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RickI’ve weighed in on the alpha hero debate in the past. I’m not a big fan of traditional alphas—the tormented tough guys who don’t much like women but are willing to make an exception in the heroine’s case. My problem with them stems from the only slightly latent misogyny in the concept and the fact that a lot of the alphas I’ve known in real life have been jerks. But I’m not particularly taken with the ill-defined “beta heroes” either. At best they seem to be alphas with a sense of humor. At worst, they’re nuts.

So what am I looking for in a hero, anyway? It occurred to me the other day that what I really want is a self-aware alpha or SAA. Alphas do, in fact, have some positive characteristics. They’re usually honorable, loyal, and protective. To those positives, the SAA can add not just a sense of humor (which he usually has in spades), but a sense of the absurd—something the average alpha needs desperately.

Because when you think about it, the role of the alpha is basically sort of, well, silly. He’s encouraged to embrace ideas and attitudes that will probably get him a lot of bruises and possibly a life-threatening injury or two. Think of Rick in Casablanca, mocking the absurdity of his melodrama: “I came to Casablanca for the waters.” “The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.” “I was misinformed.” His position is both heroic and faintly ridiculous, and he knows it only too well.

Moreover, if the heroine is worth the hero’s time, she’s likely to be unimpressed by his alphaness. The days of the heroine who swooned with gratitude at the big, strong man who came to rescue her are long gone. While the heroine frequently can’t rescue herself, she’s at least going to try. “This is some rescue,” Princess Leia snarls at Han Solo before she figures a way to get them out of the Empire’s prison.

For me, there’s a great deal of attractiveness in a man who can see the absurdity of the task he’s set for himself, and who can occasionally laugh over his stumbles. Someone who takes himself, and his heroic role, with a very large grain of salt.

Most of the writers I admire write this kind of hero, particularly those whose books have a slightly humorous approach. Jennifer Crusie’s books are wonderful examples (see Faking It and Welcome To Temptation). Susan Elizabeth Phillips is similar (check out Natural Born Charmer). Loretta Chase has done it again and again: Lord Perfect and Mr. Impossible both have SAAs. Writers who do less humorous books can also come up with the self-aware hero. Joanna Bourne’s spy series has both impossibly smart heroines and impossibly sophisticated SAAs—my favorite being Adrian Hawkhurst of The Black Hawk. Eloisa James conjures up a wonderful self-aware hero in Three Weeks With Lady X. Even Nora Roberts has the occasional SAA, such as the cartoonist hero of Tribute.

I’ve tried to make all my heroes SAAs, although some of them are more in that mold than others. My newest hero, Paul Dewitt in Finding Mr. Right Now is definitely SAA. He’s a writer on a reality show (yes, they have writers) who gets dragooned into being a bachelor on a new bachelorette-finds-love program. He knows only too well how absurd his life has become, particularly when he falls for the show’s associate producer. As we say in the romance business, hijinks ensue—but the right people end up together in the end.

Because, of course, any romance heroine worth her salt will value a SAA. Just look at Han and Leia or any of the other couples mentioned above. A sexy guy with a sense of humor and a healthy dose of self-knowledge. What’s not to love?

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