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Friday, May 4, 2012

Romance Heroes: Alpha and Beta Males

Alphas and Betas...the term isn't just for dog training anymore. Now we use it to describe romance heroes. (Funny that we use descriptors for wolves and dogs to describe men, but I digress).

While I don't read a lot in the romance genre (not enough death and explosions for me), I often like a good, strong romance subplot in my fiction. And frequently I've noticed that the romance subplot revolves around everyone's favorite asshole—the Alpha male.  

Okay, maybe I'm giving him a bad rap. The Alpha, if done well, can be an interesting character. But first, let's look at the Alpha as a stereotype.

 The Alpha is the bad-boy-spank-me Han Solo Rebel Without A Cause who wears leather. Usually there's something deep and dark in his past to explain away the reason that he's such an ass. Sometimes the hero being a dick to people is cause for the heroine to be intrigued, or turned on, or otherwise motivated to find out more about him (or conversely claiming disgust and hatred of a kind that's a straight up lie). Physically, he'd be able to take down an entire army with his pecks, and his biceps, well, you definitely have two tickets to the gun show. Not just guns, but freakin' Uzis, or grenade launchers. You could bounce not just one quarter, but an entire roll of quarters off his ass. Testosterone oozes out of his pores in a 'roid rage-filled moment of needing to protect, claim, or otherwise take what's his—namely the heroine.

The Alpha is an expression of our secret desire to be protected by a T-1000. Okay, not quite. The Alpha is our secret desire to be violently lusted after in a non-stalkery way, physically protected, and drowned in a sea of pure manliness. Basically, we want our hero to have some goddamned giant balls (erm, metaphorically). The Alpha is not a "Eh, we'll see what happens" kind of man.  

Now take the Beta as a stereotype. The Beta is the heroine's best friend, the joker, the non-smoker, and probably not a midnight toker. At the end of the day, he asks the heroine how she's doing, and actually listens and cares. Probably rubs her feet in a non-fetish kind of way. He's the emotional lean-to, the shoulder to cry on, and the all around good guy our Mammas are always going on about. Maybe a little too good. Physically, he's no slouch either. Like the Alpha, he has two tickets to the gun show, but they're probably not grenade launchers, but your steady all-around town Colts or kick ass Desert Eagles (I say as if I knew a lick about real guns). He's probably been hurt before, so he's careful and cautious, and for the most part—not a dick about it. But when his lady is in trouble, out comes the knight-errant, guns a' blazin', rip-roarin' wild man.

The Beta is our secret desire to have a cool, down-to-earth sensitive guy with a wild side who's also our BFF. Which is a tall order for one man. He often plays the secondary male in the whole love triangle thing, pining away or trying to steal the heroine away from the obviously bad for her Alpha.

Really, I think the romance hero can be both and more, though really, it seems that most readers prefer one over the other. It makes me wonder if this dynamic was always around in romance and romance subplots. I'm sure it says something about us sociologically, that these representations of fantasy males come in two different forms.

I honestly prefer the Beta for the most part. I'm a sucker for shy, awkward, funny guys in my fiction. Case in point, I still think that in the movie Philadelphia Story that Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) should've wound up with the Beta Mike Connor (Jimmy Stewart) over the Alpha C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), despite the fact that Cary Grant is...well, Cary Freakin' Grant. He epitomized the fantasy male back in the day.

How to you like your romance hero?



At May 5, 2012 at 1:01 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fantasize about the Alpha male but would want the Beta male in real life. Besides, who says the Beta male can't have his Alpha male moments...?

At May 6, 2012 at 12:20 AM , Blogger B.C. Matthews said...

Most Betas do have Alpha moments, usually when their lady is in trouble and needs help. I won't say I never choose the dangerous Alpha. After all, the Phantom of the Opera is a very violent, emotionally dark Alpha to Raul's steady Beta.

Just for the most part I'm irritated when the main heroine chooses (if she has two or more choices, which also sometimes bugs me) the Alpha, when the Beta has been more of a steady rock.

At May 12, 2012 at 6:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read some good romances, but I've given up on the genre mainly because the main male characters make me snort. Is it possible to write romance without it being a personal wish fulfillment? Can we have heroes who are not tall, not dark, and not painfully shy only around the heroine despite having good people skills otherwise?

And what about heroes who don't have high paying jobs? You know, like the lit major theater employees in your previous post?

At May 12, 2012 at 11:29 PM , Blogger B.C. Matthews said...

I've noticed that there's that whole "and is secretly incredibly rich or an aristocrat" thing, which also makes me snort. I think there are romances out there that aren't pure sex fantasy/wish fulfillment, but they're probably not solely in the romance genre.

I wouldn't mind reading about those lit majors/theater employees in luuurv. Except, the hero would wind up being some sort of misunderstood genius with a secret stash of money, and who is tall, dark, and handsome. Snort.


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