by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
Alpha males sell books.
No matter what else they might be good at -- and we’ve all seen them be good at LOTS of things! -- they’re fabulous at selling books.
But that doesn’t mean every reader, much less every writer, adores those classic alpha males.
For one thing, we have a hard time defining exactly what an alpha male IS. I’m going to ask your opinion, down below, but first let’s look at what we love about these guys...and why we resent them.
Alpha males take command, right? Which can be wonderfully attractive -- and which can also be downright annoying.
Or IS there any difference?
Picture a guy who’s standing at the scene of a five-car pile-up, telling everyone what to do. “You! Back up the van. You! Get that bike out of the way. You! Move your vehicle toward the curb.”
He’s a hero, managing to accomplish whatever needs taking care of and getting everyone around him to do what he says.
But now picture that same guy giving those same orders in a grocery store parking lot where nobody’s hurt, there are just a lot of cars backed up. Suddenly he’s a bossy jerk.
Yet he hasn’t changed his behavior. It’s only our interpretation of it that’s changed.
That’s part of what makes it tricky to write the kind of alpha hero who’s guaranteed to delight readers.
Well, there’s a fine line between a man who’s strong enough to withstand whatever the world can throw at him while never breaking down, and a man who’s incapable of expressing any emotion except anger.
There’s also a fine line between a man who’s all about protecting what’s his, including the woman he loves, and a man who views that woman as his possession.
And there’s another fine line between a man who’s so incredibly sexy that every woman in the room is dazzled by his sizzling presence, and a man who’s willing to share that smoldering sexuality with every woman in the room.
How much is too much alpha?
How little is too little?
(Okay, did everyone else’s mind just go to the same place mine did? Sorry!)
But readers who love books about alpha males don’t usually stop to think where that fine line should be. All they know is, they LIKE their romantic heroes to be strong, confident, vigorous, powerful. Suave or rugged is okay, CEO or firefighter is okay, fighter jet or Harley is okay, but aside from those little details there’s not a whole lot of room for compromise.
And that’s exactly what makes them so easy to resent.
How come they always get to call the shots?
How come they can attract any woman they want just by crooking their little finger?
How come they don’t have to deal with the things all the rest of us do?
Oh, but wait! Once this alpha hero falls in love with the heroine, he’ll have to change his ways...right?
That’s tricky, too.
Because if suddenly this rip-roaring testosterone-driven leader of the pack is murmuring, “Yes, dear, I’ll pick up the drycleaning and be home for dinner whenever you like” -- drat it, he’s no longer quite such a thrilling prize.
He’s more of a regular guy...the kind most readers wish would remember to pick up the drycleaning in everyday life. So where’s the romantic excitement in THAT?
Alpha males are as tough to write as they are to live with -- and yet they’re so attractive, we can’t just throw them out of our pages!
How do we get around that?
It helps to look at what makes each alpha unique. We already know these aren’t cookie-cutter characters, but their differences go beyond Harley vs fighter jet, suave or rugged, firefighter or CEO.
There are other elements to consider, including their origins and their pack and their beta counterpart and their environment and their personality type, which we’ll do next month in my “Alpha Males From Abe To Zeus” class.
And here’s where your opinion on two issues comes in. (In fact, I might want to quote you on these, so please let me know if that’s NOT okay.)
First question: Do you know any alphas in real life -- and if so, what are they like? Admirable traits, annoying traits, some of each are fine!
Second question: Have you written any alpha heroes -- and if so, what did you like most and least about the most recent one?
I’d love to get your thoughts on this...and by the way, if you live with an alpha male in real life (rather than on the page where you can just set him aside any time he gets too difficult), you have both my admiration and my envy!
Laurie, betting everyone here would appreciate tips on How To Live With An Alpha from those who’ve figured out the techniques.
What are your answers to the two questions above? Do you like reading books with alpha males? Please tell us about it in the comments section!
* * * * * *
Laurie Schnebly Campbell has been intrigued with alpha males ever since she heard that they’re the ones who are always breaking dishes. (Suddenly her husband looked less clumsy, and more sexy!) She’s teaching a class on why, whether, and how to write irresistible alpha males, from November 2-13 at http://heartsthroughhistory.com/workshops/alpha-males.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
1. I used to work with an alpha male. He always assumed he was in charge even though all five of us had the same position and that was annoying. But once when another co-worker was injured he got her fixed up right away and he was easier to put up with after that.
2. I haven't written any full alphas, although one of them viewed himself as being in control. I liked that he was good at his job and didn't like that he was unwilling to share control with his new trainee.
Naomi, good point about it being easier to put up with an alpha male once he's proven he really DOES care about co-workers (or whoever's in his orbit). That's always a useful thing to mention early in the story if he seems otherwise unlikable.
Hi Laurie and know my mind didn't go where yours did until you mentioned it.
I do like to read alpha males and love it when they go all mushy over their heroine and babies / children but I can't write them. My human services background hampers my best efforts at writing alphas although i do know a lot of drs who are alpha and brush everyone else aside. They are jerks.
Tracey, I hadn't thought about doctors tending to be alphas but that makes sense; they're so used to being in control when it comes to medicine that the attitude often extends into other aspects of life...even when NOBODY's life is on the line!
I loved this post, Laurie!
I grew up with an alpha (my father) and have to say his most admirable trait is that he's a 'take charge kinda guy'. His most annoying trait is that he's a 'take charge kinda guy'. It's admirable in an emergency or in another moment of need, chaos or confusion. He jumps right in and no one else has to think, we just have to "do". Whatever he says. WHAT. EVER. HE. SAYS. It's not so great in the less than urgent moments when the rest of us would normally work our way through the situation. Results are his thing, not method, so he'll find the most direct way out and forge ahead...why use a scalpel when there's a sledgehammer within reach?
Regarding an alpha I'm writing, he's a sheriff of a very small town so he doesn't have to be 'on' all the time but he gives the impression he is. What I love about him is how observant he is. With a glance he knows whether a situation warrants his authority and attention or whether it can/will fizzle on its own. Love that. I find that kind of awareness and readiness super, uber sexy. What I don't like about him is how regimented his mind is. I have to work extra hard to figure out his thought process. “Reasoning” isn't worked out, it's built in, so he'll go from zero to 60 in a blink. It is exhausting. I'm still not sure I've figured him out. Which is as frustrating as it is exciting. 🙂
Debbie, what great descriptions of both your father AND the sheriff -- two different kinds of alphas, but with that wonderfully solid core. I especially like your scalpel/sledgehammer, 0 to 60 and frustrating/exciting parallels!
Such a fun article, Laurie.
You love them, you hate them....that's what makes a great Alpha hero. Well, writing them, is a whole different story. But whoever says it's easy to write romance hasn't written one.
Adite, you're SO right about the "ease" of writing romance -- and, come to think of it, that's a good metaphor for writing alphas! On the surface they might seem pretty simple, but once you start working on 'em... 🙂
Laurie, you've described the alpha male perfectly. I'm married to an alpha male. After 48 years of marriage, he's still the sexiest man I've ever met, but there are times... He sees the quickest, and in his mind, the best way to do things and gets things done. Sometimes it's my job to convince him he's not always right. This is going to be a great class.
Steph, wow, 48 years? That's an amazing feat for ANY marriage, and for marriage to an alpha it's all the more impressive. You've probably developed some very useful techniques when it comes to convincing...he's lucky to have you on the job.
Laurie, what a fun article. I especially loved how you pointed out an Alpha's reaction is often the same whether or not the situation warrants it. (The pile-up vs. parking lot.) I guess I hadn't given that part of it a whole lot of thought.
I love reading Alpha heroes. Yes, even the so-called Alpha-holes! 🙂 But I also love a good grovel. LOL! It doesn't have to last long--only long enough for the heroine to know she's brought him to his knees before he reverts back to taking charge.
As for my heroes, someone once called them Alpha-Lite--as opposed to full on Alpha-holes. I guess that means they're protective and take charge when necessary but don't mow everyone else down while doing it. They might not be in touch with their feelings, but they have vulnerabilities. In The Sheriff's Little Matchmaker my charming, sexy hero had a tendency to swagger but his seven-year-old daughter had him wrapped around her finger so he was easier to relate to. Nothing like a child to put you in your place. LOL!
Your class sounds like so much fun. Unfortunately I am on deadline. Maybe next time!
Carrie, what a great example of the sheriff's daughter -- you're right; that's a perfect illustration of "just enough" alpha! And I'm enjoying your description of the grovel...which, gosh, again could be viewed as just enough. You're onto something here. 🙂
I know take-charge men. They are charming and lovable most of the time and insufferable infrequently. But aren’t we all. Traits are coins. They have two sides. They’re gold in the right situation. They’re tin when used inappropriately.
I recently wrote a story in which the main character’s wife and son were kidnapped. After having felt hopeless for all of five minutes, my main character took charge, found where his wife and son were, and freed them. In the course of the story, the reader learns my alpha male’s softer side. He fell in love with his wife the first time he heard her sing.
Paula, good point about the two sides of the same coin...it's true, we're ALL insufferable some of the time, even those who'd never be considered alpha males. And what a wonderful trait for your hero who fell in love with his wife; that's just heartwarming. <3
I've lived with an Alpha for going on 34 years now. Believe me, I know the good the bad, and the ugly! Yet that's all I write - cowboys - the highest level of alpha!
I'm a beta - not ashamed to admit - a follower. An alpha, with all his faults, suits me down to the ground. It's made my life much more adventurous and exciting than I ever would have dared on my own!
Laura, isn't it amazing how much more adventurous and exciting life is with an alpha? I used to be surprised at realizing anytime someone asked "what're you doing lately" I'd reply with a description of what Pete was doing...that just makes for a better story!
I certainly love reading about an alpha male, but you're so right about the drawbacks! I've worked around a few alpha males, and they definitely always have a charismatic, commanding presence that makes you take notice and listen. But, it always seems like their pride can take no hits, which certainly falls into that fine line you mentioned. My favorite kind of alpha males to read/write are the ones that seem like an alpha at first glance but are really so much deeper. It's just like in life, that first impressions aren't always right. I love the alpha males who are putting on a front to protect themselves and others but let their guard right down with the people they love.
Amanda, I like your mention of those alphas who put on a front to protect themselves & others but let their guard down with loved ones -- that's a fabulous summary of what makes them so very enjoyable to read about!
Love this post! And my mind TOTALLY went there. LOL.
Do I know any alpha men? Yes. I used to date one. (I don't anymore. It's exhausting. Good guy, but exhausting.) Back in my teens and 20s, where nearly every romance exclusively had alphas as the leads, I thought, "THIS is the type of guy we should all want." And yes, fiction is fantasy and should definitely not be comprising your dating wish list...but it does influence a bit. You do want a guy who can step in and LEAD when the moment demands it. That is sexy. That is appreciated. But the thing is...the alphas aren't necessarily alphas every single moment of the day. That's not great...and that's not realistic either. I think we all have alpha moments; and we all have beta moments...if that's a thing. I think our personalities (say introvert and extrovert) can lend us to behaving more of one way than another, but I don't think a man can be alpha all the dang time. (The guy I dated came real close though. *LOL* But he was better at talking things out than I was--and making me talk about my feelings--and HE was the alpha. So...I think the thing I get from alphas is that that type typically wants to be seen as saving the day and/or they want to protect what is theirs--and this can cause issues for them. It assumes a lot when you behave that way: that someone wants or needs to be saved--and that they need protecting. BUT I'm dating a new guy now...and he's definitely more of the nerdy beta side, but he can definitely showboat some alpha when he's not thinking about it. Maybe it's some machismo heritage or something, but I think it's more of a gender thing: men are to protect those around them. That's very alpha. Even if they are the type to scream at spiders and leave you to fight those instead.)
Have I written any alpha men? Yes. I have a WIP (if I would just finish the last few scenes I'd be able to say I "wrote" an alpha character!)--with a hero named Adam. He's alpha. Just...protective and stubborn and doesn't understand why his wife is so stubborn. I'm working to make him understand that while his caring (i.e. protectiveness) is appreciated, that demonstrating faith and trust in his wife to save herself and be independent of him is actually sexier and more appreciated.
Fran, what a great analysis of the alpha/beta and introvert/extrovert traits being on a sliding scale -- that's VERY true! (And in fact, we get into beta qualities in the class because without any of 'em, a guy is just cardboard.) Although sexy cardboard... 🙂
Well, I suppose I have known some. I have edited someone for nearly 20 years, never met in person. Definitely a man's man. Strong willed, knows what he knows, determined. However, doesn't think he has any room for growth or could possibly being wrong in his views towards women (his writing very much reflects him, but he doesn't see it). I must say, though, that after all these years - he's recently gotten angry with me for pointing certain things out, and when I pointed out that I've remained consistent, warned him I'd be hard on him, and the he does keep coming back for more, he let some time pass, came back for more, and said that I have helped him become a better writer AND PERSON! My job on this planet is done. 🙂
In my writing, my first novel had an alpha male and he was admirable and annoying in that he knew his job - he is the ranch owner's son in A Breed Apart - he is very good at his job, and is motivated to be the best so he can prove he's better than his brother, so he'll inherit the ranch, however, he doesn't understand that other people can have expertise and don't need to be bossed around, and that he may actually need them. So annoying.
I"m pretty choosy about reading alpha males (they're just so exhausting). In my short stories after that novel, I wrote what I like to think as strong respectful beta males. Although in my upcoming novel (The Shawl) we see an alpha male. We'll see - I'll have to torture him a lot.
Charlotte, I love "my job on this planet is done!" And congratulations on your 20 years of perseverance -- just look at all the aggravation you can now use as inspiration for torturing your upcoming alpha. Hmm....
Hi Laurie! Well now....Do I know any alphas in real life -- and if so, what are they like? Admirable traits, annoying traits, some of each are fine!
No, I don't know any alpha males. My husband is not an alpha male. None of my past boyfriends were alpha males. If I look into my past, yes, there have been men who take charge and have strong opinions and yet listen to others' thoughts and opinions so yes, I would call them alpha males. Those men were teachers in college or people I met in college who were Resident Assistants and Head Residents in the dorms. I've written about an alpha males in my Women's Fiction books but they've all turned out to be more "bullies" than anything else - trying to push their views and opinions onto the females in my stories. So actually the females turn out to be the "alphas" instead of the males.
Oops, sorry, I posted this in the wrong place:
Patti, good observation about how women can be alpha same as men -- in fact, that's in my "Angelina to Zenobia" class. ? And you sure CAN portray an alpha as a bully in women's fiction, especially when he gets dumped at the end!
Laurie, I just approved 4 comments so you might want to take one pass from the top.
It's so funny, I'm all about the beta males. The amazing men who just quietly get shit done without making the waves of the alpha male. They're the handlers, and manly, but not in your face with it the way an alpha is. However, when their back is to the wall, they come out swinging.
Jenny, what's not to love about a manly, amazing handler who can come out swinging and always gets the job done without making waves or being in your face? Talk about a vivd portrait of a Dream Hero!
YES TO ALL OF THIS: "The amazing men who just quietly get shit done without making the waves of the alpha male. They're the handlers, and manly, but not in your face with it the way an alpha is. However, when their back is to the wall, they come out swinging." I love these heroes! I used to be almost exclusively alpha, but betas have won me over in recent years just for this kind of thing.
Exactly, Fran! Alphas are kind of exhausting. I grew up with an alpha narcissist and I'm sure that influences my love of the beta hero. To me, a good portion of the alphas seem like spoiled children who want their own way all the time. I just can't be in love with that.
Now the alphas with serious trauma...the guys who really have to overcome something? Those guys I can get on board with.
What a great subject, Laurie - you're soooo good at this! 🙂
First question -- all my significant male influences were alpha - father, brother, husband. Great guys and like all humans, they had some annoying traits. However, I would suggest that the difference between "great" and "jerks" is the level of maturity. An alpha who is a jerk might be immature and unwilling to change, while an alpha who is capable of becoming a grownup is also capable of compromise and emotional connection. (I'm not suggesting alpha males can't be super-annoying - because.......been-there, rolled-my-eyes at that. 🙂
Second question - all the heroes in my books are alpha. (I love all my heroes - not sure I could write one I didn't like...) I've tried to write beta guys but just can't - huge props to people who can - Julia Quinn comes to mind and I love her books. However, very few of the book heroes I've loved have been beta. I think it's tough to write "heroic" with a beta guy, unless he's doing saving-the-world things, which might make him beta/alpha?
The lovely thing about all of this is that there are writers and readers who are drawn to all kinds of heroes - which means lots of different books, and room in the market for writers to write what they love most.
Your upcoming class sounds like so much fun --- off to sign up. 🙂
Lois, what a great analysis of the difference between "great" and "jerks" -- you're absolutely right about that! And I love your observation that ALL humans have annoying traits...even (gasp) our beloved husbands, children and characters. 🙂
I loved this post AND the comments, Laurie.
I knew an alpha once. Not my boyfriend, but a friend. He was alpha in the sense that people around him acknowledged that he was a leader and they deferred to him. He wasn't the guy with the most college degrees but he was always the smartest guy in the room and the best at what he did, though he never made others feel stupid or inadequate. He filled the room with his charm, good humor, and physical self. He fell in love once. She didn't love him. She fell in love with his best friend. He suffered in silence for years. Never an unkind word about either of them. Few people knew about his pain. It was heartbreaking, really. He remained a most loyal friend to the very end. I still miss him.
I have always had difficulty writing alphas. But having remembered my friend, perhaps I'll model my next hero after him. But he'll get the girl in the end, of course!
Jennifer, what a wonderful tribute to your loyal alpha friend -- it's such fun imagining his reaction to discovering that HE's the charming, humorous, smartest-but-not-showoff hero in your next book (who even gets the girl).
Fun post! Funny that you ask, "Do you know any alpha males?" because I sometimes I call Brian (hubs) "My quiet alpha male." I wouldn't have him any other way. As to writing them, I write Vikings! LOL! Alpha male heroes are par for the course in that romance sub-genre, though I did write one more lone wolf than alpha male. The alpha male is a wonderful character as long as they grow and change. There's strength in showing a weakness and learning from it.
Thanks for a great post 🙂
Gina, you gotta love living with a quiet alpha -- it's like you're getting the best of both kinds! And I like your observation about the difference between an alpha & a lone wolf, plus the strength of showing & learning from a weakness. ALL good stuff.
Laurie, I've lived with an alpha male for 26 years. It used to be his way or not at all. I took it for so long then figure I could be somewhat "alpha" too and insert my opinions without getting shut down. I'd like to say that as he's gotten older he's mellowed, but some days that alpha gene shines through and I have to pick my battles. It's how we lasted for so long.
My wip hero is all alpha but has to put aside his need for control to "get the girl". Like Laura's cowboys, my cowboy is the highest level of alpha but he'll also be dealing with children and they are tiny manipulators of the heart and can soften even the toughest adversary.
Marcia, good tips on living with an alpha for (wow!) 26 years -- inserting your opinions and picking your battles both sound like very useful strategies. Now, if our romantic heroines can just bring those into action with THEIR heroes...
Aloha Laurie. Have I ever known any alpha males? One of my family members comes to mind. He carries himself like the commander, but put a baby in front of him and he turns to mush. My hubby sort of drifts in and out of alpha. More alpha around other men than around women. How appropriate this post comes today while I'm working on my current WIP! I always say I don't know how to write alpha males, but I do have a secondary character who is alpha in my new series. I picture a swaggering know-it-all who will not get the girl.
Aw, Jackie, it's hard to resist an alpha who turns to mush around a baby -- that almost seems like it should be part of the requirements list, if only alphas would care about FOLLOWING a requirements list. I guess we can always dream... 🙂
I'm sure I've had some alpha males in my life at some point, but they aren't here now. Frankly, they aren't my favorite type of person. I have trouble reading alpha male stories because they always come across as mean. To me, anyway.
However, I am, I suppose, writing an alpha male now, since he's a police detective. Almost has to be, right? Probably why I'm struggling with him so much. So... I signed up for the class. Hopefully it will help me figure him out some more.
Stacy, I can't wait to meet your character -- making a police detective come out as aggressive & leader-like as he needs to be for getting the job done, without coming across as mean, IS a struggle. So it'll be great getting him into shape next month!
My father was alpha, the good, the bad and the ugly. Brilliant, personable, competent. Provided well for his family, and when he came to the rescue, you knew you'd been rescued. Commanding and cruel, knew how to hurt with words and enjoyed doing it. My father was an example of an alpha characteristic I've seen mentioned in several of the comments here: everyone adored him except the people who knew him best.
I don't write romance, but after a brief and good marriage, I'm single by choice, so maybe you could say I live it. I'm attracted to alphas, and I get fed up with them after a few months or years. (Pretty alpha myself, and people get fed up with me too.) They need to be right, and helpful, and admired, and they're not inherently loyal.
Meg, good point about alphas seeming great at first glance and then not always living up to it. Although you could probably say that about ANYONE we live with for longer than a few months, when their flaws start coming into focus. (Drat.)
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the alpha male. I like the idea of a man I could walk through hell with and stand a chance of coming out the other side alive. But a beta male can serve just as well. I write beta males, those who are secure enough in their masculinity that they can stand aside for the female to do her schtick. The wall at her back, the foundation under her feet. The kind who will argue his point, say no, when needed, and take on the world by her side. Oh, and he makes a darned good cup of Joe.
Brenda, I love "he makes a darn good cup of joe" -- after all, most days that's even MORE satisfying than somebody who can escort you safely through hell. Whereas for the ins and outs of everyday life...yep, good coffee matters.
Alpha males in fiction are great, but I couldn't imagine being happy living with/married to one in real life. Probably because, in fiction, we often go into their point of view, see things from their perspective and understand why they are behaving as they are and what's driving them, But in real life all the ones i've met tend to come across as dominating and overbearing.
I haven't written an alpha hero (yet! Reading this, I think I might like to) but if I did... in order for me to like him he'd have to have some sort of dysfunctional background so that I could think of him as vulnerable and sympathise with him always needing to feel strong and in control. His strong need for control wouldn't be a likeable quality, which is why this would be his starting point and I'd have him gradually modify this as the story progressed.
His likeable qualities would be trustworthy, hardworking, protective.
Janet, you're sure not alone in preferring to enjoy alpha males in books rather than in your house all year round. (Or maybe half the year, if he's off saving empires the rest of the time.) Good plans on how you'd go about writing one you could actually LIKE!
LoL I worked in law enforcement for over ten years. Alpha males were the bane of my existence. I never understood the whole primal need the had to be in charge. I got so tired of having to tell them” “saying something super loud doesn’t make what your saying right” All I can think is they must’ve felt powerless as children so projecting strength was a mask they adopted. *shrugs* I know some women love alphas, I personally love mine with flaws and the ability to admit they’re lost ( and *gasp* actually ask for directions!)
Margie, wouldn't the world be an amazing place if more men treated asking for directions the way women do? (And, hmm, that makes me wonder what would make men say "if only women treated ___ the way we do"?) But there's sure be a lot fewer wrong turns! 🙂
I met my Alpha online when the Internet first began. In a chat room. He was friendly, humorous, and liked me so became extremely protective. I would scold him for jumping on other men interacting with me. Long story short, this man is the real thing. He's intelligent, started his own engineering business, and even now that he's retired his old employees call him for advice. Even the new owner of the company. Lol. Our adult kids/grandkids ask him to go along when they buy a car. Not to pay for it but to make sure they get the best deal. No one can wheel and deal like him. He is commanding but not in a loud way. Soft spoken and smart, and keen to what makes people pay attention. He has a heart of gold and helps whomever he can when he can. On the con side he takes control even when you don't want his assistance. He rarely if ever reads directions. He's an engineer, you know. They don't have to read how to put something together or how it works. They just know. Rarely asks anyone for help even if it is a difficult physical thing he is attempting. He can do anything. I call him my Executive Farmer. He looks awesome in a suit and tie, and fits in with the most glamorous people in the most glamourous of settings (Not me! Jeans and tees only. Lol!) But he can do anything on our mountain farm too. He can build anything, repair anything -- cars, tractors, backhoes, plumbing, electrical...he's built three barns and one of them is large enough to house eight vehicles. He is amazing. The true love of my life. I wish it hadn't taken me over forty-five years to find him. 🙂
Christine, what a wonderful "how we met" story -- and, boy, you two go WAY back; I can't even remember how long ago the internet began! Sounds like you've got very handy inspiration for any alpha hero you might want to write...if you ever do. 🙂
Laurie - Yes! I want to figure out how to write an Alpha hero. Maybe I'm too close to the real thing? Lol. But taking this class...well, I hope will help me learn how to do it. 🙂
Christine, how cool that I'll get to see you there -- and you'll get to see part of your quote about alpha males during the second-Wednesday lecture. 🙂
Love this article, Laurie, especially the point about the situation/context justifying the alpha behaviour. I tend to like my alphas to have heroic careers (you had me at firefighter.) But I have a hard time writing alphas - I find it hard to fall in love with characters who can't express themselves. I guess that's why I married a prosecutor! He's never short on words, LOL.
Laurel, I love your choosing a guy who's never short on words -- seems like he could say the same thing about his writer wife, right? It's interesting that alphas DO tend to be men of few words, maybe because saying more makes 'em more vulnerable. Hmm.
Is it just me but can you turn on the like feature?
JL, I don't think I've ever seen such a feature on this site -- but it's nice to know you would've hit Like if the option had been there!
There are good and bad alphas. I've known both. I've worked for some who were more alpha-wannabes. Being an ass doesn't make you an alpha--sometimes they're just asses.
I've written both, and the trick is to not be too arrogant, or at least if you're writing a sweet romance story. There needs to be some respectability, and it usually comes from the people with whom he surrounds himself. I'm rewriting mine to fix some mistakes I made.
"Being an ass doesn't make you an alpha--sometimes they're just asses." <-- Hahahahahahahaha! This is so very true.
Denise, good call on the people an alpha surrounds himself with -- that sure says a LOT about who he is!
I'm so glad to hear readers love alpha males because I have a difficult time writing any other kind of male. (Yes, dad was military.) I write thrillers but I love AMs in any genre because they're protecters - which I find incredibly attractive. My latest features an Afghan vet who despises stupid stuff so rather tends to keep to himself - until, of course, the world needs saving. I heard something interesting lately from a 20-something young woman who says girls in her generation would like to see more of the strong "man's man" type around to date. Maybe those are the readers? ?
Cindi, my husband and I talk about this all the time - Americans have been taking the alpha out of the males they raise for the last few decades. Our young boys are taught that it is insulting to imply that a girl might need help, and so they consider it a compliment to not offer it.
A few years ago, I heard my nephew (early 20's) and his mom get into a heated discussion when he said, "I figure any woman can carry her own bags, the same as I can. If she needs help, she'll ask for it." He truly didn't understand that for our generation, it's considered bad manners for a man to do that. Without meaning to, she'd taught him those lessons while he watched her fight for her own equality in the world and the workplace.
He believes his mom, and every woman are superheroes who can do everything. It's a mixed blessing. I don't know that it's a bad thing, just very different than we grew up with. I think the young girls are feeling the results of that.
Cindi and Jenny, this is fascinating! I'm always a little startled when a young man gets on the elevator before me, but knowing that his mother probably taught him it would be insulting to do otherwise makes him a respectful person after all. 🙂
I have real trouble writing "alpha males", because the toughest men I know (and love) are nothing like fictional alphas. Sure, they're completely competent, hard-assed when the situation calls for, and totally in command when necessary - but they're also in general very quiet, humble, laid-back, and calm men, rock-steady and generally amused by life. Their sense of humour is understated, dryer than good champagne and blacker than their coffee, but once you get used to it, you realize they're laughing at life, and death, quite a lot.
I'm not getting told they're in charge. I'm getting told "Relax, love. Calm down. No one's shooting at you; it's a good day."
They're also not amazingly sexy, nor 6'4" and full of muscles. They fade into the background, as average height, not particularly built (it's all wiry muscle, not bodybuilder style), with the biggest clue being the eyes that never stop sizing up the situation, and the thousand-yard stare. Or, you know, clues like walking into my house when helping move a couch, smelling the tagine, and exclaiming "Soul food!", popping the lid off, and happily telling the other gents just coming in, "Hey, you can identify the meat this time! And it's not dog!" Because sometime I'm the only person at the dinner table who hasn't done an arms deal in a souk.
As for dealing with them? Simple, not always easy: it's all in communicating constantly and making sure we're on the same page. Some traits that would be terrible in other men are endearing once you understand, like the need to know where I'm going, have I arrived, when I'm leaving - they really don't care what I'm doing, they just want to know where to send backup, or where and when to start worrying and checking if things go wrong. In your average American male that would be terribly stalker-ish to check in all the time; in my husband and his friends, they've had to go in hot as a rescue, or come identify and pick up the pieces of teammates' bodies too many times to not twitch hard if they don't know I'm safe.
But he does back down. Even if he doesn't like my driving style, after talking it out for several months, he realizes now he's not going to badger/help/teach me into changing. So if I drive, he sits there quietly, and lets it go.
And he doesn't try to teach me to shoot anymore; he hands that to another friend, and then breaks down laughing and calls out from the back, "She's not going to be in the stack clearing houses! Back up a little further on the basics!"
On the other hand, I did go and get my CHL, because there's no point in arguing with the complete conviction of experience. "Sweetheart, yes, that is the best Mexican in the city. It's also on the border between the barrio and the slum. You WILL carry when you go there."
On the gripping hand, he's not so full of himself that he doesn't do the dishes and clean the catbox without ever having to be asked, and occasionally mops just because he knows I'm out of energy to do so.
Still, as far as alphas, I've never seen someone write a scene like this. When my darling man was walking up to what was left of his truck when he came to get me off the side of the highway, he greeted me with a hug and "Relax, love. Things can be replaced, people can't. You're okay, that's all that matters...." Then he shrugged, and got that small quirky smile that would be a roaring belly laugh on another man. "Besides, it's not like you hit a landmine!"
Dorothy, your husband sounds like an alpha male who's finally met his true love match -- congratulations to both of you!
Most of the "Alpha" males I've met in real life are more... wannabe Alphas. They're absolutely ready to take charge at any time, but it's more a matter of (over)confidence and privilege than personal authority, and they take charge without pausing to consider whether they actually know best how to handle a situation. (This also ties in to a lot of really bad "business leadership" advice; I once watched a new Communications Director stride confidently into a meeting for a music festival with a twenty year history and immediately demand to know if it wouldn't be a good idea to have some sort of electronic newsletter; there was a brief, uncomfortable pause before the festival organizer pointed out that their electronic newsletter had won industry awards for the last five years.)
To be a really Take Charge Kind of Guy, you have to be convinced that you know what's going on, and as a general rule if you're convinced you know what's really going on the moment you walk into a situation you're probably wrong.
As a result, I don't tend to write Alpha Males -- at least, not the traditional ones. My characters can take charge in a crisis, but that's usually because they've been hanging back, watching, assessing, questioning their conclusions, and reassessing. And as a result, when everything goes sideways they actually know what needs to be done. If they're more powerful than the people around them (I write a lot of fantasy, often with horror or sci-fi elements, so that isn't uncommon) then they still tend to hang back and see what other people will do, knowing that if they choose to walk away nobody's likely to be able to stop them; they can afford to wait.
Michael, you gotta like anyone who's so confident in their own competence that they don't rush to show it off at the earliest possible moment. Somebody who doesn't feel the need to be admired is all the more deserving of admiration.
I had an 'alpha' boss who did get things done and was a jerk. Took awhile to get used to him and a little longer to get away from him. I don't think I'd want to live with one. But they do make wonderful heroes.
Laura, that's a good summary of two frequently observed pros & cons when dealing with an alpha: seems like getting things done & being a jerk can easily go hand-in-hand! (Glad you got away from that boss. 🙂 )
Thank you for these insights, Laurie. Very helpful! I think the example you gave of the same behavior with a different backdrop is so true.
I’m watching a tv series right now where the alpha male is a war vet, but suffers from ptsd. So he definitely has the classic characteristics of alpha, but struggles internally and so we love him and root for him all the more.
Nan, you're right that an alpha struggling with something internal is even MORE worthy of our rooting for him than one who's battling something external, because we figure he's spent his whole life preparing to be good at the external stuff...whereas the internal? Uh, not so much.