Ladies (and gents), it’s time to show me yours.
No, I’m not getting frisky with you. I am going to ask you to share, though. Earlier, the topic of Alpha vs. Beta males came up with one of my fabulous CPs. And because I have a google addiction, I decided to google the topic and see what I came up with. There has to be hard and fast rules about what makes an Alpha Hero an alpha, right? The Beta Male has a checklist we’re supposed to follow, I’m sure. And has anyone heard of a Gamma Hero? Is one better than the other? Can you write either? Can you write a guy who has bits of Alpha and Beta in him?
When I write, I don’t necessarily think of my hero as “Alpha” or “Beta.” Probably because I don’t actually know what would define either term. I know the immediate reaction is to think Alpha equals Jerk and Beta equals Wimp. But that can’t really be right, because we women wouldn’t read about jerks and wimps all the time, would we? We want the guy in the middle (even if he leans toward a strong direction)– the strong, confident man who can sweep us off our feet, make us feel like the most amazing woman in the world because he loves us, and yet who can also tuck a child into bed at night and make us laugh until we cry. An Alpha “jerk” wouldn’t give a rat’s ass if we feel amazing as long as he does. A Beta “wimp” might hold open the door for us, but it would never occur to him to sweep us off our feet. I believe — as women — we want something in the middle. We want that Alpha male when the situation calls for it, but we also want a man capable of letting us know, somehow, how he feels.
Instead of lumping heroes into two categories (I think any well-written character would bleed into the other side, even if he had predominate tendencies of one), I really like Tami Cowden’s look at 8 Different Archtypes. Taken in excerpt from her website, the archtypes for Heroes are:
The CHIEF: a dynamic leader, he has time for nothing but work. He might have been born to lead, or perhaps he conquered his way to the top, but either way, he’s tough, decisive, goal-oriented. That means he is also a bit overbearing and inflexible. Think William Shatner in Star Trek; Harrison Ford in Sabrina, or Marlon Brando in The Godfather.
The BAD BOY: dangerous to know, he walks on the wild side. This is the rebel, or the boy from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s bitter and volatile, a crushed idealist, but he’s also charismatic and street smart. Think James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing.
The BEST FRIEND: sweet and safe, he never lets anyone down. He’s kind, responsible, decent, a regular Mr. Nice Guy. This man doesn’t enjoy confrontation and can sometimes be unassertive because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But he’ll always be there. Think Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer, Hugh Grant in Four Weddings & a Funeral, Kevin Spacey in American Beauty.
The CHARMER: more than a gigolo, he creates fantasies. He’s fun, irresistible, a smooth operator, yet not too responsible or dependable. He might be a playboy or a rogue, but he’s doesn’t commit to a woman easily. Think Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, James Garner/Mel Gibson in Maverick, Don Johnson in Nash Bridges, Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy.
The LOST SOUL: a sensitive being, he understands. Tortured, secretive, brooding, and unforgiving. That’s this man. But he’s also vulnerable. He might be a wanderer or an outcast. In work he’s creative, but probably also a loner. Think Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, David Duchovny in The X-Files, Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Shrek.
The PROFESSOR: coolly analytical, he knows every answer. He’s logical, introverted, and inflexible, but genuine about his feelings. At work, he likes cold, hard facts, thank you very much, but he’s also honest and faithful, and won’t let you down. Think Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek, Robin Williams in Flubber, Kelsey Gramner in Frasier, Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.
The SWASHBUCKLER: Mr. Excitement, he’s an adventure. This guy is action, action, and more action. He’s physical and daring. Fearless, he’s a daredevil, or an explorer. He needs thrills and chills to keep him happy. Think Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro, Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone, Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The WARRIOR: a noble champion, he acts with honor. This man is the reluctant rescuer or the knight in shining armor. He’s noble, tenacious, relentless, and he always sticks up for the underdog. If you need a protector, he’s your guy. He doesn’t buckle under to rules, or and he doesn’t go along just to get along. Think Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, Russell Crowe in Gladiator, Mel Gibson in Braveheart.
And I love what she says here:
AN ARCHETYPE IS NOT DETERMINED BY THE CHARACTER’S ACTIONS!!!! I am serious – what the character does is not the defining element. The defining element is WHY the character does what he does. Any archetype can do anything – the question will always be why.
For me, motivating my character’s actions is everything. They can jump off a cliff if they have a solid, understandable reason to do so — even if it drives you nuts that they make the choice, why they did it can make or break a book for me. Or that man who is going to sweep us off our feet — if he’s doing it literally, why? What propels him to pick her up and carry her…somewhere? Why does he do that rather than let her walk there? Where does he get that innate confidence and knowledge that we’ll find the action sexy and not sexist? Or the man who would never consider doing it literally– why not?
Of the types listed above, I think I’m a sucker for The Lost Soul and The Warrior. I love the noble nature of a warrior, the instinct to protect above all else. And who can resist the tortured, brooding soul? I see Angel in Buffy The Vampire Slayer here, one of my all-time favorite TV heroes. But what I love about the 8 archetype is how is goes beyond “jerk” and “Wimp” and defines more clearly what makes the man.
Or women, or villain, for that fact. Ms. Cowden’s fabulous book, The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines, talks about archetypes for heroes and heroines. If there’s a more Alpha-type male, there’s definitely an Alpha-Type female. The kindle version is on its way to my Kindle, and I can’t wait to dig in. Before I open this up to you for discussion, I found this fantastic passage in a post about Alpha heroes by Suzanne Brockmann at All About Romance:
Anyway, I kept thinking. Alpha males. Alpha males. What is it about alpha males. . . ? How can I explain what I love about them concisely and clearly?
Then last night I went to see The Empire Strikes Back. Although the Star Wars trilogy had a huge impact on my young, impressionable self when it first came out, I hadn’t seen the second installment in the series in years. As I watched the movie, I nearly jumped out of my seat right there in the theater during the extremely intense and romantic scene between Han Solo and Leia — when Darth Vader is about to test Lando’s carbon freezing unit on Han.
You know the scene I mean. (And if you haven’t seen this movie, what the heck are you waiting for? It’s an American classic!) Proud, stubborn Princess Leia is in a near panic (all held beautifully inside, since she is part alpha herself) at the thought that within moments scoundrel, intergalatic smuggler, rebel hero and her dear friend, Han Solo, could die.
At this point in the movie — and in their growing relationship — Han and Leia have shared a powerful kiss or two along with a slew of hot, barbed words and equally hot looks. But neither have dared put this thing they feel about each other into words.
As Han is pushed toward his fate, he lunges for Leia, and she for him, and they kiss passionately before they are torn apart — perhaps forever.
Leia, as strong as she is, is still a woman and she can’t not speak. “I love you,” she tells him.
Han stands there perhaps about to die, a hard, strong alpha male to the end with his head held high, and says, “I know.”
I love you. I know.
Why does this work so well?! How can this Alpha male say something so cocky, so seemingly insensitive, and yet still bring tears to our eyes, even as we laugh and shake our heads at him?
Here’s the secret: it’s in his eyes. It’s in that long, silent, emotion-filled look Han gives Leia. God bless Harrison Ford for portraying Han Solo in such a way, but somehow as he utters that line, “I know,” he says so much more with his eyes. His eyes say “I love you, too. I love you forever. I love you passionately, endlessly, always. Until the end of time.” In fact, his love is so strong that we know it will live beyond him. Even his own death won’t snuff out his love for this woman.
And that’s what I love about alpha males. When they love, they love completely. Eternally. Endlessly.
They may not be able — or even want — to speak such feelings aloud. But when it happens, when they give in to their feelings and allow themselves to love, it’s very, very Big.
What is it they say in sports (or anything for that matter)? Go big, or go home. Ms. Brockmann has the right idea. Han Solo didn’t have the ability to say the words, but he was no slacker when it came to expressing how he felt. No matter the hero archetype, a well-written hero can melt a woman’s heart any day.
So tell me… what heroes do you love to read about? What do you write? How would you define an Alpha or a Beta hero?