This post is expanding on a topic that CV Walter, Jonna Hayden, and I discussed on Episode 3 of the Broad Cast. The Broad Cast is presented by the Three Moms of the Apocalypse, and it’s a podcast spun off from the livecast run by JL Curtis. Three women, all highly creative, sitting and chatting about everything in the universe (we don’t confine ourselves to just one planet). Two of us are writers, and the other has been an avid reader and longtime Fan, so the topics will often veer into what we write or read, and why. I will note the style is highly conversational, there’s a lot of giggling, and it is very much NSFW (or children, or husbands…)
If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, the conversation about tactical farmhands starts at the one hour mark. We had been talking about writing romances, then relationships, and wandered into talking about the appeal of a man who has both cowboy and military backgrounds. I pointed out that I’ve written tactical farmhand without necessarily connecting the dots, under my Lilania Begley penname. CV responded that her second alien romance book, Bound to the Alien Engineer, also has a character who fits the type. Dorothy Grant’s AJ is another good exemplar of the type.
The question then arises, why are some archetypes more attractive than others? We talk earlier in the ‘cast about how a single word descriptor in a book blurb creeped me right out, as I associate it with underage relationships and don’t like to see it used, ever, and it will put me off buying a book or even anything from the author. That had come from talking about the different kinds of oddball shifter romance stories, and why they exist. They aren’t about humans desiring relationships with, say, a cuttlefish (no, that’s not a random joke example!). They are instead about ways to convey personality types through the use of anthropomorphic tropes. It’s weird, but can be effective if you like that kind of thing. The cuttlefish, by the way, shows how important communication is in a relationship, as he used his bioluminescence to signal his attention to the object of his affections. Again, weird, but when you take it apart as metaphorical, it can work.
Which is of course where the concept of the tactical farmhand comes in with plotting a romance novel. Most of us have a picture in our mind as soon as we hear the phrase. Rather a lot of us have known a person(s) and some of us, many, who would fit this rather neatly. It has deep roots. From the cavalry, to the legend and ethos of the American West, to the farmboys who laid down their plows and picked up machine guns in the world wars right up through Vietnam. It only fell from grace in that last conflict, as the culture shifted hard against respect (or, in the case of women, selection for mates) for the soldier boy. As much as that has ever been a thing… Kipling now and always!
When it comes to writing a romance novel, it’s a powerful trope. The strong, competent man who is willing to lay down his life for his country, good with animals, and knows how to work hard? Why wouldn’t that be attractive? We’re not talking individuals, here, this is looking at the archetype of many aggregate impressions. Yes, you can have a guy who goes from farm to war and back again and he’s not worth a plug nickel. But that’s a whole different literary genre. Romance is pure distilled wishes, looking for the blacks and whites in life. There’s no shades of grey in this genre.
The fun thing about using tropes and types in writing is that it seems like it would be lazy. But it’s not. You know what you’re doing, putting a tactical farmhand in for your heroine to fall for. Neither your reader, nor your MC, should see what you’re doing. Sleight of hand on that level is difficult to pull off, and takes a deft hand to write in such a way that the reader cares about the character and you bring them to life in a three-dimensional way for them. I don’t read enough romance myself to know if the hero is supposed to be perfect, but my preference is for imperfect. Not stupid, not weak, not malicious – no one chooses those characteristics in their life partners. We want someone who is competent, can challenge us to be a better person and grow alongside them. We want strength, and loyalty, and that patience with dumb brute beasts that shows us the kind of father they could be. So, yeah, tactical farmhands have a place in our hearts.
I can’t remember which of these articles yours reminded me of specifically, so I’m linking them all here:
Archetypes offer a good frame-work for building an individual character because they represent real traits identifiable in people throughout history. They are also easier to recognize and/or grasp, for most people, than a psychological profile. Jordan Peterson relies on stories to illustrate his lectures on psychology for a good reason – archetypes embody the psychology he’s describing. It gives people a model to work with that they can see and go, “Oh, so THAT is why that type of behavior turns me off or makes me nervous.” I wish more writers would stop listening to the arguments against archetypes. They are very useful if you only give them a chance to work.
Of course you have to be sure to convey enough to clue in a reader less familiar.
The goal isn’t to make the reader think of ‘tactical farmhand’ necessarily. But from the writing standpoint, it’s useful shorthand for the character you want to develop.
Stubborn. You forgot stubborn.
This is both a blessing and a curse, honestly.
Perhaps “stubbornly optimistic despite himself.” Because it WILL rain next year, and the price of cattle WILL go up next year, ditto soybeans or corn or sugar beets or whatever, and he WILL get the ag loans paid off and that [blasted] tractor running again by the end of the season.
No, I’ve never spent any time around farmers, or ranchers. No, none at all. [innocent kitty expression here]
Ability to be sure everything is going to heck, and that it’s worth keeping on going anyways.
The distinction in my mind about the visceral appeal of such characters is the difference between strong and tough. Anyone can be damaged, but strong can be broken, while tough can’t. The primordial appeal of helping the wounded hero by dealing with the damage is the restoration of a tough man, and a tough man is a rock against which adversity breaks. (You can kill him, but you can’t make him stop trying.)
Strong is external, and can diminish with age or opposition. It sometimes seeks external validation. It might not be patient, with animals or children. Tough is internal, and has nothing to prove, no need to be impatient with those needing protection.
Young women seem to have trouble distinguishing show-off bad boys from less obvious tough men, but they wise up if they live long enough. If they’re lucky enough. If they recognize the inherent toughness in themselves regarding the defense of others.
This! All of this!
The way I’ve often put it is: the hindbrain is stupid. The forebrain thinks, the hindbrain reacts. And from the hindbrain’s point of view, the bad boy and the good man look similar.
The bad boy says, “To hell with what the world wants me to do, I’m going to do what I want.”
The good man says, “To hell with what the world wants me to do, I’m going to do what’s right.”
The hindbrain sees only the “To hell with what the world wants me to do, I’m making my own decision” attitude, and cannot tell the two apart. The forebrain looks deeper, and considers the moral character behind the “what I want” vs “what’s right” decisions.
A young woman of sensibility, as Jane Austen put it, who has never been trained by her culture or her family to exercise her forebrain, will listen only to the hindbrain and will often fall for a bad boy like Wickham or Willoughby. A young woman whose culture or family has taught her to think, to be a young woman of sense, will be able to tell the bad boy apart from the good man, and is far more likely to end up with a Fitzwilliam Darcy or an Edward Ferrars.
It helps if the young woman has a mental space for “right” and “wrong,” too.
But she can change him!
Err…I wouldn’t bet on it.
You can have shades of grey in those kinds of stories and those characters. But the grey has to be such that we know that the primary shade in the character is white, not black.
The tactical farmhand could have gone to a terrible war and done terrible things. But his pain is greater because he is a good man who did his duty in full and intellectually knows that he did the best he could, but emotionally…
Tactical Farmhands. I was talking with a couple last night, in fact. Actually, these days they come in both sexes.
I went to the hour mark.
Made it about 12 minutes before I tapped out.
No offense. I don’t think I was your audience (I thought you were gonna go into more detail about crafting archetypes, not…ah…other topics).
In any case, happy writing!
The podcast isn’t really about writing, hence the post here about the archetypes!
No, no! It’s ok, I wasn’t clear enough. It’s a fun podcast, just… NSFW!
It’s fun, but it’s *definitely* a different audience. ^.^
It’s the podcast for folks who giggle maniacally when Ian turns red in response to something one of the ladies said on the normal Troublemaker podcasts. ^.^
I made it 12 whole minutes. I think I’ve earned a coffee.
You definitely have.