Alpha or Beta? That is the question – for writers and readers of romance novels, that is. While alphas and betas can appear any work of fiction, be it action, spy thriller, or sci-fi, they are the bread and butter of romantic fiction. I’ve included lots of pictures, because I’m a visual learner. And, hello, can you say yum?
The Alpha Hero
Who is the alpha hero? James Bond is probably the most recognizable alpha hero. He’s the prototypical male sex symbol. The guy we think of as a hunk, a hottie, a walking wet dream. He’s strong, confident, smart, and often charming. He may be a little dangerous, with a barely-contained dark side. He might even carry hidden emotional wounds. He’s the powerful business man, the heroic warrior, or the daredevil. He’s sexually adventurous, with no (or at least an unrecognized) desire to settle down. But when he does find his lady love, woe be unto the person who tries to harm her or come between them.
In popular fiction, think Jacob in Twilight or Gale in The Hunger Games.
And of course, one can’t forget the debonair Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind.
The Beta Hero
Where the Alpha Hero is the sex symbol, the Beta Hero is the boy next door. The one you’d bring home to mother. He’s cute, smart, affable, and charming as well, only in a quieter, sometimes more sincere way. He’s trustworthy, dedicated, and an all-around nice guy. He might have had his heart broken, and be less willing to take the risk again, until he meets the heroine. He’s perceptive, a good listener, and a genuine friend. And while he may be quiet, even laid back, he’s fierce when faced with an injustice, especially if that injustice has been meted out against a loved one.
Some may argue otherwise, but I’d place Edward Cullen in this category. He’s not brash and cocky like Jacob. And while he has a dark, powerful side, for me, it’s his overwhelming desire to be good that tips him into the beta camp. Peeta from The Hunger Games also fits this archetype. From classic literature I’d place Jude Fawley, from Jude the Obscure, and aside from Fitzwilliam Darcy, all of Austen’s heroes in this category, like Mr. Knightley below.
Personally, I tend to lean toward the beta types (Yes, I’m Team Edward). While physically I may be drawn to the sexy, charismatic male, my heart and soul are drawn to those men who have a quiet resolve; the ones with old souls and great depth of character. You know what they say – still waters run deep. Even so, my first two heroes fit in the alpha category.
Take Alex Fraser, my hero in The Promise of Change. Alex, a.k.a. the Earl of Rutherford, is one of England’s most eligible bachelors. He has all the boyish charm of Hugh Grant, carries the polish of generations of earls, has the work ethic of his commoner grandfathers and mother, and playboy lifestyle notwithstanding, he has a deep respect for women that prevents him from falling into the unforgiving category of womanizer. Alex is alpha with an air of sophistication. He’s never married, preferring casual flings with beautiful women who have no illusions of marriage. That is, of course, until he meets my heroine, Sarah.
In my upcoming release, Rescuing Lacey, Luke Hancock is the polar opposite of Alex, but an alpha male nonetheless. Where Alex is polished, Luke is rugged. Where Alex is wealthy, Luke lives modestly. But Luke’s sex appeal is undeniable, as my heroine Lacey can attest to. Beach-bum-gorgeous, Luke is a man’s man. A pilot, outdoor guide and environmentalist, with a painful past, Luke is alpha with a few rough edges.
Now enter Josh Ryan. My hero in Dreams of Perfection, my work-in-progress, is beta all the way. Josh is the best-friend, the one who’s always there. His frank opinions often guide my heroine, Darcy, through the pitfalls of her romantic fairytale notions. He’s her Mr. Knightley. He knows Darcy inside and out, and loves her despite her foibles. As the story unfolds, Josh is pitted against Blake Garrett, a true alpha, for Darcy’s affections. Will his steadfastness pay off? Or will the charming Blake make Darcy’s dreams of perfection come true?
I must admit, it’s fun writing a beta for a change. I think they are more complex in many ways than alphas, and thus a little more challenging to write.
Who’s your favorite? Are you Team Jacob and Gale, or Team Edward and Peeta? I’d love to hear which archetype stirs your blood. Or your heart.