Sunday, September 07, 2008

Alpha Heroes

Christine Wells said, over on the Berkley-Jove board : here

And Jo, about talking your way out rather than hitting someone--do you think that characteristic precludes Doyle from being alpha? I never quite know what an alpha male is. To me, he's the one who will take the lead in a given situation, the one other men/women will instinctively turn to to solve their problems. A man of action, yes, but not necessarily violence.

What does an alpha hero mean to you?

So I replied ...

I've done the ponder-ponder-muse-muse bit on this.

This starts out being a little confusing to me because 'alpha' in Romance does NOT mean the same thing as 'alpha' in animal behaviour. I keep forgetting that.

In Romance, 'alpha' is all about the power balance in the male-female relationship.

Set aside whether the hero is rich or competent or dangerous or useful to the community as a whole. Set aside whether he gives orders to other folks.
The alpha- or beta- ness of the hero, in Romance terms, lies in who gives the orders in the H&H relationship.

Do they eat Chinese or Thai? Who makes the decision -- or voluntarily passes decision power to the other?

Some of the most interesting stories involve changes in the balance of power
or struggles between the protagonists to determine the BoP
or relationships where strongly assertive H&Hs approach intimacy while dancing around an undetermined and unsettled BoP.

So ... you thought I'd never get to the point, didn't you?
... when I look at my super-competent Doyle. My sneaky and covert Doyle. My hyper-self-aware Doyle ....
I see him as alpha in a relationship.

Anyone this self-contained does not have within him the capacity for trust of a beta hero. It's going to be hard enough making Doyle even moderately honest and open when he falls in love.

This being the case, I must make Maggie self-contained and independent and a little isolated as well.

I'm setting her to useful and forceful actions, or course. But I'll also give her some kind of overt bang-slap-pop thing to do near the end -- probably in the confrontation with the villain -- just so everyone KNOWS she's powerful.


  1. Wow- even without your 'm's you are so far ahead of me. But then, you are the professional with crowds of people breathlessly awaiting your next book.

    I get to write during nap time between loads of laundry. ;-)

    I enjoyed reading your thread on the Berkley board. Thanks for the link. All very interesting... (Another 'benefit' of the internet- you get to read allllll the comments about your book and use them as you wish.)

    I don't have a villain in my WIP, which sometimes worries me. I hope the internal conflicts of my h+h are established enough to give the same sense of driving challenge.

    Another interesting element I have(somehow) chosen is that the heroine is 'unmasked' first thing. Her bag of tricks, and seemingly her power, is given over. She has to learn something else. What that is, I'm not so sure. Why I took it away from her in chapter three... I'm not so sure ;-)

    As per alpha male- my hero is all about avoiding violence and maintaining order. Like Doyle, but less man-to-man combat and more socio-political tension (riots, sedition etc.) I struggle with this part of him because it isn't overtly alpha. It shows a fear in him (and a wisdom, too.) But, he is also the alpha type to just assume he controls everything else, at a detriment to his own soul growth. He wouldn't think to ask the heroine what she wants for dinner.

    It's funny that a lot of women (myself included) love the alpha male, yet we also want to tame them. What happens 10 years later when the BoP is all smoothed out? We relive it in books, I guess ;-)

  2. Hi LL --

    I cannot imagine how folks write with small children underfoot. I just cannot conceive of how it is possible.

    ANYTHING that gets written is a miracle.

    I don't think a villain is at all necessary. Remember ... 'Man against Man' is only ONE of the many possible plots. 'Man against Himself' or 'Man against Society' or 'Man against the Idea' or 'Man against Fate' -- all of these are just as exciting.

    It sounds like your heroine grows and changes in your story. This is a Good Thing. I'm trying to do this with Maggie too.

    We shall see whether this works.

    Sounds like the alphaness of the hero is going to be part of your conflict? Yes? No?
    And you have a good handle on 'alpha'. Just as conflict isn't snapping and sniping between H&H, 'alpha' isn't giving orders or punching the villain with a ham-like fist.

    Is MacGyver alpha or beta?

  3. I just clicked on Doyle and found this post, which I'd missed the first time around. My own conception of the alpha male in HR has always been the first meaning, ie, alpha as in animal behavior (Doyle is both, I think), with that power dynamic spilling over into the romance. My ignorance of the genre coming through.

    Like LL, I'm drawn to the alpha hero in HR. My hero is mainly in conflict with himself, and he relates to the heroine as someone he has to protect but in whom he's not really interested as a romantic partner. I'm unsure whether this will mean she ends up taking the lead in the romantic relationship or whether it means that I'm going to have to go back to the first scene and rewrite the whole damn thing. I'm trying to think of it as knitting. I knit because I like to knit. When I discover a huge mistake that requires me to unravel hours, maybe days, of work, I tamp down my frustration and repeat over and over, "I knit because I like to knit." I'm not yet there when it comes to writing, and I'm not sure I ever will be. I'm afraid I'm permanently stuck in the, "I hate to write, but I like having written stage."

  4. Hi Annie --

    The whole dominance and hierarchy thing gets complicated when it intertwines with the male/female relationship.

    I've just been reading a couple of JD Robb's 'In Death' series where the author creates two alpha characters and an equal partnership between the male and female. I look at how the author does this and try to learn ...