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The Appeal of the Beta Male by Elizabeth Vail

Elizabeth Vail is a critic, essayist, and romance author who reviews romance, fantasy, and YA literature for her long-running book blog, Gossamer Obsessions. Whenever she’s not being administratively supportive for money, she writes freelance, reviews movies, sings, and argues over the internet. Her debut novel, The Duke of Snow and Apples, came out in August.

 

I was inspired to write this post after reading Michelle Sagara’s examination of the Alpha Male and his enduring popularity in the romance canon. I’ve enjoyed Alphas before. It would be hard to be a romance fan, otherwise, since you can’t throw a rock into romance novel territory without it inevitably shattering against the washboard abs of an Alpha Male. They are everywhere. They’re popular, they define the genre in many ways, and moreover, they sell like hotcakes. Muscular, dominating, aggressive hotcakes.

However, in my years of reading romance, I have always gravitated towards the dark horse of romance: the Beta Male hero. The shy boy next door. The reclusive gardener. The kindhearted book-restorer who happens to be a gargoyle.

Betas are the minor chord. Lower key. They tend to be mellower and less ambitious than their Alpha counterparts. You won’t find too many Betas as ruthless shark CEOs, for example. This doesn’t make them any less confident than Alphas – their confidence and contentment with their lot in life just doesn’t extend towards controlling their environment to the extent of an Alpha Male who needs to run his Fortune 500 company, award-winning cattle ranch, or werewolf pack.

A perfect example of this would be Phin Tucker from Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation: he’s perfectly happy to spend his day playing pool in the backroom of his bookstore, drinking a few cold beers, and helping his buttoned-up heroine Sophie Dempsey explore the kinkier side of her sexuality. I come from a family of fairly high-strung, high-stress overachievers, so this is why the ideal of the relaxed ne’er-do-well is such a powerful fantasy. A man at ease with life and his place in it, who’s capable of going with the flow and adapting to whatever life throws at him without having to control it, is narrative catnip to me.

However, Beta Males are just as determined to chase after what they want as Alpha Males. How the Beta Male differs from the Alpha is in his approach. If Alphas are controlling, than Betas are manipulative. A Beta Male’s seduction tends to be verbal and intellectual rather than physical and aggressive.

They often wind up partnered with strong, damaged, and wary heroines – so a Beta’s seduction must fly under the radar in order to avoid setting off a heroine’s emotional tripwires. For me, this always lends an extra spice of creativity, suspense, and escalation of tension to the relationship, like an emotional heist film. It’ll take more than a punishing kiss to win over the heroine – the Beta Male has to be sneaky.

In Rose Lerner’s magnificent A Lily Among Thorns, our heroine Lady Serena is a former courtesan with underworld connections. She’s paid her hooker dues and knows far too much about Dukes of Slut to fall for their macho bullshit – she’d have spotted and dismissed an Alpha Male at fifty paces, but the unassuming but secretly brilliant chemist Solomon Hathaway slips right past her defenses when he asks her for help recovering a pair of stolen heirloom earrings. Solomon isn’t especially wealthy or powerful or forceful – instead, he’s vulnerable, and insightful, and unexpected, and knows his way around a vial of hydrochloric acid. Serena’s comfort around him turns to partnership, then trust, then even more, and her gradual awakening to love is glorious.

Sagara’s essay declares that the appeal of the Alpha Male comes from his utter confidence and control over his world, which allows the heroine to be uncertain and insecure in relative safety.  This certainly isn’t true of Beta Males – their insecurities, weaknesses, and flaws are often just as much a part of the story as the heroine’s.  From my own experience, a flawed and insecure Beta hero enriches the story, because it conveys that the hero has equal stakes and character development in the narrative, and that both protagonists have something fulfilling to offer the other.

The eponymous gentleman from Mary Balogh’s Lord Carew’s Bride must overcome his insecurity over his injured arm and leg. The gentle gargoyle Lannes from Marjorie M. Liu’s The Wild Road (one of the few Betas I’ve encountered in paranormal romance, by the way) has to work up the courage to reveal his true self to his heroine. Even S.T. Maitland from Laura Kinsale’s Prince of Midnight must learn to accept his dashing glory days are over in order to aid the heroine in her quest.

In many ways, the character arcs of Betas and Alphas are opposed. With Alphas, the controlling, hyper-masculine, aggressive hero learns to appreciate gentleness, commitment and femininity, and adapt to the unexpected twists and turns that life churns out. The Beta, meanwhile, grows to overcome his insecurities, take initiative and fight for what he wants when things seem bleakest.

I used to worry I was in the minority when it came to romance novels. I used to wonder if I “really liked romance” if I remained indifferent to (if not outright hated) what seemed to be an important aspect of romance – the dominant hero. I thank God for the romance blogger community and Twitter because they showed me that wasn’t true. Mary Balogh, Rose Lerner, Kate Noble, and other prominent romance authors consistently write Beta heroes to cleanse my palate when the beefier heroes of Judith McNaught, Susan Mallory, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips send me running for the hills.

Are you a fan of Beta heroes? And if so, why? Which one is your favourite? Is there a romance author who writes fantastically understated heroes that I haven’t mentioned?

-Elizabeth Vail

Website: http://gossamerobsessions.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @AnimeJune

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

53 Comments

  1. Aislinn
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 05:07:04

    Yes! I wish I could like this 3,000 times. I completely agree.

    I gobble up Beta Heroes and wish they were more common. I started off ambivalent to Alphas, but I am beginning to actively despise them. I really wish it were easier to tell going into a book!

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  2. Alison R
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 05:20:51

    Me too. Whilst an Alpha male has his moments too often they are more Alphahole (as someone memorably phrased it) and I feel an immature urge to kick them in the privates or just DNF the book.

    I tend to believe that Betas are actually just more comfortable with themselves than Alphas. They feel no need to push everyone else around (shades of small man syndrome anyone?) or dictate to others, they just get on and do things. Often with a slow seductive smile.

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  3. Aly
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 06:09:22

    I love beta heroes! Alpha heroes really make me angry.

    Some of my favorite novels have alpha heroes, but that’s because they didn’t cross the line that sent me into a rage. Still, I feel that I always have to contain my anger when I read stories with alpha heroes.

    I wanted to list some good novels with beta heroes, but suddenly my mind is blank.

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  4. Lynn
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 06:58:49

    Love Beta heroes! I think they are often misunderstood and under appreciated so I am always happy to read that there are other like me out there who prefer them.

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  5. azteclady
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 08:01:07

    Is there a rule that we can only like one or the other? Because while I enjoy Beta heroes, as described in this essay, as much as you do, I also appreciate Alpha heroes–as described in Ms Sagara’s essay, and for many of the same reasons she does.

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  6. Willa
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 08:40:14

    I just read a lovely Beta hero book – Nora Roberts Vision in White from her Bride Quartet – the hero Carter Maguire is described as a ‘safe English Teacher’ and he was adorable!

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  7. mali muso
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 08:48:29

    I like ‘em both! Just depends on my mood. My all-time favorite romance lead is Jamie from Outlander, and I’ve always thought of him as more of a beta hero. Strong and confident, but with a wry sense of humor and ability to deftly maneuver conflicts using his wit, not just his physical strength (although he’s perfectly capable on that score).

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  8. Willa
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 08:52:07

    Just remembered another Nora Beta – Ed Jackson in Brazen Virtue – he is a health food fanatic as well as a cop and is renovating his home.

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  9. Ros
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 09:08:50

    @mali muso: I more or less think that if Jamie Fraser can be considered a beta hero, we’ve reached the point where the terms alpha and beta have lost all meaning.

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  10. cleo
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 09:20:52

    I tend to prefer Betas (although I’m never sure if I truly get the definition). But I like laid back, solid, good guy heroes.

    I’m not sure I agree that a beta hero is manipulative, because that’s not heroic behavior to me. I do agree that a beta may be more willing to wait or bide his time.

    Authors who write good beta heroes (who haven’t been mentioned yet) – Sarah Mayberry, Shannon Stacey, Carla Kelly. Some of Lorretta Chase’s heroes (Rupert in Mr Impossible comes to mind). Some of JAK’s heroes (I’m thinking of the hero in Deception – everyone except the heroine under estimates him, but I know there are others). JAK is tricky because I think even her alphas are more beta than alpha. Lena Matthews also writes heroes that seem like combos of the better parts of alpha and beta characteristics.

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  11. JewelCourt
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 09:32:27

    I like Betas because they (massive generalization) tend to be more 3 dimensional characters than Alphas. Alphas have a tendency toward cookie-cutterness. They’re Hot! and Brave! and AlwaysRight! and Rich! (#notallalphas)

    I actually wrote a reverse Regency as a reaction to all the Dashing Dukes where my hero was the shy wallflower and the heroine was the bold rakish one. It opened with the hero hiding in a library during a Ball and catching the heroine kissing a dashing officer decked out in regimentals. I’ve never subbed it, because I’m the only person who actually liked it. Everyone who beta read it thought my sweet, vulnerable, second son of a hero was a wimp.

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  12. Emma Barry
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 09:37:19

    I love beta heroes. Love them. Some of my favorites: Henry Tilney in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Alex Moore in Jennifer Cruise’s Anyone But You, Theo Mirkwood in Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened, Mark Turner in Courtney Milan’s Unclaimed, and Peeta Mellark in Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games trilogy.

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  13. Jane Lovering
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 09:37:55

    I will *only* write Beta heroes, which does make my novels unpopular in some quarters. I really don’t want to be told what to do by anyone, male or female, and just can’t get my head sufficiently around Alpha motivation to even summon one onto the page. But there is a huuuuge fan-pool for the Alpha, and my poor Beta heroes are often dismissed as being somehow less manly. But I think there is even more manliness in treating a woman as an equal than treating her as something to be fetishised and nursemaided. And I know it’s all in my head and I should be able to enjoy the macho hero taking charge and doing the punishy-kiss thing, but all I can think when I’m reading is ‘if some guy did that to me, he’d be dead by now.’ Maybe I am the Alpha…?

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  14. Imani
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 09:43:44

    Nora Roberts has written some beta males as well: Murphy from Born in Shame (and Grey from Ice too?) And Ethan from Rising Tides to name a few. It’s been a while since I’ve read her novels but I think most of her trilogies tend to ft at least one beta.

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  15. Amanda
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 10:16:43

    I enjoy both Alpha and Beta heroes, I am happy as long as I can see that they love the other person. Robert Carroway from Suzanne Enoch’s England’s Perfect Hero was a good beta hero

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  16. Lynn Graeme
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 10:42:17

    I love beta heroes! Though I have trouble with the designation because the definition seems to be “not a jerk/alpha,” and that covers any hero who isn’t an a-hole, doesn’t it? Or is there a term for that: alpha hero, beta hero, regular hero…?

    Kerrelyn Sparks’s vampire and shifter heroes are delightful in this category, I find. They actually woo their heroines and take their feelings into account!

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  17. Judy W.
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 10:48:08

    I really appreciate both type in my hero if its done right. Some not mentioned yet that I truly adored, Lincoln in Ranbow Rowell’s Attachments. Gareth in Liz Caryle’s Never Deceive a Duke. Sweet, Sweet Ivan in Charlotte Stein’s Deep Desires (she does a very sexy Beta). Georgette Heyer wrote both types very well, my favorite being Hugo in The Unknown Ajax (perfect). Older author that does both very well is Patricia Veryan. Mitchell Redmond in Sanquenet’s Crown is a great road adventure with a beta hero.

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  18. Mara Allen
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 10:59:15

    Alpha males always come across as caricatures to me. I can’t read them at all without laughing.

    I’d rather have a beta any day. They far more closely resemble the men I know in the real world. Real men. Complex men. Thinking men.

    I think that’s why Cecilia Grant’s books are my favorites in m/f. Her heroes are fellows I’d like to know. Fellows who always deserve their HEA. I also notice more betas in m/m romance, which is probably a part of the appeal of m/m for me (as long as neither hero is of the alpha mold.)

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  19. hapax
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 11:17:35

    Love, love, love the beta hero. My favorite has to be Er Thom in the Lee & Millers science fiction romance LOCAL CUSTOM (heckopete, almost all their Liaden heros tend to be beta) but I also adore Rupert Carsington in MR IMPOSSIBLE and Freddy Standen in COTILLION.

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  20. pooks
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 12:04:22

    My only surprise is that there is an either/or.

    I love them both, when done well.

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  21. Janine
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 13:46:34

    I agree on Cecilia Grant and Rose Lerner. Ruthie Knox’s hero in About Last Night was a wonderful beta hero. Courtney Milan hasn’t been mentioned, and she often writes beta heroes. I think most of the heroes in Loretta Chase’s Carsington series are betas actually, but Alistair from Miss Wonderful and Rupert from Mr. Impossible jump to mind. Some of LaVyrle Spencer’s heroes fit the bill, like the one from Morning Glory. But Kathleen Gilles Seidel is the queen of beta heroes as far as I’m concerned. Start with Again or Till the Stars Fall.

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  22. Tanya
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 13:53:09

    I adore a good beta hero. My all-time fave is Reuben in Gaffney’s “Crooked Hearts.” A sweet con man who occassionally slips into Yiddish? I’m undone.

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  23. Keishon
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 14:20:05

    I remember Linda Howard wrote a beta hero in Now You See Her. Well, her version of one. At any rate he was only hero of hers I really liked at the time. She’s famous for writing more alpha than beta heroes so he stood out for me.

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  24. Alexandra
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 14:37:57

    I like to read a fairly equal mix of alpha and beta heroes, though a beta hero written just right always captivates more than a great alpha in all his aggressive confidence and domineering sexuality. I think there’s greater room for variety among betas while alphas tend to fit a more basic mold. This makes it easier to relate to betas as a human being in general. Most alpha heroes I read come from paranormals. The behavior I accept from those books would never work for me in a contemporary romance.

    Favorite beta hero? How about Archimedes Fox from Meljean Brook’s Heart of Steel? The heroine (Yasmeen) is definitely the alpha in this relationship and at one point Archimedes laments: “Can’t I save you just once?”

    A while back I stumbled across a post that mentioned the “theta” hero, who is often a loner. Thetas have no desire to be head of the pack but they still like life at the top of the food chain. I wish there were more of these guys around. In Kristen Painter’s newest urban fantasy series the hero, Augustine, is definitely theta. He’s an interesting mix of vulnerabilities and classic alpha strength. However Augustine would rather relax and enjoy life than take on a position of power – this is actually one of the main conflicts in the first book.

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  25. Cate
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 15:36:31

    I love a Beta hero, my own absolute favourite is the magnificent Turnip Fitzhugh. A subordinate character who through sheer personality, not only gained his own book (& novella!), but who has turned into one of the best heroes of the Carnationverse.
    There are some brilliant Alpha’s out there, but there are also some truly awful cockwombles…I’m looking at you Linda Howard. So by choice I’d rather read about a bloke I’m not likely to brain with a cast iron pan, or stab in his sleep !

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  26. Christine Maria Rose
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 16:11:38

    My favourite beta hero to date is Rob Rush from Cara McKenna’s Unbound. I don’t discriminate though, I’ll read any romance with good writing, whether it is with an alpha or beta male.

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  27. Statch
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 16:31:35

    I used to prefer alpha heroes but I’m getting sick of them. Too often the alpha heroes are paint-by-numbers stock characters. Since there isn’t a template for beta heroes, to write an appealing beta character the author has to make him a real person. If beta heroes were suddenly popular, we’d start seeing them written as stock characters too.

    Rose Lerner has a free short story up on her web site that features a short, low-status, somewhat priggish, religious hero. It’s brilliant. I’d love to see more romances with real-life heroes like this.

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  28. Elizabeth Cole
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 18:38:30

    Huh. I’m now a bit confused as to whether i prefer beta males, or simply not asshat alphas. And this also brought up another thought–as sassy alpha heroines become increasingly expected among readers (at least, they seem to be–even our wallflowers require spines of steel to not be considered wishy-washy) , whither the alpha male?

    Maybe these categories are less useful unless we’re discussing tropes and/or caricatures. Maybe I’m bad at categorizing.

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  29. pooks
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 18:40:49

    @Alexandra:

    I have written beta heroes, but offhand I can’t think of any true alphas I’ve written. Your definition of a theta hero is working far better.

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  30. Fiona McGier
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 21:58:03

    As a rule, I only write beta heroes. My heroines are usually independent butt-kickers who don’t need anyone’s help, thank-you. But they do like men…hot, hard, sexy men. Only to romp with, of course. But when the latest romp gets under their skin, then the sneakiness (I love that you called it that!) of beta males wins them over completely.

    In one of my books, the hero is blind. He has never ridden a motorcycle or been on a speed boat. The heroine has never seen the point of staying with one man. They have a rocky courtship, but it works for them. She exposes him to things he’s never experienced, and in the matters of her heart, he does the same for her.

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  31. Olivia Waite
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 22:21:52

    “The hero has equal stakes and character development in the narrative.”

    In a nutshell, you have nailed the reason why I always will love beta heroes more than alphas. All too often alphas are drawn from what I think of as The Most Mold: they are the Most Powerful, the Most Handsome, the Most Wealthy, the Most Sophisticated, the Most Sexperienced, the Most Etc. Etc. Etc. All too often their narrative agendas are to get what they want, whether it’s the heroine or her father’s business (hello, all the old Presents from my teen years!) or any MacGuffin you please. A broad, non-specific goal like that can work for me if the character is unique and engaging — but by definition the Most Mold eliminates specific, memorable character traits. Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m personally supposed to be swooning over this generic Strong Dude because All Women Must Swoon Over Strong Dudes On Account Of Their Strongness And Dudeness And Have I Mentioned Strongness And Dudeness? It’s a fantasy, I get it — but it’s not mine, and I rebel against a book that’s trying to hard-sell me a fantasy, rather than showing me some individual person’s heart and mind. That’s the fantasy for me: getting pulled out of my own thoughts and into the particular thoughts of a complete fictional stranger. It should be worth the trip. There should be souvenirs, and not the chintzy mass-produced kind.

    Beta heroes, though, come in so many forms: charming golden boys (Rupert from Mr. Impossible), coasting sons of privilege who eventually make good (Theo from A Lady Awakened), and lonely, disabled exiles who think their best years are far behind them (I love ST Maitland from Prince of Midnight so much that just reading his name makes my chest ache a little, and I’ve only ever read that book once, so let’s all give Laura Kinsale a round of applause for that one.) They may follow formulas of their own, but there’s usually something about them that is about more than power, more than control. Something vulnerable and human. That’s what keeps me coming back. That’s what keeps me writing them.

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  32. lijakaca
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 22:24:38

    @JewelCourt: That sounds like a really neat set up to me! I guess it depends on how the hero is weak – even a proper, demure heroine either has some hidden strength, or has a character arc developing one, so I’d want an outwardly weak hero to have the same.
    I like ‘strong’ heroines more than many romance readers though – where strong can mean physically strong, bold, proud, smart, confident – all those adjectives used often for alpha heroes.

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  33. ML
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 22:41:52

    Love, love love the betas, because: see above. And betas resemble the real guys I know, and they’re heroic, awe inspiring, and wonderful. Most of us are with betas in our real romances. So seeing that reflected in a romance novel is both a joy and an affirmation.

    One author I haven’t seen listed yet is Fiona Hill. The Country Gentleman features one of the classic beta heroes. And cheers to Freddy Standen in Cotillion. I love the way that Heyer, who cemented the romance hero trope in her Mark I/Mark II heroes, completely subverted that with Freddy!

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  34. Junne
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 04:40:03

    I love beta heroes…but in real life only. In romance they are boring to me. I want passion, drama, over-protective jerks, muscle-bound men!

    My ultimate guilty pleasure are Sam Crescent’s heroes: they are misogynistic to the extreme ( the heroine is “innocent” and “pure”, unlike the dozens of women they dated in the past because she is either a virgin or an abuse victim) and extremely forceful ( they forbid her to wear revealing clothing, talk to other men, or in some cases even have a job). In real life, I would call them sociopaths. In romance, they’re my jam.

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  35. Jill Sorenson
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 08:58:02

    I read another post recently about how good-guy heroes are great for any heroine because they’re just decent, honorable men who treat all women well, but bad boy heroes are terrible to/for most women so they must find the one. Bad boys aren’t suited to 99% of women. I’m paraphrasing this concept and I might be mangling it, but I found in interesting in conjunction with Olivia Waite’s comment about how generic alphas seem to her. The idea that All Women want him is not a draw for me either. When I read that in a blurb I shy away. I think I’m more on the beta side because I like a certain amount of realism. There’s no such thing as a man that all women want–we all have different preferences. A beta has flaws and makes mistakes. His confidence is in *not* having to control the heroine or every aspect of his environment. Not all women want him, maybe, but the heroine does. I can more easily believe they belong together if he comes across as a real person, rather than a fantasy figure.

    I’m still on the fence about the whole alpha/beta concept though. I write strong, protective heroes. They might be dominant in bed. That’s another thing I’ve been thinking about. I’ve often thought of alphas as Doms (whether they engage in bdsm or not) so extreme alpha are like doms who require control in and out of the bedroom, like a 24-hour D/s relationship.

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  36. Jody W.
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 09:35:07

    I have never liked the implication that so-called beta heroes are “weak” because they might possess more traditionally feminine qualities, such as not-being-in-charge or niceness or lack of the obsessive need to boss the whole world around. So they aren’t the tallest, largest-appendaged CEO of the world. Because they aren’t THAT guy, because they don’t punish the heroine with kisses and stalk her or whatever, they’re weak? That just irks the shizz out of me.

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  37. Dora
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 11:09:50

    While I rarely enjoy the out-and-out alpha male, I am slightly troubled – especially with a view to my own characters – by the grey area in which a beta hero turns into a “woobie”. Over in the responses to Michelle Sagara’s article about alpha heroes, Sirius wrote that her favourite recent beta male was Jude Darlington from Anna Cowan’s _Untamed_. (Darlington is a frock-wearing, self-destructive nervous wreck who pushes people’s buttons when he’s bored or frightened.) Now, I remember a review of Cowan’s novel (which I can’t find right now) in which someone criticised Darlington for being too much of a woobie; and I saw their point. Which troubled me, because I really liked Darlington.
    [As I only recently learnt, “A woobie (named for a child’s security blanket) is that character you want to give a big hug, wrap in a blanket and feed soup to when he or she suffers so very beautifully.” (TV Tropes)]
    I feel very comfortable with preferring beta males to alpha males; but I am not really comfortable with the possibility that there might be an element of h/c in this preference for beta heroes. You know. Han Solo being tortured by Darth Vader, frozen in carbonite and then defrosted and comforted by Princess Leia. It does make me want to go “Awww!”, but I don’t like the fact that the hero has to be tortured before the heroine can comfort him.
    This, incidentally, is why Jamie Fraser may be a beta hero, but he sure is no woobie: Gabaldon enjoys, by her own admission, having her heroes tortured, but her heroines don’t much enjoy nursing them; at least not in a semi-erotic, semi-sicko kind of way.)

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  38. Shannon C.
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 11:53:10

    Count me as someone else who prefers beta heroes. (And all the love to Marjorie Liu’s Lan… I think I need to reread that book now!) I like a little vulnerability from both characters. It helps make the romance better for me, and usually leads to both characters remaining autonomous at the end while still having their relationship. Also, I really, really like reading about people who have to use their wits to survive. Smart people being smart is absolutely my jam, and I don’t see a whole lot of that in the chiseled abs of a lot of alpha types.

    As for recs, I think Ava March writes lovely betas in her M/M historicals. then there’s Michael from Patricia Gaffney’s Wild at Heart. I recently read Isabel Cooper’s No Proper Lady, which has an incredibly strong heroine, but her hero is more cerebral, which made the dynamic very lovely.

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  39. JewelCourt
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 12:03:17

    @lijakaca: Thanks! I like vulnerability in both my hero and heroine, but I’ve found, just through reading reviews/comments (so massive generalization), that with the exception of the posters here at DA, most romance readers hold heroes to a very high “manliness” standard. My hero with social anxiety wouldn’t make the cut.
    I haven’t tried self-publishing yet. I’m thinking (if I get the time), I might try self-publishing my Regency with the wimpy hero and slightly slutty heroine.

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  40. Anna Richland
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 12:53:28

    I agree with Jill Sorenson on the tendency of alphas to drift into generic territory, vs. Betas who must, by necessity, be more unique and individual to convince the reader that they are in fact Romance Hero Material.

    Just read Shannon Stacey’s FALLING FOR MAX, and that was the most beta of beta heroes – and also completely unique – but I was totally rooting for him and he was totally right for the story and the heroine. I thought he was adorable. (I think the heroine even called him that at one point and he got huffy about it b/c kittens are adorable, not men).

    I think the popularity of contemporary “small town” series such as Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold and Shannon Stacey’s Kowalskis, etc. means that there will be more betas in circulation b/c you just can’t have every single person in a small town be an alpha SEAL or police officer or millionaire – it’s just not possible within the genre – you’re going to have business owners and teachers and single dads and stuff, thus the washboard abs will come with some beta personalities. And I’m finding that I”m liking that a lot. (And just you know to segue into shameless self promotion, the hero of my next Immortal Viking book THE SECOND LIE out in January from Carina is I guess a beta Immortal Viking thief. He does as much as he can to avoid fights, loves nice clothes and art, and generally thinks being in charge is a route to disaster).

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  41. Erin Burns
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 13:13:07

    I enjoy them both when well done, or even passably done. But I disagree that betas are inherently more unique or individual than alphas. Alphas can be just as unique, and Betas i think we just don’t have the same glut of them to start categorizing them into types the way we do alphas.

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  42. hapax
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 13:25:38

    Thinking on the comments above, I too wonder about the tendency to associate certain “beta” characteristics (gentleness, reliability, intellect, lack of interest in dominating either men or women) with feminity, or less-than-manliness. I remember how angry I got in the Tor discussion of COTILLION in which so many readers blithely assumed that Freddy was “coded gay.” (Let’s not even go into “man with presumed feminine traits = gay”)

    But I am also guilty of this subconscious need for reassurance about the beta hero’s masculinity. I suspect that’s why I love the con man/ thief / ninja / assassin hero so much (and when they *are* more overtly alpha — e.g. Luke in Roberts’ HONEST ILLUSIONS — I have a terrible time liking them, let alone believing them). Because of the professional requirements to be sneaky and unnoticeable, they tend to be betas more often than not; yet the whiff of criminality and violence somehow “proves” their status as “real men.”

    Ick ugghh — perhaps I should not delve into my subconscious quite so deeply!

    Not to mention the hybrid “Crouching Doofus Hidden Badass” type of character though — Zorro, the Scarlet Pimperne,l and their descendents. But I will eat up anything in which they appear.

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  43. Sirius
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 13:45:04

    Hi Dora, well, I like hurt/comfort when it does not go completely OTT (I mostly read m/m anyway), but this is absolutely not why I liked “Untamed”. I mean, I liked male character which I do think was much more Beta, but I mostly liked it because of Katherine. I felt like she was the alpha in the relationship and I thought it was very refreshing and something I want to read more about. What I liked about Jude the most is that he figured out what he wanted and needed and went after her, society be damned. I liked his strength even if it was mostly in going after Katherine.

    Okay, I see Mara Allen commented in the thread, and this is awkward because I always gush about her books, but if it fits it fits. Her Jack and Sutton in ‘Whistling in the Dark” to me show the romance dynamics I love the most. I feel like they are both betas, boys next doors so to speak. Are they strong? Of course they are strong IMO. But I cannot call them macho men, I cannot call them Alphas at all and I really love these characters.

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  44. Sirius
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 13:45:45

    Hapax, LOL. “Crouching Doofus, Hidden Badass” Love it.

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  45. Karin
    Sep 03, 2014 @ 23:09:48

    I can think of lots of books with great beta heroes. Angel Rogue. Shattered Rainbows, No Longer a Gentleman or Never Less Than a Lady by Mary Jo Putney, The Chance by Edith Layton, Christmas Angel and My Lady Notorious by Jo Beverly, and Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist series. Also, His Captive Lady by Anne Gracie, In For a Penny by Rose Lerner, In The Arms of the Heiress by Maggie Robinson, Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight by Grace Burrowes, The Lady’s Companion by Carla Kelly, Love in the Afternoon and Seduce Me At Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas, The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley, Miss Dornton’s Hero by Elisabeth Fairchild, A Most Unconventional Match by Julia Justiss(this one is super beta!), No Ordinary Groom by Gayle Callen, A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long, A Precious Jewel and Seducing an Angel by Mary Balogh, Ride the Wind Home by Christina Kingston, Shelter Mountain by Robyn Carr, To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt. Even Elizabeth Lowell who writes lots of alphas, had a beta hero in Love Song for a Raven.

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  46. Kaetrin
    Sep 04, 2014 @ 00:43:55

    I like all sorts of heroes. I don’t think alphas have to be assholes and I don’t think betas have to be insecure. I feel like betas get the short end of the stick though because the terminology suggests they’re second best or somehow “less than” which isn’t the case at all. I wish we had a better name for them.

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  47. Estara Swanberg
    Sep 04, 2014 @ 06:54:40

    @azteclady: Hopefully not, because I feel the same as you do ^^.

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  48. Estara Swanberg
    Sep 04, 2014 @ 07:23:12

    Also, because I’m just watching a fun Let’s Play of this in expectation of Dragon Age Inquisition coming out late this year – one of the few Let’s Plays I’ve seen by a woman, no less – I think the perfect beta hero in computer games is Alistair from DA:Origins, and even if you go the route to harden him, he never becomes power hungry or overly proud because of his heritage.

    As a matter of fact, a lot of male gamers complain because he is such an integral part of the story and he shows his emotions and insecurity so clearly. Having said that, without his excellent voice actor, none of the dialogue would have worked so well, because the exposition bits (watch up to 7.23 for an example) he has to offer can be cluttered, but the personal development dialogue really shines (watch to the end to see the female player, who clearly has played the game before, get just a leeetle bit flustered anyway).

    I was very glad to hear that they got him back, so I expect Alistair should show up in the third game, too ^^.

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  49. Erin Satie
    Sep 04, 2014 @ 22:27:11

    I tend to think of alphas as being men who reinforce the status quo; betas as being men who go along to get along and smooth the waters; and gammas as men who avoid participating in the dominant power structure entirely.

    Someone might take issue with this–no definition is perfect–and point out that alphas might be rebels or revolutionaries. In which case: Yep, trying to form a new status quo, & seeing themselves at the head.

    Both alpha & beta (again, to me) are about a stability, order, structure.

    To me, the sneaky, manipulative rule-breaker isn’t beta. He’s a gamma. Gammas are my favorite. And I think the ‘bad boy’ tends to be a gamma type–marginal and disaffected and often not very ambitious.

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  50. Anna Richland
    Sep 05, 2014 @ 00:34:43

    Ah, the gamma analysis! Yes! I had forgotten that phrase, but remembered as soon as I read Erin’s comment. Good point that there is a third way.

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  51. pooks
    Sep 05, 2014 @ 08:09:34

    @Erin Satie:

    Gammas for the win!

    I have written gammas and betas. I am trying hard to figure out if I’ve ever written an alpha. I like alphas in some books and situations, have nothing against them. But I don’t think I want to live with one long enough to write a book about him.

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  52. lijakaca
    Sep 05, 2014 @ 19:17:29

    @Estara Swanberg: Oooh, Alistair is a perfect beta! He can fight but he doesn’t want to lead. I had such a hard time not developing a romance with him (on my third playthrough no less). I mean, I love Zevran, but Alistair’s romance is just so cute.
    Can’t wait for DA:O!!!

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  53. Miss Bates
    Sep 27, 2014 @ 15:23:23

    I enjoy all the letters of the Greek alphabet when it comes to romance heroes, but what I love best about the beta-hero is his diffidence. Many commentators have pointed to classic beta heroes; I’ve read and enjoyed them too … though I’m not sure Chase’s Rupert is “beta,” (not that there are such rigidly defined rules for being one). Rupert certainly is the most caustically understated alpha I’ve ever read! As for the betas, two of my favourites are Lerner’s, as many agree above. And from recent reading, Emma Barry’s latest, PRIVATE POLITICS, has the loveliest, most diffidentist beta hero in Liam Nussbaum. The beauty of the beta is the moment in the narrative when the heroine realizes that his “diffidence” doesn’t mean he’s a pushover … it means that he doesn’t have to parade his strength. It is in that very moment that she realizes how very strong he is … love that.

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