Geeks. Nerds. Brainiacs. You know the guy I’m talking about. The one with a pocket protector in his lab coat, tape on his glasses and a bit of an overbite. At least that’s the stereotype that readily comes to mind.
One of the wonderful things about being a writer is taking a stereotype—in this case a nerd—beyond a reader’s expectations, giving him a personality and, yes, turning him into a heartbreakingly sexy hero worthy of winning the love of a beautiful woman.
If right about now you’re thinking this can’t be done, let’s take a look at some of Hollywood’s geeks and nerds. Successful film and television writers don’t fall back on stereotypes. They employ archetypes, i.e., the eight male archetypes laid out in The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders. Hands-down the best writing how-to book I’ve ever read.
A common nerd archetype is the Professor. Think Ross Geller on Friends and Charlie Eppes on NUMB3RS.
Already we’ve dispelled the myth that nerds aren’t sexy, right?! Both of these men are experts in their chosen academic careers and they analyze everything before making a decision, but what you see is what you get. This man is who he is, without pretence. He’s so focused on what he’s doing that he often doesn’t have much time or room in his life for others, including a love interest. And when a woman does catch his eye, he’s not likely to make any quick moves because none of his expertise pertains to relationships. How long did it take Ross and Rachel to get together? Charlie and Amita? I rest my case.
When we first meet Indiana Jones (aka Colonel Henry Walton Jones, Jr., Ph.D.) we learn he’s a professor of archaeology, so he could be a Professor archetype, couldn’t he?
Except once he springs into action, we discover he’s a Swashbuckler archetype. Fearless (except for snakes!) and definitely your go-to guy if you want something done. He might not choose the most conventional way to achieve his goals and there will undoubtedly be setbacks, but ultimately nothing gets in his way. The Swashbuckler is definitely worthy of his heroine’s love, as long as she’s not the kind of woman who sits at home waiting for the phone to ring. Once he’s on a quest, he’s not the most dependable man she’ll ever meet but he’ll take her on an adventure that will last a lifetime.
My absolute favourite sit-com on TV right now is The Big Bang Theory. If you’ve watched it, you’ll know it’s nerd central. Four men, as nerdy as they come, and not a stereotype in sight.
Sheldon Cooper has a genius IQ, an opinion about everything, and a complete lack of social skills. Sheldon is a Chief archetype.
Definitely a brilliant man at the pinnacle of his career, but he’s a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy. Fiercely competitive, his determination to achieve a goal is unwavering and he’s always right. At least in his opinion he is. And if he isn’t right, there’s no point trying to change his mind because he can be annoyingly patronizing to those who don’t agree with him. Sheldon Cooper is living breathing proof that a nerd can be an alpha male. I’m just waiting for Amy Farrah Fowler’s hormones to get the better of both of them.
By comparison, Raj Koothrappali is as beta as they come. Archetype? Raj is a Lost Soul.
Here’s Cowden et al’s description of the Lost Soul archetype: “This misfit has never adapted to society. A tremendous physical or emotional injury has produced a baffling puzzle of a man.” In Raj’s case, it’s produced a man who can’t talk to a woman unless he’s drunk. Although seemingly withdrawn, his emotions are roiling and boiling just beneath the surface. He cries at movies, knows what women want even though he can’t talk to them, and feels hurt and betrayed when his friend Howard takes him for granted.
Howard Wolowitz is the nerd world’s version of a Charmer archetype.
Howard? A charmer? Seriously, you ask? That’s right. He doesn’t charm his way into the hearts of many women, but a smarmy pick-up line always lingers on the tip of his tongue. His wardrobe is the nerd version of Cowden et al’s “sparkle and glitz” and his swagger is his personal interpretation of alluring. The Charmer wants the best of all worlds, so although Howard is engaged to Bernadette, he isn’t ready to cut himself loose from his mother’s apron strings.
The Big Bang Theory’s fourth nerd, and my favorite character on the show, is Leonard Hofstadter. Being reliable, dependable and everybody’s best friend makes Leonard a Best Friend archetype.
This easy-going guy will do almost anything for anyone. Never quick to stand up for himself, he’ll rush without hesitation to the aid of the beautiful woman across the hall. A Best Friend will give you the shirt off his back, then let you cry on his bare shoulder. He’ll often let a woman be the pursuer but when he does make a move on his own, the results are sigh-worthy. And yes, I’m one of many fans still hoping Leonard and Penny will get back together, and I’m sure they will, as soon as they accept that they’re truly worthy of one another.
We’ve looked at some of my favorite film and TV heroes, and six of the eight character archetypes. Nerds, definitely. Stereotypes? No way. These are fully developed heroes, some downright sexy, others appealing in their own unique way. Laughable, sometimes. Loveable, always.
Lee McKenzie’s next Harlequin American Romance, The Christmas Secret, will be released on November 1st—tomorrow! It’s a secret baby story with a twist, a Christmas present with a hidden past, and it’s available at Harlequin, Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere.
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