Alpha Heroes: Taking the A-hole out of Alpha-holes
This past weekend I decided to check out the sample of a book, and after reading the first few offered chapters I was seeing red.
Red Jules is not a good thing, I promise.
Why was I seeing red? Because what was probably meant to be an “Alpha male” was so extremely offensive that I couldn’t see past his criminally repulsive internal thoughts and behavior to imagine him as a believable person.
So today, I want to delve into what is an Alpha male character versus what is an Alpha-hole one. Doris O’Connor has already given us some interesting thoughts in her post, Write an Alpha, Not an A-hole.
First, I want to be clear–an Alpha male is not based on looks, not about being able to physically injure someone, and not defined by the ability to rip a tank top off his body. Sure, more attractive males might have an advantage with gaining the interest of an intended mate, but if their personality doesn’t hold up to the pretty package, then it’s a fail. He could be a Jensen Ackles or a Ryan Reynolds in looks, but if he’s rude and self-involved and believes he’s infallible, then he’s already failed the Alpha versus Alpha-hole test. He’s just a gigantic hole—and there’s no six-pack perfect enough in the world to overcome that failure.
Second, definitions. An Alpha male is a character who exhibits self-control and integrity when it comes to his body, his thoughts, his dialogue, and his actions. A character who does three out of the four might be an Alpha as long as the instances of disregard are rare and not flagrant, but one who only does one or two out of four on a consistent basis is an Alpha-hole. From an examination of many books, an Alpha-hole will often have excessive internal dialogue, as in he only thinks of himself. He stinks like an actual asshole and there is not a body spray on the market that will make him smell good enough to be worthy of the leading love interest.
For instance, this example (and these are all fabricated from my mind and in no way taken verbatim from any book):
A pressure built in his groin. Gotta fuck her tonight. “Can’t stop thinking about you.” He grabbed his crotch and adjusted himself, making sure she viewed his growing cock, the one that would be her present tonight. What I wouldn’t do to bend her over and take her from behind, hearing her yell for mercy.
Okay, the pressure building in his groin—totally male, bodily reactions happen. We realize biology and attraction have effects, believable and common. His dialogue relatively sexy, in my mind, at least. Could he do better to engage the other main character? Sure. The grabbing of the crotch and over-acting his attraction, not Alpha, just a massive hole in humanity. And then the internal dialogue—O.M.G. no! That’s about as non-consensual as it comes, and not attractive in a man. And possibly, quite criminal if he acts on those thoughts.
Now what if this happened:
“My mind hasn’t stopped wandering back to last night. I’d really enjoy refreshing my memory tonight.” His body pulsed blood to his crotch. His cock really did have a mind of its own, but he’d appreciated her self-control with him last night. Patience would be rewarded. “Wanna meet up for a drink tonight? Say, seven at the Blue Point on Jackson Street?”
Do you see a difference? He’s talking, acting, thinking, and speaking with authority, restraint, and intention. He’s giving her kudos. He’s asking her for another chance. He’s making an effort. But we also know what it’s doing to him inside, instigating his natural impulses. That push and pull in a character is so much sexier than the character who beats his chest in the first example and practically yells, “Me, Tarzan. You, Jane … we do stuff!”
Two, an Alpha male respects others and does not denigrate anyone. Let me repeat … Anyone! An Alpha male will not tear someone down to make himself look or feel better. And an Alpha male does not impress women with racism, misogyny, egoism, narcissism, homophobia, or sexism. Or any other -ism that makes his beliefs more important than hers or his depending on the genre of book.
“Hey, baby, why don’t we get out of here?” He leaned casually against the counter.
Jane’s eyes narrowed. “Again, I’m not interested.” She turned her back.
She’d brushed him off for the last time. He’d have her tonight.
“Are you a lesbian? Cause any girl in this room would give her left tit to be with me.” He made sure to speak his mind so the whole room heard.
This example makes me see red. Crimson covered in maroon and dipped in ruby red then splattered with blood red, with steam coming from my ears! I want to reach into the book and shake the character and the author—and that author was me right there. I’m sick just having written it. Honestly, nauseated. And yes, this is similar–but not nearly as bad–to a book I read lately … and no, it’s not Alpha, not even close. Not within a mile. Universe!
If the love interest has made it clear he/she doesn’t want attention, then sure, the hero needs to find another tact, but attempting to insult him/her at the expense of LGBT people is not that tact. That’s tactless. This isn’t what an Alpha male will do. He’ll examine his love interest closer, find a commonality to build a connection, explore similarities and differences, and he’ll revel in those differences, not dismiss them.
If she/he’s spunky, he’ll find that sexy. If she/he makes him wait for sex, he’ll find her/his self-control attractive. If she/he turns him down, he won’t quit, but he won’t resort to insults or intimidation tactics to make her submit!
Without those basic common-sense and generally well-behaved attributes, the guy is alpha-hole material, writers. And it’s not attractive in a real man either. So keep the belittling and put downs out of male heroes. Persistence and determination, yes, those qualities are attractive, but not if someone has to be treated like shit to demonstrate them.
Lastly, being an Alpha is not about control. It’s about demonstrating restraint to explore his own insecurities and growth. An Alpha-hole refuses to relinquish control because he believes that would show weakness. Thus, there cannot be growth in the character, if the character assumes he’s perfect from the beginning. And even if the character attempts redemption and self-improvement, the reader will never believe him because there wasn’t any humility to start with. It’s a crash and burn. Our characters must have discretion to be believable and plausible and to have what is called an ARC, which is a transformation, a journey of the inner and outer self.
Men who only exhibit self-indulgent behaviors make readers uncomfortable and not in the good ways. If internal thoughts are continually juvenile and disrespectful and self-centered, then the reader might find it exhausting to experiencing a male who constantly thinks of nothing but “tapping that ass” or “going balls-deep” or how impressive he is—none of which in repetition tells us anything about him, except that he’s an Alpha-hole.
If the male hero is only an egotistical, self-involved man, then he’d also believe he couldn’t fail. He’s invincible! That’s not realistic. We have to show he has some self-awareness to make him know he’s not perfect and capable of change. And failure can be sexy, too.
Writers, I want us to expand our skills and make our characters more interesting for the good and advancement of the romance genre. So consider this litmus test with your main male character(s–in male/male romance)—
- Does my Alpha hero talk with respect and interest? Is his dialogue constructive to conversations? Does he uphold not only his self-esteem but also that of those around him?
- Does my Alpha show restraint when it comes to his natural urges? How does he “put in check” his libido to get to know the other leading character? Can I show his control and need without making him seem petulant or juvenile?
- Are my Alpha’s actions in keeping with his thoughts, speech, and bodily cravings? Does he touch the other hero/heroine with reverence, making their needs as important as his own? Is he/she treated in a way that portrays his true inner Alpha? Does the Alpha find the hero/heroine attractive in other ways, other than just a fantastic ass or beautiful eyes?
- Are his internal thoughts lending growth or just making him seem self-important? Do those thoughts demonstrate some measure of humility or understanding that he’s capable of failing or he has to try harder for this one person he wants the most out of all the people out there?
Like Doris O’Connor, I’m passionate about this subject. Have I written a male character who bordered (but still wasn’t) on Alpha-hole? Yes, but not as the main character, and those characters are used as obstruction and conflict with the Alpha hero and heroine/hero. So I’m not saying don’t ever write an Alpha-hole, I’m saying use restraint and be purposeful.
Think about your favorite books. What about the character made you think, “Yes, I’d love to be his?”
Until next week, more tequila for all, big hugs, and as always—stay humpy!
All GIFs from Giphy.com.