Alpha or Beta: How Do You Like Your Heroes?

I’ve been fortunate to receive some wonderful reviews of With Good Behavior, and several readers have commented that they fell hard for romantic hero Grant Madsen in all his McSailor McMuffinicious goodness. However, a couple of reviewers commented that Grant was too soft and sensitive, particularly since he’s a former Navy lieutenant who just emerged from prison.

I’ve learned that I shouldn’t hang my hat on any particular review, but one of the most intriguing parts of writing for me has been the wildly different reactions readers have for the same novel. Challenging the believability of an emotionally expressive romantic hero really got me thinking about two questions:

1) Can a man be sensitive and kind, shedding a tear when pushed to his limits, and still be masculine?

My answer to this question is a resounding YES! In my role as a psychologist, I observe men cry. Most of the times they’re embarrassed as hell and promptly apologize for their tears. But I never view emotional expression like that as a sign of weakness. I think it takes incredible strength to face feelings head on–much more strength than numbing the feelings through a drinking binge, for example. We’re human and we feel emotions whether we like it or not.

Unfortunately, our culture teaches men to stifle those emotions. In his thoughtful book Real Boys, William Pollack explores male socialization.

Pollack examines the lessons we pass along to boys. We teach boys to be stoic, strong, and rugged. We tell them to suck it up, that they’re only acceptable if they’re star athletes. We administer tough love from a young age, erroneously believing that showing warmth and understanding will make boys weak. If boys stray from the tightly controlled behavior we expect of them, others call them cruel names and homophobic slurs. Boys quickly learn to behave in stereotypically masculine ways.

Is this a good thing for male development? I’ve found that suppressing all emotion sure can make adult relationships difficult. What if a boy feels drawn to be an artist or dancer? What if he hates sports? What if he’s not very muscular? These boys suffer greatly and often become the targets of bullies. I believe we should love boys and men for who they are instead of forcing them into a very limiting mold.

Onto my second question:

2) How do you feel about “beta” males? Must the romantic hero be an “alpha”?

I think this is a highly personal preference. Alpha males are typically dominant, muscular, demanding leaders. Beta males are more respectful of women and less power-hungry.

I prefer a man to have alpha and beta qualities. My romantic lead Grant Madsen is a survivor of childhood abuse, making him somewhat of a people pleaser and sensitive to others’ emotions. However, he’s also physically strong, intelligent, and capable. What kind of romantic hero is your favorite?

Because I love to explore themes of healing and redemption, I strive to write characters growing stronger throughout the series. And I believe that “stronger” could mean becoming more alpha or beta–whatever the man needs to be authentic and confident. I’ll be curious to see what reviewers think of Grant’s character in the second installment of The Conduct Series: Bad Behavior (coming out in March, 2011).

Well, it’s Monday again, and I have to work even though it’s a holiday. *pouts* Perhaps the Meet an Author Monday Blog Hop will lift my spirits. Check out Lisa Sanchez’s blog for details.

19 thoughts on “Alpha or Beta: How Do You Like Your Heroes?”

  1. What a terrific post! I am NOT about the extreme alpha males, my friend. I don't like to write them as main characters at all. That doesn't mean that I don't like \”masculine\” characteristics in my men, certainly I do. But masculine doesn't equal a repressed time bomb who hasn't mentally or spiritually evolved enough to express genuine emotion appropriately. So, I agree with you! And I've seen examples of military men with the softest hearts, by the way. 😉 xoxoJen


  2. A man who will cry in front of me can be downright sexy—it shows a level of trust. But part of the appeal is that it's not something he does all the time. So, a frequent cryer? No thanks. But I'm the same way w/ girls, so it's not a gender thing.As for questions #2. Some of each, please. 😉


  3. Hey Karen, I like surprising too.I agree with you on the trust thing, Nicki. It's funny that my heroine Sophie cries a lot more than Grant but nobody calls her out on that! I just realized that I should've added new Speaker of the House John Boehner, a frequent crier, to the discussion. 😉 Maybe he might change how crying men are perceived?


  4. I enjoy a combination. I don't like hard men that are incapable of showing emotion because eventually they will explode and it won't be in a controlled way. Emotions have a way of making themselves know somehow and holding things in builds the intensity. I like to read about men who have the ability to take the lead but can can step back just far enough to examine their own motives.


  5. I love also mixing up the pot when it comes to the personalities of my male characters. Some are alpha, some are beta, and some are mix between the two. Just depends what feels right for that character and the situations he is facing.


  6. Seems that a combination of alpha and beta is the consensus.Carol, I totally agree that emotions have a way of making themselves known. I dated a man who communicated through his behavior, not his words, and it was crazy-making!\”I like to read about men who have the ability to take the lead but can can step back just far enough to examine their own motives.\”Oo, I like that too. Well said!


  7. Nicole, I like a heroine with some alpha in her as well. Purely beta leading ladies drive me a little nuts.Kelsey, I agree. You need to have a variety of personality types depending on what each character tells you about himself.Thanks for the comments, ladies! I wonder what the guys think . . .


  8. A while ago I would have said weeping males could be a turn on, but right now there are some TV pundits and politicos who seem to be using it to manipulate people, and that's just…icky. Bullies always feel sorry for themselves. That doesn't make them good people. Or sexy.Romance heroes don't all have to be stoic John Wayne types, but professional cry-babies are not for me!


  9. Kittie, thank you for the smiles!Anne, I agree that somebody crying all the time isn't my cup of tea. Are you referring to John Boehner when you mention politicos who cry, or are there others you're thinking of? I'm curious–if you are referring to John Boehner, what makes you think his tears are manipulative?


  10. When I think of a stereotypical “alpha male” character, I think of Jack Reacher in the series by Lee Child. He’s hard core cool, but the books read more like a bad action movie than a realistic story. I think women expect more from their ‘heroes’ nowadays – REAL men. Look at the evolution of superheroes: when they first arrived on the scene, they were infallible; nowadays superhero movies emphasise their personal struggles from their past and/or carrying the great burden/responsibility of being a ‘hero’. So yes, a combination of “alpha” and “beta” is ideal, but every individual will prefer their own ratio of each! The same goes for female characters. I suppose it depends on the reader’s personality – who/what compliments them.I’m wracking my brains, but honestly can’t remember a place where Grant sheds a tear in With Good Behavior. When he’s having a PTSD attack, perhaps? Or when a person close to him dies? It seems to me that I’d remember the scene(s) if I thought that tears weren’t a suitable reaction. He’s sensitive and aware of other people’s feelings, but would risk his life for the people he loves. ❤


  11. Hey Shona! My dad loves the Jack Reacher series but I've yet to read Lee Child's books. One of my favorite authors, Nelson DeMille, tends to write Alpha Males, but there's also a lot of complexity to his characters.Interesting observation about the evolution of superheroes! I like that. And the idea of a \”ratio\” of alpha to beta is something I was trying to figure out how to say in my post but you nailed it.I was a bit surprised when one reviewer said that Grant was crying all the time. Off the top of my head, the occasions I recall him crying were when he hugged Uncle Joe after 2+ years in prison, when a significant person in his life died, and when he was on the ship thinking about a key loss in his life. I thought those were instances when even the manliest man might cry, but maybe Grant's a little more sensitive than most.


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