Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Writing For Presents 2 - Some thoughts on Heroes

Thank you all for your lovely warm and sympathetic messages about Spiffy - they have warmed and supported me through the day and helped so much.

Thank you.

I know that I had promised some more comments on writing for Presents but life sort of drove all that from my mind. But over on Anne McAllister's blog she is hosting a fascinating and absorbing discussion about Heroes and what we most want from them. Well worth a look and a good read.

This discussion reminded me of another one over on where Natalie Anderson was discussing Alpha heroes with humour and charm.

I'll admit that I was surprised to find that the 'humour and charm' bit was written as if it was unexpected and unusual for an Alpha hero - as if being an alpha male meant that a guy had to have a charm lobotomy and a sense of humour by pass before he could become an alpha hero

As many of you will know, I have this personal campaign to get people to understand what the real alpha is - and that's not the sort of bullying, domineering type that so many readers - and, I'll admit, some writers seem to think he is.

Over on the I heartPresents blog, the Presents editors talked about the alpha male and reminded everyone that this guy is the ultimate nurturer. He's the one with the great sense of responsibility - the one who feels he has to lead, to take charge, to sort things out - to take care of people and things - because nature and circumstance have put him in that position.

That's the position that the alpha wolf is in - one of the places that the term 'alpha' comes from.
But - I've said it before, and I'll say it again and again - this does not make him a bully or domineering or cruel. If a hero is portrayed as bullying, domineering and cruel - then that's because he's those things - by nature he's a bully and cruel - not because he's an alpha. And if by nature he's bullying and cruel, then I for one can never believe in any sudden 'about face' and declaration of love at the end of the book. And I think that any heroine who believes in it is deluding herself . Loving and caring is not just one great big declaration -one huge apology for being a pig and then saying 'I love you.' Love is showing that you care in many - and often very small ways. I've met a lot of men (women too) who behaved like pigs - declared they were sorry - it would never, ever happen again - they were changed for life . . .
And then went straight out and behaved in default monster mode the minute they were tested.

One of my favourite books is Wuthering Heights - but I can never ever imagine any sort of Happy Ever After ending for that book because no matter how much Heathcliff (And Cathy for that matter) declare their 'love' for each other, it's a selfish, demanding, controlling sort of love. Not a love of giving and equality - and of honour.

Because, for me, although the Alpha hero is often arrogant, and yes, controlling in the circumstances in which he finds himself, , deep down he wants to do the right thing. He's good at heart, not evil - he can just seem to be that way when he comes up against the heroine in a situation that has distorted reality and made him doubt the truth of what his instincts are telling him.

The clashes that come into the stories should be clashes between the hero and his heroine when he totally believes he's doing what's right - and she sees his actions in the exact opposite light. Not that he is in fact doing something cruel or wrong - but because circumstances have led him to believe that what he is doing is the right - the only thing. And circumstances have led her to believe that he's doing wrong.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - It's that core of honour that makes a hero and is vital to any man who's going to be written as a hero, Without it, any man who goes back on his word or uses his strength to dominate etc just because he can, is not a hero - never mind an alpha - in my book.

And in my book too any alpha should be capable of oodles of charm and humour - it's just that in the circumstances of the story, when this guy is focused on dealing with the situation that has arisen, one that he feels he really has to put right, no matter what it takes, sometimes he puts that part of himself aside to bring forward the part he feels can cope best right now.
Like Natalie said:

The mistake that some readers make is thinking that the alpha in fight mode who appears in the books is the one and only side to the alpha there is. And the mistake some writers can make is in making it appear that there is only this one side to him, and never ever letting the real character of the man show through. If they don't then they don't show a real alpha - they don't take the time to explore the real depths and the different strengths - the emotional, loving, caring strengths this man has too.

I've already discussed this in some detail in my 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance and I feel so strongly about it that I'm going to be adding to it and developing it in a new edition coming up - but more on that later.


Annie West said...

Hi Kate,

Just popped in before I turn to the book I'm writing. Wanted to say that for me you're spot on, saying that the hero has a core of honour and that he believes he's doing the right thing. Those are at the heart of Presents heroes and for me are what makes them intrinsically so appealing. Of course the fact that they're in love with the heroine whether they admit it or not, and will move heaven and earth to have her, helps too!

Thanks for the post. Off now to tackle my own hero.


Anne McAllister said...

Thanks, Kate. Yes, I agree, as you know. I think I find the stereotype alpha male as very limited, and I regret that it seems as if many readers anticipate the arrogant unkind bully as the prototype. He's sooo much more than that.

Frankly I think the 'alpha' designation is over-used and ought to be retired so we stop short-circuiting our discussions by always trying to explain him. There are lots of good explanations -- let's just call him a Kate Walker Hero, or a Michelle Reid hero, or a Jayne Ann Krentz hero, or an Anne Stuart hero. They all embody characteristics of that code of honor. But they are all different because the writers are different people.

christina said...

Very succinctly put, Kate. For me, bullies are the biggest turn-off there is. Honourable, three-dimensional characters are so much more sexy!
Good to hear there'll be a new edition of your 12-point guide - my daughter is going to get one the instant it comes out. Having her very own copy might stop her pinching mine!


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