Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wanted: One Hero. Betas Need Not Apply

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

The above words were penned by Thomas Paine, and even though Mr. Paine was addressing the American colonists, his words hold true for those of us who write fiction as well.

Recently, my critique partner confessed that she felt the hero of my current WIP was “too Beta”. As the words left her mouth, I could almost visualize her flinching (we were talking on the phone at the time), as though afraid her opinion would make me mad, or worse, would hurt my feelings.

If anything, a sense of relief flooded through me. If she’d said she hated my heroine or there was no plot, I’d have to perform major surgery. Beta, I could fix.

It took a day of wallowing in self-pity before I worked up the courage to read through my synopsis and the completed first three chapters. Dammit, she was right! My hero was…well…a wuss.

Only a wuss would let some jerk diss his lady and get away without losing teeth or other, even more important body parts. Only a wuss would allow his lady-love imperil herself without racing to the rescue. Only a wuss-well, you get the idea.

Several more days went by with me chewing on the issue like a dog with a very old bone before I figured out what I could do to Alphabetize, if you will, my hero. But how do you “de-wussify” a hero? How do you turn a nice guy, who is the definition of warm-fuzzy into an arrogant, cocky horse’s hind-end who skates that thin, ephemeral line between good and bad?

CP told me that my heroine is so strong she didn’t need my hero. Therefore, I had no story. When you have a heroine who’s so very strong that she appears invincible, you’ve got to give her a guy who’s big enough, bad enough and man enough to go toe to toe with her. I had to come up with a way to make her need him. Not only that, but I had to make her just seethe with resentment over needing him. That, my children, is conflict.

Thankfully, only a few changes were needed to transform my hero.

Now, when the bad guy makes a nasty comment about the heroine, my hero decks him. When the heroine declares she doesn’t need him, my hero tells her too bad, she’s stuck with him. For her own good, he must stand by, like Dudley Doowright, and be ready to save the day.

I’ll be forever grateful for my CP having the guts and honesty to tell me the unvarnished truth when she did. She could have kept her mouth shut. I could have written the entire novel and been rejected by every editor and agent in the western hemisphere with the dreaded words “good luck submitting your work elsewhere”. As we all know, this translates as “don’t quit your day job.”

So, for you writers, do your characters and plots come with conflict built-in? Or do you go through the types of gyrations I went through before you get it right?

Readers, which type of hero are you most drawn to, the tough-as-nails Alpha, or the polished, civilized Beta man? Why?


Barbara Vey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dianna Love said...

HI Cynthia -
I'm a little late jumping on. Long days and nights in NY right now. ;)

I love that you have a cp willing to be honest. I'm always saying 'you can fix anything - you're a writer' - but you can't fix it if no one tells you. Kudos on ramping up your hero.

Emmanuelle said...

I wish, intelectualy, I'd be as attracted by beta men than I am by alpha men but unfortunatly I'm not. I keep thinking that in real life, betas are probably the best to leave with. SO everytime I read a story with a beta hero I try to be much engaged in the story but oups... can't help it, I LOVE by alpha men !!!

Cinthia Hamer said...

Hi Dianna, you're actually EARLY. Computer workings are not my forte and I thought I'd set it to post at 1201 today (July 8th), but didn't work. Oh, well. Hope you're having a great time there in NY.

Yes, I'm very grateful when I get a good, constructive critique on my writing. And those who have the gift of wrapping those sometimes sharp observations in velvet are worth their weight in gold.

Emmanuelle, IKWYM. Our brains tell us that the Beta man is the best choice for oh, say, husband material, but our hearts and libidos just can't help being being the moth to the Alpha flame. Thanks for commenting!

Sandy Elzie said...


I tend to write my heroine with a personality more like my own. Strong, I-can-do-it alone and done need a man...but I'm willing to let the guy do the tough stuff if he really wants to. (oh and don't forget that he must be willing to kill spiders!) She's stubborn and jumping in to "fix" things without always thinking of consequences. Therefore, I need an Alpha hero who is strong, yet veryyyy patient.

Needless to say, I'm drawn to the strong, quiet type. (self-assured and comfortable in his skin without having to announce it to the world)


Debbie Kaufman said...

Can't think of a single Beta in a story I've ever found attractive. However, I do not like them too far over the top. Like you said, they have to skate that edge!

Cyrano said...

I not only love my own critique partners with my last breath (they know how to tell it like it is, give me the break down with honesty and wisdom while still remaining compassionate. Those are the best CP's and it sounds like yours is one in the same) but I adore a well written hero just as much.
A reader wants to fall in love with him right alongside the heroine. I think that's why I adore Gabaldon's work. I fell in love with Jamie Fraser as quickly and as passionately as Calire did.
I also liked the tall auburn haired Scott because he was the perfect hero- mostly alpha with the right amount of beta sprinkled in. Like Sandy said, the strong, silent type. He's just as adept at cleaving the villain in two with a claymore as he is at whispering, "I love you with all my heart and soul" into the heroine's ear.
Now that's my kind of man!
Great post Cynthia.
Have a splendid Wednesday,

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Well, Cinthia, I don't know what to say. Obviously, I haven't gotten it right yet. I will say that my first novel had a very beta hero; when I made him more alpha I got the comment: "I just don't like your hero very much." So much for making him dark and emotionally scarred.

I will say I really liked the first few heroes in Vicki Lewis Thompson's Nerd series, but I think they were alphas in beta clothing.

Thanks for the post,

Susan May said...

I love the alphas. But it can be hard to get them alpha enough and still make them likable. Having a flaw in them always helps smooth the way. Nice post.

J Perry Stone said...

It's very easy to "wrap those sometimes sharp observations in velvet" when one's own CP has shown them the example to which they must strive to live up. I've been through a few executioners, lemme tell you. The claymore Tamara was talking about? Yep. Cut me right in two so you can't imagine how I felt when I stumbled into my precious CP at my very first conference. I'm blessed/have great karma/am a lucky duck.

As for heroes, I admit to liking (and when I first typed that word it came out "licking." Freudian slip? I think so.) alphas. For me, they can be the over-the-top jerkoviches of medieval Scotland or the slightly tamed cravat-wearing versions of the Regency. It doesn't matter, as long as they can accurately match their women.

Tamara, I was thinking, Gabeldon had to make Jamie a combo of Alhpha/beta because matching him with a 21st century modern Clair would not have worked. He can't be all caveman. She's lived through the feminist movement, after all.

The truth for me is that even a beta can seem alpha if he's matched with a shy, insecure, perhaps damaged woman. I just want the playing field even (except in the bedroom;))

CiCi Barnes said...

For me, the fine line is soooo fine, it's almost non-existent. I want the strong, silent type, but not the macho, chest-beating male who dominants thoroughly. I guess my hero needs to be half and half for me to fall in love with him.

Yes, come to my rescue, but when you have me in your arms, be tender and gentle, kind and quiet.

I guess I want my cake and eat it too.

As for CPs, give me one just like my hero. Come to my rescue, tell it like it is, but with gentle words. I have that, and I'm grateful.


Linsey Lanier said...

Thanks for a great topic. Sounds like you've a got an interesting hero in the works.

An over-the-top Alpha in real life is not fun to live with, but this is fantasy. We can write a bad boy hero, then have him be utterly smitten with the heroine and attentive to her every need, even the ones she won't admit. Funny how no one ever questions the inconsistency, LOL. It's just too appealing.

In real life, of course, that never happens. It's safer to stick with Betas. :)

In writing, yes, it's so hard to get just the right balance to keep the hero likable. Not too Beta, not too crass of an Alpha. Critique Partners and Beta Readers are essential for seeing those blind spots. Glad you've got a good one.

Cici, sounds like a good topic for a post - Alpha and Beta Critique Partners. I like that comparison! :)

I like Susan's suggestion of adding a flaw. But it can't be too much of a turn-off, like flatulence (again, this is fantasy...) :)


Tami Brothers said...

Good topic, Cinthia! I love alpha heros in books but I tend to fall for the Betas in real life. I honestly don't even think I dated an Alpha. hmmmm... I wonder what that would have been like?

It's a good thing I have a really good imagination...grin...

Have a great day.


Cinthia Hamer said...

Sorry I'm late getting back...these people who call me "employee"...they demand that I actually WORK. What is that all about???

Linsey, it was a good thing I wasn't drinking anything when I read your comment about the flatulence. I'd have a dead laptop! LOL!

Sally, not having read your books, I don't have an answer to your Alpha vs: Beta conflict. But keep at it. When you read a book with a particularly toothsome hero, jot some notes. Find what it is that those heroes have in common that you are attracted to and give your guys some of those same qualities.

Susan, you're so right. You want them to be Alpha, but not knuckle-draggers. Ya know?

Tamara, you'll always be my favorite real life "Alpha Male" LOL!

CiCi, funny you should mention chest-beating. I nearly put in a pic of a silverback gorilla.

JPS, haven't we all licked a few alphas in our time? LOL!

Tami, sadly, I was one of those brainless twits who dated Alphas and inevitably got my heart smooshed like an overripe avocado. Dh was quite Alpha when I met him, but I've managed to civilize him (to a degree) enough that I can take him out in public. ;D

Thanks everyone for your excellent posts! Can wait to see what we have in store tomorrow.

Marilyn Baron said...

I agree with Tami. I love reading the Alpha male but prefer the Beta male in real life.

Like Tamara, I love Jamie Fraser who is probably a combination of both.

Marilyn Baron

Nicki Salcedo said...

Great post and even better comments on the topic. I'm Alpha all the way, in fiction and life. I don't have patience for Betas. But I realize my Alphas are stealthy. He won't bash the bad guy over the head, but he might cut the bad guy while he sleeps. And I will accept 2% Beta humor in any hero. I like my Alpha heroes to be smiling, not brooding.

Cinthia, thanks for the discussion. Now that I've verbalized what I like, I've got to go fine tune it in my story!