May 4, 2011

Writing For Presents: Heroes

This is a hard post to write (haha…I said hard…get your giggles out now kids.) because when it comes to character, I truly believe there are a lot more options than a lot of people think.

I see SO much STUFF on message boards about those ALPHA MALES. Oh, how people HATE them. Oh, they could never write one of those. They’re all mean, and cruel, and call the heroine names. And that’s what an alpha male is and blah.

*Maisey bangs her head on the desk*

That isn’t what alpha means. Certainly, you do find heroes in romance novels who have that personality, and I’m not saying they aren’t alpha males. In fact, a well motivated man who behaves in that manner, so long as he changes througout, is fine with me. What I am saying, is that alpha is a broad term, much broader than people seem to think.

And on that note, the Presents hero has much more room for variance than people seem to think as well. Truly, every author in this line is so different, and it’s a very voice driven line. Our editors ALWAYS encourage us to let our natural voices come through. That included letting our own voices shine through when it comes to our heroes.

An alpha male is the highest ranking male in a social group. The alpha of a wolf pack, the alpha of a World of Warcraft Guild and the alpha of a multi-billion dollar company will behave differently from each other. 😉

I’ve banged on about alpha heroes a lot in previous posts, because I think they have a bad rap. And because in reading contest entries, I’ve seen a lot of what I’ll call ‘Poser Alphas’ who are only behaving a certain way because it’s clear the writer had out her alpha checklist and was sort of filling in everything she believed that meant.

Playboy? Check. Jackass? Check. Calls the heroine a whore at least three times? Check.

I’ve read books where the heroes were, and did, ALL those things, and as long as it’s well motivated, it works. But when it’s only there because the writer is working off of an archetype for they think they HAVE to do, it shows.

That’s why I think it’s so important to examine who your character is and why he is that way.

I’m going to use one of Jennie Lucas’s heroes (because I LOVE him) as an example of that brooding, intense alpha hero. Maksim from The Christmas Love Child, had such a horrible past. And he lied to the heroine. And I LOVED that. Because you could see this struggle in him. He had a goal, and the heroine was his avenue to fulfilling that goal. And coming from an impovrished background where looking out for himself first was essential, it made his actions to understandable and forgivable. Watching him struggle with his conscience for the first time was so awesome as a reader. And the HEA was SO satisfying.

But he wasn’t just this selfish jerk out for his own ends. He was complex. He was a man who honestly didn’t quite know HOW to care about people, and Jennie showed us that so beautifully. He’s one of my favorite heroes ever. (The book finaled in the RITA last year, read it, you’ll see why)

Maksim is a Presents hero. No doubt.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’ll give you Gage Forrester, my hero from Marriage Made on Paper. He’s a Presents hero too. And he’s an alpha male. But Gage spent ten years raising his little sister and he is very in tune with his protective side as a result. He’s a Southern California guy, and while he’s totally driven in business, and completely able to turn on the ruthless when it comes to protecting his sister, he has a kind of laid back personality when it comes to day-to-day interaction. He’s a bit of playboy, but his family comes first.

In contrast to Maksim, who had only ever had to live for himself, as a matter of total survival, Gage has spent his life living for someone else’s needs.

These men are an example of alpha executed differently, and it all stems from…yes…character background.

There are so many heroes in the line, and they ARE different from each other. So when you approach writing a hero for the line, for any line, you have to to think of him as his own, individual person, not as a paint by number.

It says on the inside cover of the North American Presents that the line delivers “Unforgettable men.” And that’s the true promise and challenge.

This isn’t a post telling you NOT to make your alpha heroes a certain way, or telling you to make them the way I do. Don’t don’t do that. Make them the way YOU do. Make them believable. Make them real. Make them unforgettable, and most of all, make them yours!

As always, if you have any questions please feel free to leave them in comments!


Comments

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  1. Great blog post! As a woman married to an Alpha male, I also think they have received some bad publicity. Your description of what it means to be alpha is right on the money. I have never met an “alpha” male type who was chauvinistic, abusive, or a womanizer. In fact, it’s the so called alphas that don’t have to result to these tactics to get what they want. (I’m not saying they don’t exist.)

    The alpha-heroes that I have loved in books have been complex, undergoing an epiphany usually initiated by the relationship with the heroine. His journey of self-realization is what connects me emotionally to the hero. I think that no matter what the “level” of masculinity is, from alpha to gamma, it’s the development and growth of the hero’s character that makes him unforgettable.

  2. RomCon that is gorgeously put! I love that. If he’s truly in charge, why should he have to belittle someone else? That, in my mind, stems from insecurity. Love your comment. I want to frame it. 🙂

  3. Maisey, I’m totally blushing! Thanks for your nice comments about Maksim and The Christmas Love-Child. I loved him, too. In fact I can still remember a line from his POV, when he’d trying to justify to himself the whopper he just told to Grace. “Deceit was part of the art of war.” I can’t wait to read Gage’s story. You have such an amazing knack for fresh, original storytelling that I adore

    And RomCom, I totally agree with your point about alpha heroes. They are always in strong and in control – especially of themselves – the opposite of abusive. It takes the heroine to force the alpha to open up and be more vulnerable, a scary thing for him, to give up control. In the end, each brings out the other’s true strength.

  4. Jennie, that’s the part I remember so vividly! Talk about unforgettable. I think I’m going to re-read this book now…bwahaha. Great point. I think that’s why alpha males are so compelling. Because they are so in control of their own lives, but the heroine really takes that from them and forces them into a position of vulnerability. Alpha heroines, one might say. 😉

    Also, thank you for the compliment. 🙂 You’re so sweet to me.

  5. I think the characters that work the best for me are the ones where the author really embraced that character -faults and all. There is a big difference between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightly. On the surface they seem very similar, but when you think of the conflicts each faced with their heroine, it’s clear how different they are, even fenced in by the rigid mores of that era.

    I think part of the confusion of the discussion on alphas is the different definitions people use. I’ve heard several people say that an alpha male is the one who is always in charge. And that is true. But I also think that an alpha is the guy who doesn’t have to be in charge. But he’s the one everyone turns to when things go badly. That to me is very telling. Sometimes it’s not the one you’d expect. Yet everyone in the group seems to know who it is.

  6. Julia, I think that’s very true! The man with the qualities of the true leader is much more hero worthy than the man who has reached the top, but doesn’t possess those qualities.

    There were people thinking firemen heroes didn’t count as alpha (I assume because they aren’t billionaire bankers) but I *so* disagree. A man with a calm head under pressure, willing to take charge in dangerous situations to defend those who are helpless? Alpha male, baby.

  7. I totally agree about the firemen. And police officers and military personnel. There’s a reason those professions are overrepresented in romance.

  8. It’s the uniforms. 😉 Well, and that other stuff.

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