Friday, April 17, 2009

Heroes - the basics (Specially for Liz Fielding)

Ok, so in order to start off a discussion All About Alphas, I need to define why there is such a term as 'The Alpha Hero' so that we know the base from whiche we're starting. When I was at university, one lecturer was always drumming into us the phrase 'define your terms' and so I think we need this introduction.

We also need it because LIz Fielding has put in a special request for it! And as Liz has so kindly made a contribution to the upcoming discussion, then who am I to deny her?

Plus - well it gives me a chance to use one of my favourite 'inspirations' - namely one Hugh Jackman. And any excuse . . .

All right, when talking about heroes, some writers (and actually I'm not one of them for reasons that should become apparent as this discussion goes on) define different types of heroes with different letters of the Greek alphabet - which is where the word Alpha ( ie A - the first) comes from. They tend to define 3 types of hero - Alpha. Beta, Gamma.

And those heroes are defined - in general terms - this way:

Alpha = Tough, brooding, strong, powerful, proactive, larger than life

Beta = Sensitive, emotional, tender, romantic
Gamma = Sexy, playful, charming, irreverent, with a bit of toughness, and a tender side.

If you want to look at this the Kate Walker way (and the way Liz wanted me to repeat) you can take examples from three very different films - all starring one man -


Alpha Hugh - X-Men.

LOGAN aka Wolverine
OK, forget the silly hairdo and the fact that he needs a really good manicure. With Logan what you get is a kick-ass, tough, brawling, intense, brooding, gorgeous, sexy, seductive-as-heck good guy. Definitely Alpha. You wouldn’t catch Logan “sharing his feelings” or shedding a tear. You wouldn’t ask him to do anything girly. He's definitely pro-active, out to make things hapen, get them sorted. Yet he has a vulnerable spot, he has emotions though he tries to keep them buried. If you have a copy of the DVD with the extras, watch Hugh Jackman's screen test – see the change from nice guy to danger. It's in the eyes, in the way he holds his body - but he's not a danger to the woman he's with. Just dangerous in the pent-up power he has. Dangerous to the bad guys too.

Beta Hugh -Kate & Leopold.

LEOPOLD- a very proper, elegant, respectful and sexy aristocrat. A man who is reserved, yet emotionally accessible, who is exceedingly polite, keeping his passions below the surface. He can befriend a woman. His charm pushes him toward Gamma, but his reserve and gentleness speak of Beta. He's a man a woman would love to have in real life. He’ll never hurt her. She’ll be able to be 100% sure of him, as she never could with his brooding Alpha—or too-sexy Gamma—counterparts.

But don't be deceived into thinking that the Beta man is any sort of a wuss. Or that he can't stand up for himself or defend his own. Leopold comes to his heroine's rescuse when she needs him and he's more than prepared to stand up to Kate's boss with calm dignity but steely purpose. If the Beta is challenged there are Alpha traits just there below the surface. Because, be honest - every man has a touch of the Alpha in him, when he needs to use it. It comes out when he needs to meet a challenge. And the strength of the challenge defines the strength of his response.

Gamma Hugh - Someone Like You

EDDIE - an irreverent, sexy, playful cad. Wildly successful with women because of his self-confidence, charm, wit and looks. He didn’t need to be tough or larger than life to have boatloads of appeal. A flash of his wicked grin, the sparkle in his eyes, Not brooding, tough or aggressive like the Alphas often are. But not gentle, nurturing and emotional like the Betas can be.

And here again, the Gamma can have both the Alpha and the Beta in him - and being an Alpha or Beta doesn't deny the elements of charm and flirtatiousness of a Gamma hero.

Which is one of the reasons why I don't totally subscribe to these Alpha, Beta, Gamma descriptions. Every man has elements of all three in him and every hero does too.

OK - let's slightly reword that - every well-written hero does too.

Because that is one of the problems when it comes to writing Alphas - it's there in the question that Rachel asked in the comments section to my original All About Alphas post - the problem that means she is told that her hero:

'has a tendency to frighten the reader off with his ferocity and is also in danger of being negated for his 'alphaness'(the very quality that readers come to the books for)

What I want to show in this discussion - and thanks to some of the wonderful authors who've responded to my request for contributions, I have little doubt that I will be able to do that - is that 'Alpha' is a multi-faceted image, a creation with different tones and colours for each line - each style - each book. And to stick only to one particular, narrow image of this hero is to lose so much that can 'flesh out' a character, make him even more appealing while still preserving those potent Alpha qualities that make him such a challenge.

And that challenge is part of what creates the conflict in thebook.

Because, to quote two great but very different writers on this subject:

Given that conflict is a requirement of all good fiction, especially good genre fiction, and given that the conflict must arise out of the primary focus of the story, it is understandable that in a romance novel conflict must exist between the hero and heroine.
Jayne Ann Krentz

The strong, domineering hero of the romance novel has long been the subject of criticism. What critics don’t realize is that the hero’s task in the book is to present a suitable challenge to the heroine. His strength is a measure of her power for it is she who must conquer him.

Every good romance heroine must have a hero who is worthy of her

Robyn Donald

Tomorrow I'll show you how Mills & Boon define the way that the Alpha hero appears in every single one of their lines.


Donna Alward said...

I'm really looking forward to this discussion!

Kate, this bit: "Because, be honest - every man has a touch of the Alpha in him, when he needs to use it. It comes out when he needs to meet a challenge. And the strength of the challenge defines the strength of his response." is golden for me. I definitely see how my heroes are alpha in many ways, but also have beta characteristics, and the balance changes depending on each hero. :-)

Julie Cohen said...

Whereas I totally go for the gammas. But they have an alpha core, always—especially when challenged.

Thanks for the post and especially for the Hugh pics...can't ever get enough of those.

Mon Wood said...

Great discussion topic. Oh, and where there's Hugh, I'm there *swoon*.

As a new writer I struggle a bit with the alpha male. I agree, the men I like most have some alpha tendencies, but are a real mix.

I need to polish my current ms which involves an alpha. I don't want him to be horrid. I see it's a common problem for other writers, which is a relief.

Kate Walker said...

I'm glad that stuck a chord Donna. And I'd agree with you about your heroes.

Mine too, I think - the balance changes according to the level of the challenge and the circumstances of it

Kate Walker said...

Julie - yes Gammas are wonderful but a steely core makes for a great story - when that challen ge arises.

And well, you know me and Hugh - any excuse!

Kate Walker said...

Monique - my hit rating always shoots up if I display Hugh pics . . .I wonder why ;o)

I'll talk about getting the balance between an Alpha who is 'horrid' and one that is sympathetic - probably in bits and pieces along the way and then hopefully in a recap to answer your question

Liz Fielding said...

Thanks, Kate!

And I happen to totally agree that a great hero is all three rolled into one. Like Julie, I'm a bit of a sucker for the Gamma, but I want the qualities of the other two, as well.


Home Bio Books USA Readers Writers Contests Events Blog Links

Join Kate's Newsletter

Email Kate

Modified and Maintained by HR Web Concepts