Thursday, November 01, 2007

Heroes -- Alpha, Beta or Somewhere in Between?

What's your favorite kind of hero? For some, it's the strong, powerful, wealthy, self-made ALPHA male and for others it's the understanding, patient, compassionate boy-next-door BETA male. For some, it's the man in-between that fits their perfect fantasy.

Miriam Webster defines Alpha: socially dominant especially in a group of animals . In romance novels the alpha hero is often self-made, a man who runs an empire and has all the answers. He's a man in control of his emotions. He knows what he wants. He's cool and confident and appealing. He's a man full of sexual prowess, but choses his women with decretion and an expert eye. Often his dominant personality is his greatest asset and his greatest flaw. It's sort of that love to hate him and hate to love him, that keeps the story unique and compelling.

The alpha male rarely shows his vulnerable side and he's usually very hard on the heroine, though he's never outwardly cruel. Sometimes he's misunderstood, but makes no excuses for his actions. I must admit that sometimes when I read an alpha male who's a little over the top, I get frustrated and want to toss the book across the room. He can be extremely infuriating. Writing an alpha hero can be a huge challenge for an author to get the traits right but still give the man an ounce of humanity and keep him real. But with the stakes so high, an alpha hero story can be filled with loads of sexual tension and conflict. The reader waits throughout the story to see him soften and allow the heroine to touch his life. He's vulnerable only to her now and there's a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in that.

In my November Harlequin, Bodine's Bounty, - the man with one name- is just that kind of alpha hero. He's a self-made, successful bounty hunter on a mission to find his brother's killer, yet first he's duty-bound to protect the runaway heroine as she ventures on a wild-goose chase to find her outlaw father. Bodine is hard as nails. He's led a difficult life. He wants nothing to do with Emma as his future is all laid out before him and she doesn't fit into his plans. But Emma, a small slip of a girl with a wonderful gift slowly breaks him down, not so much by showing him her vulnerabilites but, her strength.

On the other hand, the BETA male might have all the same appealing physical characteristics as the alpha male, but he's not J.R. Ewing in the oil business or Dr. McSteamy in the hospital setting. Often he's the boy next door, or the heroine's friend, or a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. He's not afraid of his emotions. He doesn't always hide them away. He can be Joe Average, an ordinary man struggling for success or a man happy with his lot in life. The Beta hero may have a tender side. He's the father trying to raise his teen-age daughter, or the mechanic who loves what he does for a living. Maybe he's not James Bond, but he definitely has qualities that appeal to the heroine and for the reader -- he's a man you can fall in love with.

I usually write Alpha hero stories, but I've read some really great romances where the hero is Beta. The one that comes to mind right now is Erin McCarthy's, Heiress for Hire. There are some really poignant and touching scenes between the hero and heroine and between the hero and his young daughter which earned that book a place on my keeper shelf.

I've come up with a list of traits for the Alpha and Beta hero. See if you agree.

The Alpha Male is always:



In control of his emotions



Shows his vulnerable side rarely

Sexually appealing

The man every woman wants

The Beta Male is often:



Vulnerable at times


Boy next-door type

Shows his emotions

A man worth knowing and loving

Traits they share:

Often misunderstood

Sexually appealing


Comfortable in their own skin

So what traits do you most admire in a hero? And here's the hard question - if you had to choose one and you couldn't combine the "between" traits, whom do you prefer to read about, alpha or beta and why?

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Ann M. said...

You've mentioned many of the traits I love in a hero.

I love an alpha hero who is angsted although a quieter beta hero with his problems to overcome is fun to read also.

I guess I'm somewhere in between. :)

Ann M.

tam said...

It would have to be the Alpha Male, but it wouldn't hurt to have a little mix.

I love reading a book with the Alpha Male, but I would also like one that isn't afraid to show his emotions.

Charlene Sands said...

Ann and Tam - Alpha males rarely show their true emotions or even admit to them, until the very end, when they've become softened by the heroine a bit. They haven't learned yet that woman likes to see a man's sensitive side once in awhile. :)

CherylStJ said...

Ooh, I love your Gray's comparisons! Great blog!

Tanya Hanson said...

Great post, Charlene. I love a mix...the kind of guys my hubby and son are. Strong, sturdy, silent, even hard-nosed when need be...but never afraid to let some emotion out. I'm eager to have another great read from you in Bodie's Bounty.

CrystalGB said...

I usually go for an alpha male. But, I have read some beta's that I have found very appealing.
I love a man who confident, strong but who is able to share his feelings. So, I guess in real life I like a combination of both.

Charlene Sands said...

Hi Cheryl and Tanya - Yeah, I like the characters on Grey's - a good mix of all kind of men. I think McDreamy is a mix between Alpha and Beta in some ways.
I think most men are a mix - if they're too extreme either way it can get intolerable.

Charlene Sands said...

Hi CrystalGB-- Good to see you here!So far we have a vote for the in-between alpha and beta man. I think that's interesting, because the two top ranking H/S lines, Presents and Desires are all Alpha now.

Lois said...

I like both and I like the betweens. . . it's just I don't like the extremes. Well, I don't remember reading a extreme beta type, but there have been really alpha alphas, and I don't like them. But sure, we can always use more of all types! :)


Maureen said...

I think I prefer the alpha hero, especially one that is so confident of himself and then you watch the heroine run rings around him and he doesn't know if he's coming or going.

Charlene Sands said...

Maureen -- Good point! I like when that happens to the hero!

Lois -- I don't extremes either. An really extreme alpha hero has me throwing the book across the room!

Nathalie said...

I love Alpha males... a bit arrogance is always appreciated... even in a doctor :)

Lily said...

I like all heroes when the book is good... and I didn't even know there was a beta type hero :)

blessedheart said...

I guess I still prefer The Beta Male. I want my man to be Confident, Dominant, Understanding, Patient, Vulnerable at times, Caring, com[assionate, Comfortable in their own skin and Sexually appealing.

Is that asking too much? LOL!

Rhonda :)

Comfortable in their own skin

Shari C said...

I agree with Charlene; I prefer to read about alpha males as they are so strong and dominant until that special female puts them in their place. In reality, however, my man has to have a caring side and not be afraid to show his emotions.

Charlene Sands said...

Nathalie - I've always said Drs. get a pass - I want one with an ego. They make life and death decisions daily and they darn well better be sure of themselves.

Lily - Yes, sometimes my heroes are Beta in my historicals, but they are always strong in certain ways. I love my upcoming anthology (May) Springville Wife - Caleb is a very caring father and a sexy man all rolled up into one.
Blessedheart and ShariC- Great minds and all. I agree!

Jen in WA said...

I love books with either kind of hero... I'm not picky as long as they are well written. But if I had to pick, I suppose I'd prefer alpha males in books and beta males in real life. :)

Linda Conrad said...

Hi back Charlene!

Haven't seen you in forever. Hope all is well!

Love your cover BTW.