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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Hero to Love

Yesterday I received contest feedback on one of my manuscripts that my hero may not be Alpha enough. Having been a contest judge myself, I know it is hard to make a call with the limited amount of information provided. Still, first impressions are very important in this business. I won’t toss this observation aside without giving it some consideration.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t exactly sure how to interpret the comment. It seems there are different ideas of what it means to be an alpha male. According to Leigh Michaels in her book “On Writing Romance”, an alpha male is “powerful, driven, assertive, masterful, dominant, superior, successful and charming.” Yet, I often read historical romance novels where the hero is an overbearing, demanding, unyielding, unprincipled, womanizing jerk. In comparison, my hero is atypical.

He’s been in love with the same woman for years and only wants her even though there have been many roadblocks and still more to overcome. He respects his mother and has a close relationship with his younger sister. He’s also intelligent, and he’s built a nice nest egg from investments rather than squandering his yearly income. He’s protective of the women in his life, and he’s physically strong. In a nutshell, he’s not a bad boy needing salvation via the heroine’s love. He’s that great guy next door who will help the heroine escape her troubled past, or move her couch when she buys the condo of her dreams.

I find him refreshing. He’s the kind of guy I’d fall in love with in real life, which got me thinking. Is there some rule that says all romance readers are supposed to like the same kind of guy? I realize there are certain trends in what sells, but I know several women who don’t read romance because the macho hero of the 80s who ruled the heroine with an iron fist, behaved like an all-around jerk and then thought an apology led to a happily-ever-after ending turned them off.

In fact, I recently stopped reading two books written in this decade because the heroes literally made me feel sick to my stomach. Their attitudes toward women disgusted me. Now, I’m not making any judgments about readers who enjoy these types of heroes. I’m simply asking the question, “Isn’t there room in the market for the kind of guys I like?”

What qualities do you look for in a hero?


  1. Fantastic post, Samantha! I love this topic. And YES! Please keep writing your heroes like you do! Those are the ones I love.

    I, too, have tossed aside several recent best sellers because I couldn't tolerate what a jerk the hero was. And it made the heroine seem TSTL that she would even think about being with him. Those are not the kinds of heroes I'm willing to read about, let alone write about! If they're going to be alpha, they at least have to have some redeeming qualities!!

    My favorite alpha hero ever would have to be Sebastian from "Devil in Winter" by Lisa Kleypas. He's a first-class prig in speech, but his actions toward the heroine say otherwise.

    But my favorite hero of all time: Colin Bridgerton from "Romancing Mister Bridgerton." He's totally the boy next door, and he totally captured my heart :)

  2. I think it would be very boring indeed if all the heros were the same. I personally don't like the overbearing hero type. I like a confident, at times humorous man who is willing to stand up for what is right. Oh, wait, that's my husband - lol! I guess I look for the same qualities in a hero as I do any man.

    I am totally with Jerrica - It doesn't get any better than Colin Bridgerton ;)

  3. I have never thought of alpha heroes as jerks, either, but you're right. There are a lot of them. Although my alphas will be strong, assertive, etc (what you mentioned), they also love with ALL their heart and they treat their women kindly.

    I hope you continue to write heroes like you've been doing, because I love your stories!


  4. Samantha,
    What a wonderful post! Thanks for saying out loud what I have been thinking quietly for years.

    To me, the best characteristic in an alpha male is that he will not stand by while others are mistreated. He would never let his friends talk him into hurting another person. Beyond that, the rest of characterization is irrelevant. He could be in a wheelchair, shy, or soft-spoken. What makes him heroic is the way he treats other people.

    I have to say that you will rarely find a contest judge who thinks this way. I get dinged all the time because my heroes are not "alpha-enough."

  5. Thanks for the comments, ladies. I haven't gotten to Colin Bridgerton yet, but I'm looking forward to reading his story.

    Oop. I didn't mean to insinuate all alpha males are jerks. It just seems there are a lot of jerk heroes in romance novels, especially historicals, who definitely fall under the category of alpha male. Leigh Michaels suggests that the most appealing heroes are a balance between alpha and beta, and I agree. Your heroes sound like the are balanced.

  6. Clarissa,

    I couldn't agree more. Superman is the epitome of a hero to me. He's the strongest man on earth, but he uses his power responsibly to help others. And he never tells a lie. Hmm... Now that I think about it, that part may not have drawbacks. "Honey, do these jeans make my butt look big?" "Sweetie, you know I can't tell a lie. Why do you ask me these questions?" :)

  7. Geez! I so need to proofread better today. I meant the inability to lie may have drawbacks. :)

  8. Great post, Samantha. I'm like the others who've posted so far--I like a mix of both alpha males and beta males as my heroes. I think the personality traits and why they are the way they are is far more important than if they are actually an alpha or a beta, or somewhere in the vast sea between the two. My first hero was a beta through and through. In fact, my current hero is the first true alpha I've ever written. I think I'd get bored quickly if every hero in every romance novel was an alpha. (And you haven't read Romancing Mr. Bridgerton yet? Get on that, stat!)

  9. Samantha,

    Sometimes I do wonder about contest judges. Unless you were entering an "alpha" hero contest, what does it matter to the judge if the hero is an alpha or a beta? (Heaven forbid he be a gamma.)

    I like both alphas and betas, AND write both alpas and betas. Though, I am with Jerrica about Lisa Kleypas' Sebastian in The Devil in Winter. He may be my most favorite hero ever, and he is a complete alpha. of course I do have a thing for reformed villains. I think mainly because those sorts of characters have so much depth to them. But I digress.

    I think there is room in the market place for both types of heros and the hybrids of the two.

  10. Samatha, I believe there is room for any kind of hero. By definition alone a hero is a hero, no matter whether he's an alpha or beta. He's still a hero.

    I think what the big turn off for alpha hero's is the fact that they are paired with a heroine who isn't their match. But if you write an extremely dominate hero, your heroine better not put up with any of his crap imho.

    I've written one really alpha hero but several of my others are very balanced and it works. I love all your hero's Samatha and I wouldn't want you to change a thing about them.

  11. Wow -- talk about timing -- I just came here after reading Romance University's blog post about alpha heroes! A lot of people there have commented on how hard it is to have an alpha that doesn't veer into jerk-dom. The faves are definitely the ones who view the woman as a partner, not someone to lord it over!

    I like take-charge heroes with a sense of humor (who don't seem to have an inflated view of themselves) -- not sure which Greek letter they would be assigned. :)

  12. I don't mind a strong alpha, but I'm kind of tired of the arrogant, stuck up, must-be-tamed alpha types. I read (and write) romance for escape...so I want my heros to be swoon-worthy, and not just for how they look.

    One of the biggest comments I get from my beta and serial readers is how they all fall in love with my hero right from the get-go. I love that...and I'll keep writing my heroes with that in mind. :-)

  13. Samantha,

    I defineitly think there's room in the market for both types of hereoes. I personally love to read variations of people. The same old type of alpha needing to be reformed would get terribly old and boring if that was all the romance community offered.

    Saying that, I also think it is important to make sure you have not made your hero so nice and so accomodating that it's not beleivable. I thik it is human nature to love a good chase and may be why alpha heroes are so loved, but you can bet away with betas, in my opinion, as long as you have strong conflict.

  14. Thanks for weighing-in with your opinions. I really appreciate all of you for stopping by to comment. Just for the record, I don't have anything against alpha males, just dominating jerky ones. I have an alpha male in my first story and I love him. But as Melissa said, my heroine can handle him. Actually, I think it's the other way around. He needed to be an alpha to handle her. :)

  15. What qualities do I look for? Exactly what you've described, Samantha!