Love 'em (we do!) or hate 'em, we can all agree the alpha male is a huge part of romantic fiction. Holly March talks about the right and wrong ways to portray an alpha hero, defining them as either an #Alpha or an #Asshole.
For the most part, I address this with my cishet glasses on, and assume the point is to discuss the male alpha archetype. I watch a lot of historical films and TV series. The good ones, yes, but I prefer the melodramatic, cheaply made and gloriously over the top ones!
However, here’s a fun fact for those thinking to follow me into devouring Italy’s equivalents of Pride and Prejudice on TV. It is apparently necessary for the Italian hero to slap the heroine across the face. Not just because she is apparently hysterical, or sometimes because she is arguing with him.
Or it’s a Tuesday.
Take Elisa di Rivombrosa, for example. Based on Pamela, written in the 18th century, it follows the story of the virtuous maid who refuses to sleep with the lord of the manor. He, of course, falls for her goodness and ends up marrying her. Virtue is its own reward, says the book. That, and now you live in a nice big house and do not have to work anymore.
But during the first twelve or so episodes he slaps her, he locks her in a cellar without food for not sleeping with him, denies her access to her family, and his dying mother, who is her friend and the woman she was working for. And then, when she is screaming after him on a mountain top, we are expected, not to forget the slaps and the imprisonment, but to sigh over how he has grown as a character.
Awwwww, Fabrizio! Look at you! All not abusive (mostly) anymore. Be still my beating heart and rising fist. #Asshole
I have read dozens upon dozens of "Brooding Dukes." I have loved, I have laughed, I have mocked, I have sobbed. Sometimes the alpha works, but sometimes Lord Jareth of Blackheart, Duke of Darkpast, is just a childish ass. With a horse called Lucifer and a tendency to be called odious, unironically. Look out for ‘sneering’, for ‘cold smiles’ and making ‘cutting remarks’ to his inevitably nicer friend who remembers him from before the obligatory 'She' broke his heart. #Asshole
An alpha has to be an #alpha for a reason.
Firstly, he must lead.
He is a leader of men, perhaps returned from the Peninsular War, or a spy in the American Civil War, used to working alone, like Malcolm McCall in Alyssa Cole's story, An Extraordinary Union.
He is born and raised to be the leader of the pack amid a culture of shape-shifters (see Ilona Andrews and Ann Aguirre).
He has a younger family, and after having to step up and raise them, he cannot remember how to behave unless it is with an autocratic attitude. Some fave authors for this style of hero are Courtney Milan, Christi Caldwell and Maisey Yates.
To be own-voice about this, perhaps he is on the autism spectrum, and cannot quite function in any way but the way he thought he was supposed to be, until the power of the heroine's love helps him find himself .
Otherwise, he is a caricature. A whiny, aggressive baby, throwing a tantrum about not being in control.
Secondly, he has to adapt.
An alpha in a romance has to learn to be in a partnership. There has to be equality in the conclusion. Even in a BDSM relationship, there needs to be balance. Some give and take. Because if there is no balance, it could appear abusive. If you are going to write the hero slapping the heroine, it better have been preceded it by something along the lines of, "Spank my ass, Sir. I've been a bad girl."
Finally, an alpha male needs a special female. If your heroine is sweet and meek and gentle, she is going to have a horrible life after the epilogue. If you want to write a strong, determined, autocratic man, you need to write an equally epic spouse. Be that male or female, they need to match the growl.
Oh, and if you think the slap is unacceptable in Elisa di Rivombrosa, for goodness sake, do not watch any Gabriel Garko films/series. No matter how pretty he is!
Holly March loves happy endings, where the hero and heroine ride off into a metaphorical sunset for a long and loving life together. You can find her on her website, or catch up with her on Twitter.
Do you love an alpha hero? What is your best and worst example? We'd love to hear from you here in the comments or on social media using the hashtag #DefiningAlphas