Jilly: Alpha Males Revisited

Is anyone up for more discussion on the evergreen topic of Alpha Male heroes in romance fiction?

Mr. Alpha has been on my mind recently, thanks to a combination of circumstances. I lost a chunk of writing time earlier this year following the death of my mum. Dealing with her estate has been a time suck, so the books I had hoped to self-publish this year are now rescheduled for 2019. Which means that I will still be unpublished at the end of 2018. That’s frustrating, but the upside is that the RWA has decided to run the Golden Heart contest for one more year, and now I will be eligible to enter. I would love, love, love to final in the Golden Heart, to join the supportive and welcoming sisterhood that Jeanne described in her recent post, The True Heart of the Golden Heart.

In planning my final assault on the contest, I decided that in addition to entering my Alexis paranormal stories, I’d dust off the English/Scottish contemporary romance I worked on at McDaniel and which I haven’t read in the last three years or so.

I got fairly close to snagging an agent with that manuscript, and it finaled in a number of local RWA contests, so I thought it should be relatively easy to tweak.

O.M.G. I am sooo glad I never sold that book. It didn’t need a quick edit so much as a comprehensive rewrite. I think the general premise, the characters, the community and most of the plot points are solid, but among other things, the hero (who is, obvs, a very good guy) made me cringe. He was guilty of arrogant asshattishness rather than the kind of consent offences Jeanne discussed in her excellent post The Thin Line Between Alpha and Predatory, but still. Even if his BDE showboating was a persona rather than his true self, the patronizing way he interacted with the heroine was simply not okay. I had to give him a thorough makeover.

The thing I found curious is that I changed his style, his interactions with his community, the way he presented himself to the heroine and to the world at large, but I did not change the essence of who he was as a person. Inside, he was the same passionate, powerful, protective man I’d originally envisaged.

Justine put up a post a couple of months ago (Making Your “Alpha Male” a Lot More Like Nature’s Alpha Males) that talked about the qualities of the Alpha in primatology—a role that demands generosity and compassion as well as respect and strength.

The more I think about it, the more I think that many cavemen alphas of the past always had these soft qualities, they just existed in a world where they were not expected or even allowed to show them. The fun of those old skool books was to watch the heroine unearth the smart, caring guy under the asshat. Now the world has changed, and that chest-beating bozo just isn’t credible anymore. If he’s that much of an arse on the outside, nobody’s going to believe he’s a nice guy deep down, and no reader is going to stick around to find out.

What do you think? Do you think today’s alpha male has a better balanced portfolio of hard and soft qualities than his literary predecessor, or is it simply that an alpha hero in 2018 is allowed, even expected to display more of his sensitive inner self?

6 thoughts on “Jilly: Alpha Males Revisited

  1. Alphaholes! Thank you for the reminder – I have read this post, but not recently. I love Ilona Andrews’ characters, and their alpha males are consistently great. Off for a refresher now 🙂

  2. This post started me down a path of researching alpha females (because I think I need one in a Contemporary I’m working on). So thanks for the push!

    • Glad to be of help, and have to say I love an alpha female. In fact, the other thing I’ve realised lately is that the alpha heroes I really like, the ones that make it to my keeper shelf, are the ones that are smart and strong enough to accept an alpha female as an equal, a partner and sidekick.

  3. As a reader, I really don’t like the typical alphahole. I especially don’t like the kind of alphahole who is the way he is because he’s been so traumatized by life. I don’t like a whiny one.

    But as a writer? Well, I find there’s not much I can do with an alphahole except abandon him and write a different story. I remember struggling with Hadiz so much, trying to make him into something different (he WASN’T an alphahole; some said he was a wimp). I changed his face, his name, his accent, and he still was what he was.

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