Sunday, April 19, 2009

All About Alphas 3 - the challenge

Several of you have written to say that you are concerned about writing an alpha who appears to be either too soft or too tough.

Jill is worried that the men she has as examples are ". . . more your laid back, take life as it comes sort of guys, which I love."
Rach would "really like your thoughts on getting the Alpha character somewhere between too 'ferocious' and just too damn 'nice'.
and Monique says just: "I don't want him to be horrid."
I'll come back to this but for now I want to say something that I feel is important. And that is that when you are writing a romance, you are writing a story with a short, intense focus on a particular time in your characters' lives.
A time of crisis.
A time of challenge
You are not writing a day to day, plod along, matter of fact time but a time when things come to a head, when crises develop, when questions have to be asked, problems faced, mistakes acknowledged, challenges faced and dealt with once and for all. And those are uncomfortable, difficult, complicated times. The times we would all try to avoid if we could.

But in a romance, if your hero and heroine are to be able to sort things out, resolve the conflicts between them - and conflict is a whole different Q&A - then they need to go through this difficult time, this crisis and then reach a final catharsis which has the reader believing that they can go forward into a happy ever after future together.

Let me try to illustrate this. And seeing as our archetypal hero is Hugh Jackman, who better to illustrate it?

Last night I watched an TV interview with Hugh Jackman. Lovely man. Tall dark, incredibly handsome, incredibly fit and toned, talented, successful . . . A perfect alpha hero. He has to have to alpha characteristics of drive, commitment, dedication, self assurance, determination . . . to get where he is. It's not just talent but the way he uses it.

He was also articulate, intelligent, charming, witty. So some would say there was the Gamma hero - and I'd have to agree. No reason why an Alpha can't have Beta characteristics.
Clearly a family man, caring about his children. He gave of himself to the interview and was a delight to watch. Beta characteristics there? Again no reason why not. no man - no person is soley and totally just one thing.
But he was in a relaxed and comfortable situation. And he was on public show.

Now imagine that after that interview this man went away from the TV studios, back to his home or hotel suite and met with someone who challenged him totally. Someone who - he believed - threatened his sense of right and wrong, his code of honour. Someone who maybe threatened his family, those children he cared about. Someone who threw him emotionally right off balance with feeling that he just didn't expect, didn't want, didn't like. Someone who emotionally put him with his back against the wall so that - whether right or wrong - he felt that he needed to sort things out, to take up the challenge that was thrown at him, and deal with it.

I can well believe that the person who set off those feelings in him would see a very different man from the one laughing on the sofa on the TV set.

And then later what if he discovered that his inital beliefs about that situation had been wrong all the way along - and he'd made some really bad mistakes?

Uncomfortable. Difficult. Possibly dangerous. You bet.

That's the sort of situation, the conflict, that your hero ends up in. That's the man whose story you are telling. The man who is reacting to a crises and to what he feels needs to be done to sort it out.

nd because you pitch him against a heroine who throws him totally off balance because he experiences feelings for her that he has never known before. And possibly because he feels that she is completely the wrong person to feel those emotions about, then his reactions - good or bad - are even more intense, even more heightened. He's in asituation that is out of his comfort zone, where the way he's lived up to know, the coping techniques he's used, the things that have worked in the past, no longer work. He's dealing with diferent sorts of dangers - emotional dangers - the ones that can break hearts.

It's like the old-fashioned knights who lived by a strong code of honour and didn't go round trampling people under their horses' hooves, or lopping heads off will-nilly - but when someone challenged them - literally 'throwing down the gauntlet' - then that was a different matter.

And the heroine is the one who throws down that - emotional - gauntlet. He's not like this with everyone else. Probably not with anyone else - just her.
(c) Kate Walker

To illustrate this, I'm going to use a quote that the wonderful Michelle Reid brought to my attention -(Thanks so much Michelle!) that sums it up beautifully
“His passions ran at gale-force turbulence with her. Everywhere else in his life
control and restraint ruled the roost. He was punctual, tidy, organised,
immaculate in appearance. He carried enormous responsibility. He was a rock for
his dependent and less able brothers and sisters to lean upon. He was in every
other field a strong, principled and honourable man, worthy of respect. She was
the fatal flaw that rocked him dangerously off balance.”
The Veranchetti Marriage Lynne Graham 1989


Monique Wood said...

Your explanation is fantastic! I had a moment of clarity when I read this post. Thanks, Kate.

Oh, and please keep using Hugh examples. I never get tired of them! Lol. :-)

Anne McAllister said...

Very well said, Kate. Excellent examples.

Rachel said...

This is really good stuff, Kate. I'm finding it all so terribly helpful.



lidia said...

I remember reading that book many years ago.

I love alphas. A well written alpha makes a great hero. A poorly written alpha gives the "real" alphas a bad name.

It is a shame that nowadays there are more and more "bad alphas." Those books belong in a different line/imprint.


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