Giving Your Contemporary Hero That Alpha Edge
Without Falling Over the Cliff
Kristi Gold © 2002
Ah, those so-called Alpha Men. The ones who make women swoon with their calculated control, their mystery, their blatant sensuality. He's the one your mother told you to avoid because he'll automatically break your heart. He can't be tamed and even if he could, you wouldn't dare try. Or would you?
I believe many of us are drawn to the fantasy of the dark knight, the overt protector, and maybe that harkens back to the time when women relied heavily on men for their most basic needs-food, shelter and procreating. For the most part, at least in this time and culture, those days are gone since women have become more reliant on themselves, not a bad thing at all. However, at times we all desire to be cared for and cared about, but that is not the same as having a man storm into our lives and try to take complete control. I don't think it's wrong to say we want to be beloved, but not necessarily bullied.
So how do you write an alpha hero without making him seem like that other word that starts with an A? Here are a few tips that I try to keep in mind when writing the contemporary Alpha Hero.
1)When An Alpha Man Speaks, People Listen: I believe there exists a common misconception that an alpha hero has to hurl demands, even insults, to be an alpha in every sense of the word. Consider this-it's not always what they say but what they don't say that conveys the alpha edge. In other words, it's the mystery, the oh-so-sexy strong, silent type that keeps the heart pumping at an alarming rate. It's the charmer who relies on double entendre to knock the heroine off-balance, the brooder who can render a woman senseless with an unexpected smile. Regardless, I've always believed a hero who demeans a heroine, just because he so chooses, is no true hero at all. Which brings me to the next tip.
2)Motivate The Man: A writer can get away with a lot as long as a character is motivated. If you take a look at what drives a hero's need for control, it almost always has to do with internal demons-conflicts arising from the past or the present. He can be charged with protecting the heroine from danger or protecting his own emotions due to a broken heart, but again, he should never be so verbally abusive that he instills fear and hate in the reader as well as the heroine's heart. For example, in the first book of my Marrying An M.D. miniseries, Dr. Dangerous (Silhouette Desire, Jan. 2002), my hero, Jared Granger, is not a nice man when he first meets my heroine, Brooke Lewis. He's a prominent cardiac surgeon, he has injured his dominant hand and he's not in the mood for pleasantries, especially from an enthusiastic physical therapist who's bent on making him better. I opened this book in Brooke's POV and it's only through her eyes that the reader sees the extent of Jared's pain. And it's only after that first meeting that the reader learns, through Jared's POV, the accident that caused his injury resulted from emotional upheaval after the loss of a special patient. Therein lies his motivation, the pain of loss-both of a patient and possibly his career-something everyone can relate to on some level. As the story progresses, he does soften under Brooke's expert guidance, although at times his temper still flares from frustration. It's not logical to have an edgy hero do a three-sixty and suddenly become all sweetness and light, a common mistake during the learning process. A gradual tearing down of a hero's emotional walls by the woman he will come to love lends itself to reality, and also leads me to a very important aspect.
3)The Alpha Meets His Match: In my opinion, a woman pitted against an alpha male doesn't necessarily have to be some high-powered corporate executive who eats clients for lunch. She can still have an inherent softness, maybe even some naiveté, but she has to have certain strong facets of her personality in order not to be totally run over by the alpha train. A sense of humor is a great quality, but most important is a sense of self. She might find herself totally drawn to the hero like the proverbial moth to the flame, probably even realizes the danger in that, but she can't deny her attraction. However, she comes to realize that Alpha Man has an Achilles heel-a side that he rarely reveals to anyone-yet she's intuitive enough to see a glimpse. And when she sees that glimpse, look out!
4)The Chink in the Alpha Armor: I learned early on in my career that there are ways to make an edgy hero sympathetic-give him something he cares about, something that reveals that chink in his armor. Children and pets work very well, and so do career choices. I enjoy writing doctor heroes because their occupations alone can reveal their compassion. Someone who's faced with life and death situations on a daily basis, someone who is committed to healing, is a person to be admired. But they also tend to be emotionally guarded due to the stress of their jobs. The same can go for cops, cowboys and corporate crusaders. Bottom line: it's not what they are or what they do; it's who they are that drives them. Whatever they do, it should be honorable. Honor is by far one of the most heroic qualities. Your heroine will find that very hard to resist.
5) This Guy's In Love: Never forget that romance is about love, and love happens when two people find in each other a connection that outweighs caution. The heroine in any given story most likely will become the hero's one true weakness, and there's no better place to demonstrate this than in a love scene (even if it's no more than a kiss). An in-control man who loses control in the throes of passion is a wonder to behold. He might not like it, that loss of control, but he's helpless to stop it. This may make him emotionally withdraw and can greatly aid in raising the stakes and building the conflict. An intuitive heroine will realize the power she has over him at those times, and she may choose to use that to disarm him. Regardless, the intimate act of lovemaking-a baring not only of bodies but of souls-will (or should) have a strong effect on both the heroine and hero, setting in motion more conflict, especially when it comes to the reluctant alpha guy.
6) An Alpha-Bite Mix: Although there's much to be said for the alpha prototype, I strongly believe that the best heroes are those who strike a balance. They're tough on the outside but compassionate and caring on the inside. It might take a bit to uncover that softer facet of their personalities, but that in itself is the challenge, and the joy, of discovering what makes an alpha hero tick. Some can be brooding, others charming, but regardless of how you, as a writer, decide to handle your alpha hero, never, ever forget what part of him women covet the most… his heart.