Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Alpha Male Toolkit

“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it.” Thucydides

We’ve talked a lot about alpha males here on the Prairies. When written correctly they are incredibly sexy. It’s essential to state there’s a difference between a fantasy alpha male and a real life alpha male. We’ll leave the dilemma of real life bad boys to the experts. I’m here to talk about the fantasy version and my penchant for the fictional rogues and bad boys. I love to read about them and to write about them.

But the last thing I want is for my hero to come across as boorish, or --shudder-- abusive. Alpha is spelt A L P H A not B R U T E. So, what can I do to create a hero who is fantasy worthy? Who embodies the qualities that would keep a reader turning the pages?

The Alpha Male Toolkit

Sense of Honor: If I were to pick one must have trait for my ideal alpha male it would be a sense of honor. A strictly held to Code of Conduct. If honor is synonymous with honesty, fairness, and integrity in one’s beliefs and actions than the alpha male must be honest, fair, and true to his beliefs. And, above all, he had better back it up with his actions.

Set of Core Values: These speak to what the hero wants. To his motivation. These could be, but are certainly not limited to, power, glory, freedom, or revenge. Ideally, one or more of his beliefs will have to change in order for him to have his happily ever after. Conflict, conflict, conflict.

Exemplary Hero Credentials: I might show him saving someone, or performing an act of heroism, for which he takes no credit early on in the story. I might create a situation revealing his ability to love and commit, even if he would shudder at the thought. An alpha hero needs to prove himself worthy of sympathy by the reader.

Respect for the Heroine as an Equal: They may butt heads. They may clash. They may disagree. They may not treat each other as inferior, weak, or stupid. They are partners. Boundaries must be set and often by the heroine. The only match for an alpha male is an alpha female.

Stamina and A Very Specific Skill Set: Yes, I do mean sex. This may be one of the areas subject to the largest level of poetic license in the romantic fantasy. The ability to make love all night long. Over and over again. Always putting the pleasure of the heroine before his own. But whatever the type of sex, it must be mutual. There is no “you know you want it” type thinking. No means no. Any alpha male worth reading knows this. Choice offered. Answer respected. No qualifiers.

Physical Strength: My idea of the perfect alpha male involves muscles, and lots of them. Frankly, I’m not so much about physical appearance, beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all that, but I’m a sucker for a six-pack. I recently read a wonderful book by Eloisa James called A Duke Of Her Own. It is the Duke of Villiers story. The Duke, who is not thought to be especially attractive, knows it’s his money that draws women to his bed. However, he is equally aware that his physique and his skill keep them there.

Natural Leadership Qualities: Who isn’t drawn to these? To the alpha in the pack who doesn’t second-guess? Who leads instinctively? Part of the fantasy remember? Confident and sexy. Smexy. (Apparently, this is a new word for smart and sexy.)

Feelings: He has them. He does not discuss them. Unless. Absolutely. Necessary. An alpha male needs a strong voice. He needs to use language and descriptors appropriate to an alpha male.

Courage: I think there’s a quote that goes something like: Courage is not the lack of fear, but rather it is taking action in the face of, and despite, fear. My idea of the alpha male psyche includes a healthy sense of fear accompanied by smart action in the face of it. Their physical strength must match their inner strength.

A Serious Flaw: Or two. Previously, and as part of her world-building series, Hayley has blogged about the Rules of Magic. I think it should apply to alpha males, too. Just as magic can’t do anything it pleases, neither can alpha males. You can’t just bandy about all that testosterone without limits and repercussions. They need a weakness. To be vulnerable. How else are you going to make him suffer? Have the heroine make him suffer? Create conflict? And more conflict?

“A man’s chief quality is courage.” Cicero

Are you drawn to alpha males? What qualities and traits would appear in your Alpha Male Toolkit? Do you have a favorite alpha male character?


Rebecca Rose said...

I have to agree with you. A sense of humor is key. While I like the strong brooding alpha, he must be able to laugh to show he's capable of emotion.

(Rebecca Rose)

Karyn Good said...

Welcome Becc. A sense of humor is very attractive and sexy. And even if he's on the more introverted or serious side of things, he has to be able to laugh at himself. Definitely, prove he's capable of emotion.

Thanks for stopping by!

Silver James said...

This is a pretty comprehensive tool kit, Karyn! I agree that a sense of humor is necessary. I find self-deprecating humor very appealing.

And flawed heroes absolutely push my buttons! I also like the "unexpected" Alpha--the strong, silent type who watches from the sidelines mostly unnoticed until he goes into full Alpha Mode(tm), goes along with the Reluctant Alpha(tm).

LOL! Catpcha word: pawer. That goes with out saying! Only aloud to paw when the heroine says yes and he better be gentle. :D (Unless he's a werewolf...just sayin'!)

Han Solo is always a favorite, as is Aragorn. I have to admit that Ciaran and Duncan in my own books rank high, too. LOL!

Great list to check against, Karyn. Thanks for posting it!

j.leigh.bailey said...

This was a fantastic and well thought-out compilation of everything that makes an alpha hero so appealing. Your timing couldn't be better for me, either. I'm just about to sit down and create a background and profile for my hero. Thanks for this!

Karyn Good said...

Hi Silver. Self-deprecating humor! That's the term I was looking for! Definitely, a must.

I love the terms 'full alpha mode' and 'Reluctant Alpha'. And a little mutual down and dirty...I'm okay with that! And I do love werewolves...

Yes, Ciaran and Duncan make the grade :D

Karyn Good said...

Hi J Leigh Bailey. Thanks for the compliment. Glad the post helped. It came about because I've also started the revision process on a new wip and have been thinking about my hero.

Have fun creating your hero!

Kay said...

Hey, I think the character attribute list would work great with any character in a book ... even the secondaries. Maybe not the "skill" bit since I don't think anyone would be paying that much attention to them. Still, they have to be well-rounded too.

Vince said...

Hi Kayrn:

This is a very interesting and useful post. Thanks.

From a male POV, I like Linda Howard’s ‘Mackenzie’ series alpha male heroes the best. Kate Walker also writes acceptable alpha males for Presents. She has written extensively on the alpha male and I consider her an expert on the topic.

I am very pleased that you put a premium on having a sense of humor. The alpha male often has so much more strength than his mate that a fit of anger could lead to him killing his mate and offspring. A sense of humor can diffuse such a serious anger buildup before I becomes fatal and as such would have a high survival value. It is very wise for females to be natuarally attracted to alpha males with a sense of humor.

I am a little surprised that your fantasy alpha male is less bad and more gentle than your real live one. In fantasy we often want to take chances that we would not consider in real life. Are you sure you wouldn’t want an alpha male who was a little rougher around the edeges? : )


Karyn Good said...

Hi Kay. I think you're right, the list would add layers to any character.

Thanks for weighing in.

Karyn Good said...

Hi Vince. Confession time - I've never read a book written by Linda Howard or Kate Walker, but I'm going to have to check them out!

A sense of humor, the ability to laugh at ones self is very sexy and an alpha necessity.

Thanks for stopping by!

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Love this Karyn, fabulous, comprehensive, and delightfully indulgent. I love that you make it clear this is your fantasy hero list. It would be interesting to take another look at reality alpha heroes, who won't have the full package and won't be as well tempered. And of course, that's to say nothing of reality bad boys, which I hold in a different categories than alphas.

Love that it's a personal sense of honor, not necessarily a universal one, just as long as he has something he sticks to. Likewise for his core values, he's not trying to win a Miss America pageant. Also love your emphasis on the heroine. Alpha heroes need worthwhile mates, women who can go toe to toe, shove back, and don't need a man, the same as alphas aren't the type who sit around mooning over women and writing poetry to them. Also love your frankness when it comes to needing sexual prowess. They're not real, we can ask it of them :p

In my opinion, flaws are the big thing for an alpha. Not tons of flaws, but they need them, and they need to be important ones. These characters can become so superhuman that we just can't relate. It's the flaws that take them down to earth again, make them someone we can root for and identify with. Of course, that needs to be balanced with enough admirable traits as well, if an alpha is all flaws, then he's just a jackass that no one should waste time on.

I've been feeling my way around some of these fine lines with my WIP's 'leading' man. He's quite packed with flaws, things start off on terrible footing, and I frankly don't want to do any of those things with him that become insta-hints that he'll become romantic material (you know, like how so many novels describe the hero in scintillating terms at his first appearance, setting him apart from everyone else). At the same time, of course, he can't accidentally become such an asshat that my protag would be insane to like him (especially, you know, considering her last relationship ;). There are certain invisible boundaries he can't cross, or else it starts making things weird and questionable. At the moment he's my primary conflict (that'll change in a chapter or so), but I'm also trying to slip a subtle 'hero cred' in there now and then. When he stops acting like so much of an arrogant prick, he'll get to do more good things. Hopefully the transition will be subtle :)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Mercy, this is a great post! I'm glad you said this was your fantasy list otherwise I'd be quite envious.

I think the main thing for me is where you say, 'Always putting the pleasure of the heroine before his own.'
For me, this wouldn't pertain just to sex but in most things. If you really love someone, you want to see them happy - no matter which gender you are.

Excellent post, Karyn. This one's a keeper for sure.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
I like how you think, girl! You've created a very comphensive list here. I've been wanting to put a little more Alpha in my males so this list is very helpful.


Karyn Good said...

Hi Hayley. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and I agree, definite distinction between real life alphas and real life bad boys.

Fantasy alphas are so appealing, male and female. Pitting them against each much fun!

I can't wait to hear more about your 'leading man' and I can see how in keeping with the tone and mood of your novel you wouldn't want him suffering from a blinding flash of white knight syndrome! He can't be an asshat (love that term) either. Exploring his soft spot might help you. Her witnessing his soft spot, might help her see something redeemable in him. It seems like you've created the potential for lots of conflict. Good luck!

Karyn Good said...

Hi Anita. Exactly right:)

Glad you liked it!

Karyn Good said...

Hi Jana. Glad the list was helpful. Have fun injecting a little more alpha in your males :)

Molli said...

This struck a number of chords with me, Karyn, and I'm keeping the quotes close by. Also going to keep the list and check it against my Alpha men.
Your comments on a personal sense of honor are very pertinent in my view. How else can we have a rebel rather than a rabble rouser, hmm? And I must say, stamina is good... very good.
Thanks for sharing!