Monday, August 11, 2008

Writing the Alpha Hero

Who doesn’t love an alpha? Really, it’s like...damn. Breathe woman.

Big. Brawny. Dark. Broody. The alpha hero’s got baggage up the wazoo and a big “Keep Out” sign across that broad chest in bold letters that we can’t possibly miss. He’s forbidden fruit because he’s so emotionally unavailable. A challenge. We want to know which woman will be strong enough and brave enough—and maybe stupid enough—to lift up the gauntlet and be the one to conquer that massive ego, to get under this guy’s skin and make him admit that he feels something...something like love.

But while the allure for this archetype never fades, it seems that alpha heroes in novels are a dime a dozen. So what do we do to keep this character compelling, true, believable—and keep him from turning into an asshole? Here are the three main things I’ve learned in writing alpha heroes:

1. He’s got to have a fatal flaw. Those chiseled abs and bulging muscles are wonderful, and a take charge attitude and flare for handling precision weaponry is all good. But he can’t be perfect. That would pretty much be the opposite of an alpha anyway. Give him some real depth, give him more than just a standoffish attitude and leather pants. One of my favourite heroes in all the books I’ve ever read was one who found himself blind—of course it was the heroine who helped him learn to deal with this—and it didn’t take away from the character, simply added a deeper level of humanity to him.

2. He can’t be all bad. Though we love our alpha bad boys, the heroine shouldn’t end up wanting to shoot him with his own gun. Make sure that behind that gruff exterior and shuttered past, we get a real glimpse of some redeeming qualities. Whether it’s a weakness for kittens or maybe he teaches women’s self-defence classes in his spare time—you know, when he’s not flying helicopters into enemy territory or taking out a terrorist with a sniper rifle.

3. Motivate the man. Give him purpose with flair. It’s not enough that your alpha has had some tough breaks that have turned him into a hard man. Past events are never enough of a motivator. Your hero’s actions should be a reflection of what he’s striving for, not running from. What does he want? What does he need? Then make it impossible for him to get it—maybe it’s even the heroine who is standing in his way—so we see exactly how strong and determined he is when he finally achieves his goal—and manages to keep the girl.

So, any other tips you’d give for writing those uber-sexy alphas?


Maggie Robinson said...

I think you've got it all covered (unlike Cuba Gooding, Jr., thank goodness). I do like a guy with a sense of humor---it can be dark, but I like some wit.

Tiffany Kenzie said...

No he can't be all bad.... he's got to have that tenderness for his lady love...

Sense of humour is good too.

I'm not sure I got anything else to add... let the coffee kick in! I'll be back.

Elyssa Papa said...

Sigh. Alpha heroes. Sigh. I'm all about the Alphas.

I agree with Maggie... I love a guy who is witty. And who can be sensitive at the right, appropriate time. Plus, I love when the alpha hero go all soft and mushy for the woman he loves.

J.K. Coi said...

Ah, that's what I forgot! You're all right, humour is essential. With me, it's always a biting, sarcastic kind of humour, but even in a dark book I think it's important to include little bits of it here and there.

Anonymous said...

I know it is unconventional, but I love it when they are intelligent, too. I can appreciate a good body, but I think brains are waaay more important.

J.K. Coi said...

Hey anon, thanks for commenting! And you're absolutely right. Nobody wants beefy but brainless for more than a few...hours ;)

terrio said...

I was going to say I love it when the Alpha is different, somewhat softer but not TOO soft, when he's alone with the heroine. Then I was going to add humor and intelligence.

But everyone beat me to it. LOL! How about he's always got to have that PITA sidekick who gives him sh*t and of course, takes up the Alpha role in the next story. :)

J.K. Coi said...

Terri, isn't that so true about the sidekick? But then again, sometimes the author wants it to work because the character seems so great, only to find out that the greatness came from being exactly that--a sidekick. Some characters are meant for comic relief or supportive emphasis, but they shouldn't carry an ALPHA role.