Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Alpha Males and Setting

Okay, so I've probably angered a few people over the years by spouting theories about things I know very little about. So I'm going to do it again.

Drum roll... Here is my romance genre theory of the century of the week. ;-)

Well, I'm probably flattering myself in calling it a theory, because I doubt I'm the first person to think these things -- it's just that a few big light bulbs have turned on for me about the romance genre, alpha males in particular, in the past few months. Since when? Since I started reading JR Ward, that's when...

One small "problem" I had when I first tried writing romance was that I wasn't in love with the genre. Well, that was big problem. But a subset of that problem was that, in real life, I HATE alpha males. Nothing makes me more crazy or turns me off more than arrogant, patronizing, self-aggrandizing men. I go for the more sensitive types. I don't mean a wimp, he just can't think he's god's gift to the rest of us. (Okay, now this it turning into a personal ad. Single, sensitive non-wimp? Call me.)

And I think I'm not alone in this day and age in my alpha male distaste. Ever since women got the vote and were declared people and other groundbreaking things that only happened in the past 80 or so years -- not to mention being told they had career choices beyond teacher, secretary or nurse, which really only happened in the last 30 years... I think most women prefer their mates to treat them as equal human beings. And by definition, an alpha male would never do that. He thinks he's top dog -- superior to everyone including his mate. He might worship the woman of his dreams, but even if she "tames" him to an extent, his love for her won't be a "we're equals" kind of thing. More like a "you're mine" kind of thing.

So... where I'm getting to with this in my typical roundabout way, is that I think it's hard to write an alpha male hero in a contemporary, real world setting. At least a hero that many women wouldn't rather kill, than sleep with. (You don't want him to be a big dick, just have one.)

And therein lies the problem. While most modern women wouldn't want an uber-alpha male as her life partner... many women (me included) have sexual fantasies involving alpha males. (Did I just confess a sexual fantasy in public? Egads.) My point is, many women would like to take a man like that to bed at least once -- a man who's strong, insatiable and takes control -- they just wouldn't want to live with a man like that. But romance (vs erotica) is about both fantasy and happily ever after... So, what to do? It's tough.

My conclusion is that alpha-male, hunky-man-specimen heros work better in a different setting. Put him in a historical time setting, or in a fantasy or futuristic world and he works, because the setting can create an excuse for what many women would consider appalling behavior in real life. "It's not his fault. It's society, or his social class, or his upbringing, or his biological make up...." That's why I'm loving the whole paranormal/urban fantasy thing right now. In that genre you can make biology an excuse for man-whores. (Ever notice there isn't a male word for nymphomaniac? Man-whore. My new favorite word.)

In contemporary settings it's harder to do the alpha male, but not impossible. Writers use the military as a setting a lot... (Navy Seals anyone?) I've never read a Harlequin Presents, but from what I know of that series, they play with settings, too. They put the heros in places or situations unfamiliar to most readers, a foreign country, or a royal family, or the world of the filthy rich. So, even though those books are contemporary -- they are fantasy-world settings at the same time.

Another observation I've had reading JR Ward's Black Dagger series is: if you make alpha male heros big enough, and strong enough, and masculine enough, and sexually insatiable enough -- not to mention good-looking enough -- you can give him some crazy baggage and/or hang-ups. Crazy, crazy hang-ups that break every so-called taboo in the romance genre. Fun, fun, fun.

In conclusion... am I the only one who fell in love with David Cook on Idol last night? So not an alpha male, but so sexy...


Molly O'Keefe said...

Excellent post and you're right. You're really right. Those Presents and the Alpha Males there are in world building situations. Smart lady.

OH my lord David Cook. Oh my lord.

Heidi the Hick said...

David Cook! You know what, I didn't like him at all in the auditions and I LOVE him now. He's technically a great singer, he knows his own identity, and he can make any song his own. The guy's a star. Is he getting better looking too or is it just because I'm digging him so much????

Ever noticed he's got great arms? tee hee

I love the Alpha Male discussion. Sorry to relate it to animals, (but we're all animals aren't we?)... I see this a lot with horses. My old gelding -yup, gelding though he thought he was a stud!- was often the little guy in the herd but he was never picked on. He'd take over if given the slightest chance.

Sometimes an alpha isn't what you'd expect.

Maybe our guy with the lefty guitar and the emo comb-forward, our strong silent type, is more alpha than we realize!

(I love the male hero characters in novels. Love reading them and writing them.)

Kimber Chin said...

I don't like the romance alpha male that much. I LOVE (and do love, the hubby being one) the real life alpha male. Those are the guys I write about.

If you want a good book on real life alpha males written by an alpha male, read
What Men Don't Tell Women About Business: Opening Up the Heavily Guarded Alpha Male Playbook by Christopher V. Flett.

That book spoke to my heart.

BTW... a common myth about alphas is that they don't like push back. SO untrue. Alphas LOVE push back. Nothing makes us happier.

Oh, and another. True alphas don't need or use the physical to dominate. That's a Beta male trying to be an alpha trick. Very tacky. Alphas dominate through strength of personality.

Anonymous said...

This is my third time trying to leave a comment today.. blogger is killing me.
And each time the post has gotten shorter.
Love alpha males but only when done well. When done badly they come off cartoonish..

Maureen McGowan said...

I think you're right about the cartoon thing, Sinead... And that's probably what bugs Kimber about them in books, too.

That said, I have met some men "in real life" that come across like some of the bad (for me) alpha males I've seen in fiction -- men who think they have to dominate every conversation or argument and just assume others will bend to their will and/or big personalities.

Kimber Chin said...

Yep, that is EXACTLY what I don't like about romance alphas. They show the big, bad tough side.

It is strange because with writing, we have the ability to show thoughts. We can show the self doubts that any normal person (yes, even alphas) have.

Kanishka Gupta said...

An alpha male lacks confidence, and can be peaceful like a beta male.

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