Saturday, April 21, 2018

Alpha Heroes: Certifiable Creeps or Desirable Lovers?

For the longest time, I had no idea what an 'Alpha Hero' was. A multi-published romance novelist, I am especially embarrassed to admit that I did in fact remain in the dark about this for quite some time, maintaining only a faint idea of what the term meant, which I'd acquired solely by using context clues. I'd heard, in various writers' workshops and such that 'alpha heroes' were a popular archetype for heroes often used in romance novels. Every hero falls under the categorization of at least 1 archetype, the workshop leaders said, or perhaps several archetypes, but every type of character has been done before and understanding what archetype your hero falls under and learning how to purposefully create characters associated with a particular archetype will strengthen your writing tenfold..  My vague understanding of what an alpha hero was, at this point in time, was that he was a bad-boy, plain and simple, and that, often times this arrogant man must learn from his mistakes before he can win the heart of the heroine. True enough. Though, my understanding deepened further as time went on, and I went on to create several alpha heroes of my own. Recently, the wheels in my head began turning regarding alphas once again, when I encountered Evander "Vander" Septimus Brody, hero in Eloisa James's Four Nights with the Duke.

By definition, an alpha male is said to be the dominant male animal in a particular group, or man tending to assume a dominant or domineering role in social or professional situations. Searching for 'alpha hero' books via, the first book list sited is for 'Controlling/Sexy/Possessive Men,' followed by 'So you love a Bad Boy or Tortured Hero,' then 'Questionable Alphas: Dominant, Possessive, Jealous, Controlling, sometimes scary but always hot,' and, 'Hot Alpha Males' followed by 'Male Characters You Would Run From If They Tried To Date You.' Arguably, all of these classifications are clever ways of describing alphas. However, any loyal romance reader, or writer, (or ANY reader/writer for that matter!) knows that no two heroes are ever exactly the same. Heroes, like all characters, are a blend of traits and characteristics, quirks and distinctions. They are a combination of archetypes if you will, meaning, that, in essence, the percentage of "alpha" each alpha hero contains, varies.  Some, like Vander, may be more arrogant than others, making them harder to forgive in the end. The question, as readers, and writers, which we probably ask ourselves, subconsciously or otherwise, is, has the author gone too far?  Can we forgive this hero and, if so, can we give him our heart?

A couple of years ago, I created a workshop, which I presented to the New Jersey Romance Writers, entitled, Reforming the Former Villain: Does He Have What it Takes to Be a Hero? The inspiring idea behind this workshop had to do with reforming villains from previous stories, and turning them into the hero in a later story in a series. I've done this several times in my own stories, and though I am certainly not the only author who has done so, I'd never come across another who'd done so. I wanted to be sure that, A. It was not against "the rules" to reform a former villain, and, B. Prove to myself that my former villain could be forgiven for his past sins both by the heroine and by readers, because, let's face it, if he cannot be forgiven, then no one can accept him as the hero, let alone fall in love with him. I did. And, this same concept can be applied to alpha heroes, as they too must be forgiven for their sins in order for the reader to feel as though he or she has reached the point of happily ever after.  Alphas too can be forgiven for, (for lack of a better phrase) acting like an ass for a good part of the story, as long as he is reformable, and as long as he does, in fact, reform. When the moment of happily ever after comes, we give the hero our heart as the heroine has, knowing that he is a truly good man at the core. As every hero is different, there are an infinite number of ways the author can make this happen for us. Here are a few I've utilized in my writing.

  •  Said alpha hasn't gone "too" far, meaning that he hasn't said or done something completely horrible, with little to no justification for his actions, so much so that we cannot bring ourselves to forgive him for them.
  •  He is truly sorry for the things he's done. (And we know it!)
  •  A respectable heroine can love this man, because he himself is worthy of her respect. 

There is no right or wrong when it comes to telling a story. The story is a product of the author's and when it comes to creating an alpha that readers can appreciate, only she and her readers can be the judge. That said, let me say that it is my personal opinion that a hero who has completely crossed the moral lines by committing a serious crime, such as rape or murder, without a strong motivation behind his actions, or extenuating circumstance has probably lost my love. These extreme examples, however, are not the only ways a hero can pass the point of no return, and, as I immersed myself in the early pages of Vander Brody's story, I found myself extremely turned off to this historical bad-boy, particularly with the way that Vander was so convinced that the heroine, Mia, wanted him in the bedroom, and believed her blazing desire to be the reason she'd blackmailed him into marrying her, when in reality she'd done so to protect her disabled nephew. Rather than merely being cocky, Vander is quite cruel to Mia, and, seeing right off that this was the case, I decided to check out reviews for the title, to see if other readers shared my negative opinion of him. I was not surprised to find that many did not forgive this arrogant man in the end, yet what did surprise me was that I myself DID forgive him. As with matters in real life, things in this story are not always as they appear and it was my personal feeling that Vander (who becomes quite caring as the story progresses) does learn from his mistakes. Though he is hardly my favorite hero, he does treat Mia with respect, concern and great love in the end and even becomes a man that a reader can love, too.

It's been a while since I've read a story in which the hero had such a strong impact on me. But my initial feelings changed from beginning to end, both about Four Nights With the Duke and by alpha heroes in general. Seeing such an initially cruel man undergo an almost-complete transformation reminded me of how strong the power of love can be and that, at the end of the day, we are all human. As we breathe life into our characters, and enjoy their stories along with them, let us not forget that any hero, no matter how much he has to learn, is capable of seeing the light. And let's face it, fellow romance-lovers. Isn't a happily ever after that much better when it is well and truly earned? 

In the course of one disastrous evening, diamond smuggling kingpin Colin Westwood learns that his best recruit is missing in action, and that the man has been keeping a secret for years—he has a twenty six year old daughter. Determined to protect his identity, Colin vows to find the young woman, and keep her silent at any cost. Intrigued to learn that she is actually the attractive woman he caught sneaking around in his bedroom, he makes Julia an offer. Come to New York City with him to search for her missing father…as his mistress.

When Julia Dyson learns her father has been abducted, she believes his hidden profession may be to blame. But when she discovers a man’s name in her Dad's caller history, a man suspected of shady business activity and also her teenage crush, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She confronts her father's presumed abductor, resulting in an unforgettable kiss, and his offer of a dangerous proposition indeed.

Though becoming Colin’s mistress could very well be her undoing, Julia must choose—give in to her desires, or protect her already-broken heart…

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