I read three blog posts recently that peaked my interest and sparked this post. This one by Ed Magusson pointed me in the direction of this one by Jane on Dear Author and finally this one by Jean on All About Romance which is a blog I subscribe to. The first two talk about the ‘alpha-male’, Ed in ‘real world’ terms and Jane in terms of the romance novel. Jean then discusses heroines in contemporary romance novels.
It’s the two about the romance novel aspect that I’d like to respond to here, primarily because they both sum up my own thoughts on these topics and discuss aspects of character creation that I strive to avoid. I’d like, if I may, to discuss the points raised in the posts and refer them to characters in my own novels.
Let’s start with the boys.
In the past, I’ve avoided referring to my novels as having ‘heroes’, preferring instead to call them ‘male lead characters’ – very PC of me, I know. But the point I was trying to make in doing that is that I don’t think that my heroes fit the ‘template’ of a romance hero. I didn’t think of them as alphas. Of course, to qualify that, you really have to discuss what the term ‘alpha male’ means. Ed does this very well in his post in terms of real people we might meet every day, and under this definition my guys would all class as alpha. In her piece, Jane discusses what alpha has come to mean in the romance genre, and my guys don’t qualify under this definition at all. Why? Because Jane argues that the alphas you find in many romance novels today are “caricatures instead of characters”. She said,
In recent years, however, this reliance on a concept rather than individual traits, has homogenized the hero experience for the reader. Perhaps in an effort to create diversity, authors have tended to over masculinize the hero to the extent that we have caricatures instead of characters for heroes. In recent years, I’ve seen the romance alpha hero morph from tall, strong, and commanding to oversized, monstrous, and overbearing.
She then goes on to define aspects of this over-masculinised alpha-male which I’ll simply list here.
- Controlling & Possessive
- Physically Overpowering
- Sexually Proficient
- The Diminution of Women
I’d have to say that this definition (apart from the last point) fits my antagonists more than it does my heroes - yes, I said heroes. I’ve dropped that whole ‘male lead’ nonsense.
If we keep this discussion to my novellas rather than my shorts, we have five heroes to discuss – Matt from Reunion, David from Charlotte’s Secret, Chris from Lost & Found, Adam from Kissed by a Rose, and finally Will from Eternally & Evermore.
So, are any of these five controlling or possessive? In a word, no. Each one of them is desperately in love with his respective heroine but none of them try to control what she does. Matt has no choice. Kelly is actually more successful than him in her business dealings. If anything, from when they meet up again after the titular reunion, Kelly is the one controlling the relationship.
David is in an odd situation from the outset of Charlotte’s Secret. He’s married to his heroine’s sister – a situation which is somewhat out of his control. He does, however, manage to manipulate circumstances to his advantage. But making the best of a situation isn’t the same as being controlling, is it?
In Lost & Found it’s Beth’s father who is the controlling and possessive one, not her hero, Chris. And due to his young age and his heroine’s fame, Adam finds himself sweep along by events in Kissed – although don’t think this makes him a wimp. It doesn’t.
Finally, there’s Will – who you won’t have met yet as Eternally isn’t released until August. Will is perhaps the strongest of my heroes. He’s a partner in a law firm. He’s decisive. He knows how to take the lead. But controlling? No. Yes, he ‘rescues’ Amy from her situation, but he doesn’t make her do anything she doesn’t want to. No, that’s John’s role. Who’s John? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
I’m not even going to bother breaking this down. I tend not to do much physical description beyond hair & eye colour or generalities such as “Tall” or “Burley” in any case - I like for the readers to fill in the blanks - but in my minds eye, each hero sort of looks a bit like me. Maybe an idealised version of me, but me nonetheless. And I’m not prototypical romantic hero. I’m not ‘six foot ten and built like a brick shithouse’. Now, what my readers project on to my heroes I have no control over, but I’ve certainly never used descriptions such as “Club-like manhood”.
Okay, so all my guys are good in bed. They’re romantic heroes, so to some extent they have to be. I mean, would my strong, independent heroines want a man who can’t make them scream his name? But in her post Jane talks about how modern alphas have had multiple partners and ruin virgins for all her future partners (not that she’ll have future partners after bedding the alpha).
In Reunion, Matt’s friend comments that the story Matt tells him of how he didn’t make it with Kelly when they were teenagers because his was too shy “doesn’t sound like you” and he makes reference to Matt’s ‘little black book”. So it’s clearly implied that he’s ‘living the single life to the full’. But it’s also been implied he’s been in love and had his heart broken more than once.
Charlotte’s David is married. And before that he was desperately in love with Charlotte'. Beyond that, there’s no discussion of sexual history. And neither is there any discussion of Lost’s Chris’ history – mind you, Chris and Beth met in an online forum and carried on as cyber-lovers with an ocean between them for over a year, so read into that what you will about Chris’ sexual exploits in the ‘real world’.
In Kissed, Adam is just nineteen – so how many partners could he have had? Still, what happens between when he arrives at university and when he first meets Chloe do hint that he’s not led a virginal life. Which brings us back to Eternally’s Will, how fell in love with Amy at fourteen, bedded her at eighteen, lost her at nineteen, fell in love and married someone else, got divorced an then… Oh, wait, am I giving away the plot here?
The example that Jane gives is this
if the hero should be heroic, shouldn’t he be honorable? shouldn’t he refrain from leading young women into ruin? Shouldn’t he have the strength of character to resist temptation that could involve danger to the heroine? Shouldn’t he have the care to protect her from pregnancy and use a condom?
Essentially she’s say that if an alpha is overpowering, controlling and has multiple partners in the manner that would have a woman branded a slut, isn’t all this at odds with the very idea of him as a romantic hero. Is that the sort of man our heroine would actually want to spend the rest of her life with? And before someone pipes up and says, “You don’t marry alphas” let me point out that if a Happily Ever After doesn’t mean for the rest of their lives then we need to change the name. Perhaps "Happy Until the Alpha gets Bored.
I don’t believe that me heroes are contradictory. Matt scarifies everything for Kelly’s happiness. David moves heaven and earth to be with Charlotte and when her secret is finally revealed… well, he does the honourable thing. Chris crosses the Atlantic just to comfort Beth in her time of greatest need and Adam… Well, Adam takes everything that Kissed throws at him and still comes out smiling in the end.
What about Will though? Will is interesting in that he rides that fine line. There are times when you will questions his actions. There’s one particular scene where even his best friend questions the way Will taunts his nemesis. But even then, he’s still doing what he thinks is best for Amy. He still puts Amy’s best interests first. So no, not contradictory at all.
THE DIMINUTION OF WOMEN?
This is an interesting one for me. Why? Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a man. A man that has a certain… shall we say, fondness for the female of this particular species. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a great admirer of the female form in all it’s shapes and sizes. Well, maybe all. But the point is that while I find the very diminutive Kylie Minogue very….
Sorry, what was I talking about? Oh, yes, I remember.
Look, Kylie and Kiera Knightly aside, I much prefer a fuller figure. In short, I like boobs and bums. Now there’s a blogpost all of its own. But because I like my real live ladies to have a bit of shape to them, so too with my fictional ladies. No, they’re not of porn star proportions, but you certainly couldn’t describe Kelly, Charlotte, Beth or Chloe as diminutive. Hell, take this line from Kissed in reference to Chloe…
The lads’ magazines worshipped her feminine curves— they had even voted her Britain’s sexiest starlet ahead of her waif-like rivals.
Of course, there has to be an exception and that exception is Amy from Eternally & Evermore. She is described as being “a little too thin”. When this sentiment is expresses, one of the characters responds with “how can you be too thin?” but there is a reason for Amy’s diminution and its a reason that is central to the plot of the novel.
All in all, my heroes are just that, Heroes. Each one in his own way and each one in a different way. But while Jane bemoans a trend towards a certain type of hero, I hope that I’m able to offer readers a little diversity. Something a little different. Romantic heroes don’t have to be ultra-masculine. But they do have to be somewhat alpha. It’s just that I’d go with Ed’s definition of alpha over the one Jane described. My heroes are ordinary, everyday men because ordinary everyday men can be heroes too.
Soon, I’ll do a post comparing my heroines to the ones described by Jean in her post on AAR.