exactly makes them so irresistible to women. From history to psychology, from fiction to real-life examples, Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them will leave your head spinning with understanding as to what truly seduces our senses.

Reflecting on Cranking It Out: NaNoWriMo vs. Fast Draft

11 Nov

As most people who either write or who follow author blogs know, November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo to devotees. Participants pledge to write 50,000 words during the month, hopefully concluding their endeavors on the 30th with a decent draft to edit and then ship off to a publisher. (Does that make December National Novel Editing Month?)

There is a whole culture around NaNoWriMo, including t-shirts, comic strips, parody musicals, etc. and clearly they are all methods of procrastination. It’s a lot of writing and a LOT of pressure, but, as the Leonard Bernstein quote indicates on the flyer, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” As participants attest, you must average writing 1,667 words per day in order to make the target of 50,000 words.

While I do well under pressure, not having writing partners who I would be held accountable to certainly makes NaNoWriMo like exercising or dieting – it’s totally up to me to make it work and when life gets in the way, writing (and exercising) has a tendency to be the first thing to go by the wayside when I have kids and faculty relying on me for whatever is taking precedence.

When I went to my monthly meeting of the PLRW (Pocono Lehigh Romance Writers) Chapter of the RWA, not only did we do our holiday schmooze but we also decided to listen to a couple recordings from past RWA conferences. Our scheduled speaker had to be canceled due to weather complications (a few of our members from New Jersey and Pennsylvania couldn’t make it because they were still without power – thank you Superstorm Sandy).

Lovely, funny and authoritative writer, Candace Havens

With NaNoWriMo on the brain, the even more outrageous goal set by “Fast Draft: How to Write Your First Draft in Two Weeks” by author Candace Havens seemed downright laughable. And it was…until she started speaking. It turns out that not only is Candace Havens a hilarious public speaker, but she puts her money with her mouth is, not only using this technique personally but also teaching thousands (yes, I said THOUSANDS) of writers how to implement her Fast Draft method with the end result being 30% of them going on to actually publish their book.

Because I think you should actually buy the workshop (that’s the above link and it’s only $8 to download the hour-long seminar), I’m only going to highlight a couple key points that stood out. The number one way to get me to buy into an idea is to give me actual research, and Candace did that, right off the bat referring to the Fast Draft method of writing 20 pages a day (*gasp*) as tapping into a specific part of the brain. Once she started speaking, I knew exactly what she was talking about.

Model Marine by Candace Havens (Harlequin Blaze, October 18, 2011) – If this is what she can write in Fast Draft mode, I’m trying it!

Candace said that, as writers, in actuality our creativity – our ideas, characters, plot, etc. – stems largely from our unconscious or subconscious parts of the brain. Our conscious brain fulfills the role of a highly critical editor and, unfortunately, when we write a small amount at a time painstakingly rereading our previous writing (and I am in no way casting aspersions – I know there are lots of people for whom this is a good method), we are feeding that conscious editor. The difficulty lies in the fact that he/she gets in the way of our creativity which is then relegated to the back of our minds where we are unable to benefit from it as directly.

The Fast Draft method takes into account the concept that “the more you write, the faster you write” and that by utilizing a methodology in which you agree to write for two and half hours a day (some people do a block of time, other people do snippets during the day which add up) and refuse to go back and read what you wrote or edit your writing, you are letting your creativity bubble to the surface. Because she offers Fast Draft in both a free Yahoo forum or a paid class where you get personal attention from Candace, she has said that by day 3 of the program, she receives a slew of emails from participants astonished by not only how much they were writing, but by how good the ideas were. Many people mentioned having no memory of several of the pages they wrote, yet those pages contained high quality material.

A visual of how “flow” works – note how participants need to have a high challenge level and combine it with skill in order to reach the psychological state that unleashes creativity

This description of participants’ experience made me think of the psychological concept of “flow” developed by Hungarian psychology professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, whose book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, discusses how people are happiest and most productive when they are completely absorbed in whatever activity they are doing. Writers, artists, gardeners, and athletes all describe a feeling of “being in the zone” where they lose a sense of time and feel like what they are doing is fascinating and exactly right. In essence, Candace’s description of the state experienced by her writers mirrors Czikszentmihalyi’s work, showing that Fast Draft has tremendous potential to unleash creativity.

It also makes me wonder if the successful participants of NaNoWriMo actually are using, perhaps unknowingly, Candace’s methods. I get the sense many participants sit for a few hours a day and work to crank out as much as possible, a process that would shut off their inner editor and be more likely to induce a state of “flow”.

Because I have the terrible habit of rereading everything I have written in a project and then continuing with part of the next scene, I tried Candace’s method when I got home from the workshop last night. I was astonished at how well it worked! I’m happy if I can reach about 1000 words in a session, but by giving myself permission to not have every sentence as perfect as I can make it (and by writing little notes to myself about things I needed to look up during the revision stage), I wrote almost 2900 words in about two hours. Considering that next week is fall term exams (meaning no prep for classes at night) and then I have a week off for Thanksgiving, I plan on putting this method to the test each day and see how I progress, with the goal of getting to her twenty page/5000 word mark each time.

Many thanks to both NaNoWriMo and the talented Candace Havens for helping me understand my creativity – and giving me a swift kick in the pants to write my novel! May all November writers find equal inspiration. 🙂

On the Importance of Archetypes: Jayne Ann Krentz’s Perspective on Romance Fiction

16 Mar

I vaguely remembered English course discussions (mind-numbing ones) centering on whether or not (insert protagonist name here) embodied the archetype of (hero, villain, trickster, etc.). Invariably some ass-kisser would bring in the Jungian archetypes (she had clearly taken a 200 level psychology class and wanted to show it) and I would start doodling in my notebook while the conversation took on the quality of Charlie Brown‘s teacher “wah-wah-WAH-wah…”.

So who the hell cares about archetypes anyway?  Well, it turns out writers should care, because a study of archetypes can offer tremendous insight into the characters we try to flesh out in mere words.  Sometimes books and writer’s guides call them simply archetypes, but there are other versions that exist like personality types, enneagrams, and zodiac signs which can all prove to be the brain jumper cable we require to see our character as a three dimensional person and transmit that understanding to our reader.

But before we go further, what exactly is an archetype?  At it’s most basic, an archetype is “a very typical example of a certain person or thing” usually seen as a general label that invokes immediate understanding in the listener or reader (like when someone calls your character a “player” in contemporary romance or a “rogue” or “rake” in historical romance).(New Oxford American Dictionary)

The psychology piece takes it a step deeper as Jungian psychology believes in archetypes as “a primitive mental image inherited from the earliest human ancestors, and supposed to be present in the collective unconscious.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) In this school of thought, the idea reigns that we have embedded in our cultural psyche ideas of “the hero” or the “wise old woman.” Jung and some other psychologists believe tarot cards to be an example of people channeling the idea of archetypes and creatively using them to understand their world and their future.  This is really rather helpful for writers, since it means that we can spin variations of this theme but often merely have to invoke this archetype in the minds of our reader with a few broad strokes and the reader’s brain will automatically categorize the character accordingly.

When entering into a “literary” discussion of the romance genre, it helps to get an intellectual heavyweight on your side.  Jayne Ann Krentz, known to her fans under either her actual name or one of her many pseudonyms – Amanda Quick or Jayne Castle, are two popular ones – is an award winning author who is able to encapsulate the key points of romance in language that ties critics in knots.  Try telling the following to the next brandy-swilling snootypants who attempts to suck the fun out of you.

“The thing is, romance novels, like the other genres of popular fiction, descend from a different storytelling tradition — the heroic tradition. They feature the ancient heroic virtues: honor, courage, determination and the healing power of love. Most modern literary critics are stuck in a time warp that dates back to the middle of the twentieth century when the only fiction that was considered GOOD fiction was that which was heavily influenced by existentialism, various social agendas and psychological theory.” (Source: interview with Jayne Ann Krentz)

Krentz knows what she’s talking about.  Not only did she get her bachelor’s degree in history and her master’s in library science (whoo-hooo!! fellow librarian!!), but she worked for years in academic libraries.  Add in her thirty plus years of being a published author and you have someone who REALLY has given a lot of thought to the genre.  (For an even clearer view, take a look at the collection she edited, Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance.)

Archetypes have definitely been a piece of this thought process.  In a recent interview given to the Popular Romance Project (SUCH a good site with one amazing video interview after another, like Jayne’s, and well-written guest articles, be sure to check it out), she paints with a few words why we love romance so much. It’s (thankfully) not about existential post-modernism or the deeper symbolism regarding the parrot on page 73, but instead about a story that is about two people on a journey, facing their problems with characteristics we can all admire. “[T]he hero and the heroine overcome their problems not with social engineering and not with psychology, but with core heroic virtues and they’re always the same. It’s courage, determination, a sense of honor, integrity, and the ability to love, and that’s at the core of all our heroic archetypes.”  Can you even think of a hero that didn’t have, at his or her core personality, these values?  Of course you can’t, because we wouldn’t love him or her as a reader.

Popular fiction employs archetypes as much as literary fiction or sweeping Greek epics do, because they are essential to our understanding of story.  Noting that no one seems to ask what need popular fiction fills in our mind and heart, Jayne has a theory.  “…I’ve, over the years, sort of evolved a Jayne’s theory of popular fiction evolution, which is that it wouldn’t survive unless it served a real purpose for the survivability of our culture; and I believe that it’s in popular fiction that we preserve our society’s—our culture’s—core values.”  If those core values are about love and caring, about courage and integrity, then I am incredibly glad that I live in a society that recognizes their importance.

One of the other criticisms I hear of popular fiction is how “unrealistic” it is. Conversely the opposite is praise for literary fiction (which never gets called popular fiction no matter how popular it gets) which is often touted for being gritty and realistic. But Jayne Krentz has a rebuttal for this negative perspective.

“It is not the task of popular fiction to be realistic. It may feel realistic upon occasion…. Popular fiction encapsulates and reinforces many of our most fundamental cultural values. Romance is among the most enduring because it addresses the values of family and human emotional bonds.” (Interview)

Is this the reason women in particular value romance so much?  Because we are geared to value those emotional bonds between people, particularly those of love and passion? The “realistic” thing always makes me cranky.  No Harry Potter is not realistic, or a girl falling in love with a vampire, or a guy who dresses in black and protects Gotham City with his ginormous wealth and infinite array of gadgetry. Are they stories people love to read?  Hell, yeah, and the characters are all archetypes at their core.

With this in mind, understanding archetypes is an important tool in the writer repertoire. There are plenty of books for writers out there that deal with character development, but one that might help is a book by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters.  I have so many post it notes in this book, it looks like a pink paper porcupine!  After a brief discussion of archetypes and their importance, Victoria Schmidt goes into several female and male archetypes, discussing their overall character traits, their flaws and positive qualities, how other characters view them, and, for many of the archetypes seen as positive, how they could become villainous.

Supporting characters are also given their own mini-archetypes and it’s impressive how as you read, you can’t help but think of characters of books you loved.  The last part of the book is spent outlining the feminine and masculine journey our characters/archetypes might take.  It really gets the brain juices flowing!

So for writers or would-be writers of popular fiction, don’t underestimate the power of archetypes to help your character development and plot brainstorming. Remember popular fiction is worthy of respect and admiration for the same celebration of human values that literary fiction possesses. By learning about the commonalities between them, we can appreciate all fiction and what it teaches us about being our best selves.  Enjoy!

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