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The Super Sizing of the Alpha Male

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Anne Mallory’s latest release, The Bride Price, involves the question of what is a true gentleman.   The hero is a bastard and not considered a “gentleman” by society standards.   The heroine’s sister at heart, Sarah, is a shy, retiring wall flower.   Sarah’s father wants her to marry well and sets up a tournament for men in society to compete for her hand:

“…The King sees the whole competition as an incentive to make sure one of his godchildren is married well.”

She took a deep breath before continuing. “I saw him a few days past. He has signed a document promising the winner a viscountcy After the competition ends, he’ll have the letters-patent drawn up and-’” She waved a hand in a fatalistic manner. “I tried to beg him to revoke his blessings, but you know how I freeze up so terribly. He just patted me on the head and said the games were designed to weed out the unworthy. Only a true gentleman could win.”

“A true gentleman.”

“Yes.” Sarah tugged at the bow on her dress, mangling it further.

A man who was good at shooting, boxing, gaming, and wenching could easily fulfill the terms of a “true gentleman.”

Like the ton had adopted birth and certain elements of society to define what a true gentleman was so has romance adopted Alpha Male to define the romance hero ideal. 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.

Alpha Male = Controlling and Possessive

Take, for example, the stereotypical romance hero, Edward Cullen, in the million book selling series by Stephenie Meyer.   Edward Cullen is a vampire.   He is preternaturally strong and preternaturally beautiful (his skin actually glitters in sunlight).   He is also a bit of a psycho.   He stalks Bella, the heroine.   He climbs into her bedroom and watches her sleep at night.   He tinkers with her car so it won’t start.   He forbids her from seeing other people.   He warns her that becoming part of his family, his life, means to cut off contact with everyone but he and his family.   He gets a member of his family to kidnap her to keep her isolated while he goes and hunts. Yet, this is deemed beyond sexy.   He is the epitome of perfect manhood (despite being a teen starring in a YA book).

It’s not unfair to use Edward Cullen as an example of the supersizing of the alpha male because this overjealous, control hungry male dominates the adult romance genre.   In one post at Teach Me Tonight, Dr. Vivanco explores the idea of the evolution of the alpha male.   Some readers are quoted as describing alpha males as super possessive and domineering which are also “recognised as a feature of many abusive relationships.”

Alpha Male = Physically Overpowering

The only thing that really separates Edward Cullen from his adult male counterparts is physical size.     Romance alpha males are physically overpowering. In one Brenda Joyce book, the hero is described as having a "huge club-like manhood," and a   "slab" of pecs.   In the last JR Ward book I read, John is described as needing “a fleece the size of a sleeping bag, an XXXL T-shirt, and a pair of size-fourteen Nike Air Shox.”   In the recent Diedre Knight book, Red Fire, the hero was an ordinary 5′ 7″ until his immortal transmogrification when he became “between six-foot-four and six-foot-five. Depend[ing] on the day . . . A variety of factors.”

Alpha Male = Sexually Proficient

Another thing we have required of our alpha men is uber sexual prowess. It is not sufficient that they be good in bed, but they must be good in many beds.   They must be rakes, with a number of partners, none of whom had ever complained about past performances.   They are so good and practiced in bed that every virgin’s deflowering is orgasmic. Other traits exhibited by alpha males besides how many women he swived before settling down inlude how much liquor he can imbibe before having a hangover, how good at cards he is, how great of a driver of horses, how he’s the best fencer, best gentleman’s boxer, a master of industry (but on the sly of course). In contemporary terms, he’s one that has been taken in only once by a wretched female and is determined to act out his hatred for his ex wife on every unsuspecting model from now until he can’t get his peter up or his wallet dries up, whichever comes first.   It’s not enough that the hero be an Earl or a Viscount or a Marquess.   The Duke is de riguer for bestsellerdom.   A hero cannot be a millionaire. He must be a billionaire, a tycoon, a magnate.

Of course, I’m generalizing here but I think the majority of books feature some sort of the ultramasculine alpha male and making him cry in one scene doesn’t make him break out of that mold.

Alpha Male = Contradictions

For all that we say about the perfect male, the attributes that we give him to make him a specimen of perfect male virality are contradictory.   I.e., if the hero should be heroic, shouldn’t he be honorable? I.e., 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?

We have this warped view of alpha men.   They are caricatures relying primarily on physical prowess to serve a romance shorthand for all those things that we view a hero should be.   But the unfortunate thing is that it straightjackets the heroes’ character such that they aren’t allowed to drink mixed drinks or sleep in pajamas without being viewed with immediate suspicion that perhaps they are, in fact, from the other end the Greek alphabet.

Alpha Male = Diminution of Females

Probably the worst outcome of the ultra masculization, as Robin calls it, of the hero is the subsequent diminution of the female character.   She has to have tiny hands compared to the male (how many references have you read to the tiny hands thing? A friend of mine has tiny hands and it greaks Ned out because every time she lays her hand on his arm, he feels like a child is touching him).   Or, as I argued last week, the heroine is required to look TSTL in order for the hero to look more masculine, to fit that ideal alpha male mode.

I’ll admit that I like the alpha male too. I like the jealousness, the possessiveness.   The control thing makes me a bit uneasy.   But I can’t help but think we’ve taken it too far.   That authors are trying to top each other with their own ultramasculine heroes.   It’s almost like authors are competing to see who has the most alpha male of the alpha males out there. My alpha male is bigger than your alpha male.   He’s 7 feet tall, wears t-shirts the size of double sleeping bags and basically would make Clifford, the Big Red dog, look like a puppy.

Alpha Male = Heroic

We have somehow equated alpha characteristics with hero status and I’m not sure how we got there.   Heroic qualities are not inherent in the alpha male trope.   We’ve made it so which means that we can unmake it.   We could return to the metric where deeds show heroism regardless of one’s size, bedroom prowess, or ability to control one’s environment including the heroine.   We could look for hero’s who were more diverse, who’s appeal rested more on how they interacted with the heroine than how many beer cans could be crushed on his impeccable abs.

Now, you readers might tell me that your books don’t have these uber alpha characters and if that is so, tell me the titles of those books. Or perhaps the alpha male means something else to   you or you really must have an alpha male for the book to interest you.   I want to know why because ultimately the question I have is whether the alpha male that we read about today is reflecting what readers want or whether its a literary exaggeration done unconsciously to evoke a certain reader response.

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

103 Comments

  1. Kat
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 04:56:08

    (OT: There’s something seriously screwy about this page. I blame the lolcat.)

    It’s a question of balance for me. When the hero starts to sound like a bully, that’s when I start getting irritated. I also want him to have a conscience, so indiscriminate killing or lack of awareness that, you know, even if it has to be done, it’s not done lightly–I have a hard time reconciling that with the concept of a romantic hero. That said, it all depends on the writing and the heroine. If she balances him out, if she challenges the things that bug me and causes him to come to some kind of self-awareness, then I can be sold on his redemption (because in many cases, the heroine is there to tame the wild boy, isn’t she?).

    Paranormals are slightly different. It depends on how the world or mythology is set up. But there’s got to be something that acts as a counterfoil for all the aggression.

    What frustrates me most is when an author sets up the internal conflicts, the counterfoil to the alpha-ness, if you will, of the hero, but doesn’t follow through or breaks out of character to make him some kind of sappy romance hero (usually in one of several ways: crying, carrying a baby, a flowery, purply declaration of love, or some kind of embarrassing and public show of affection). It’s a silly shortcut and I hate it.

    Off the top of my head, some authors who write alpha males that I love: Nalini Singh and Kresley Cole (because the heroines push back), Bob Mayer (in Don’t Look Down there’s a part where the hero talks about how there’s nothing heroic about maiming a man), Anne Stuart (she goes over the top sometimes, but at other times she gets it sooo right). Oh, and Alegretto from Shadowheart (Laura Kinsale).

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  2. Jayne
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 05:11:47

    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?

    But Jane, that’s part of the requisite abilities of an alpha hero. He has to be able to impregnate the heroine on the first go. Double points for him if she’s been told she’s infertile in the past.

    And of course this ties into the multiples births seen in the ooey, gooey epilogues- twins, triplets and – can it be long now? quads or more. Our alpha hero’s super sperm is just sooooo potent, ya know.

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  3. Kat
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 05:25:39

    As someone who has given birth to twins, there is nothing romantic about the thought of carrying four babies at once. Besides, the superpowers belong to the heroine’s eggs. Sperm? Pfft. They’re a dime a dozen.

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  4. Dance Chica
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 05:45:07

    “In the last JR Ward book I read, John is described as needing “a fleece the size of a sleeping bag, an XXXL T-shirt, and a pair of size-fourteen Nike Air Shox.”

    JR Ward has always been a bit ridiculous with the physical attributes of her heroes. I remember in one book the brothers were described as having legs the size of tree trunks. LOL. WTF? How is that sexy? I always had to re-size them to normal dimensions when I use to read her. Physically overpowering heroes, to that degree, are definitely a head-scratcher for me.

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  5. Nathalie Gray
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 06:44:47

    “Sperm? Pfft. They're a dime a dozen”

    Kat, next time, please do warn me of impending snortage of Perrier. I nearly drowned myself.

    That was le FUNNY!

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  6. Shiloh Walker
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 06:54:57

    Oooooohhhhh…great post.

    Sometimes I think writers get a little too caught up in the ‘fantasy’ aspect and don’t think about how having the huge, possessive, sexually-proficient dude would be in real life.

    A huge, clublike manhood only makes me think OUCH and how fricking uncomfortable it would be to sit in a chair the next day. Makes me think that my sex life would take a huge downturn, because really…flesh down there? Sensitive. I don’t want to wake up every morning or every other morning feeling like I’d been hit with a battering ram. Instead of regular sex, I’d be thinking along the lines of… on special occasions. Like Christmas. Valentine’s Day. If the man is good in bed, that’s all should matter and size doesn’t translate to ‘good’.

    The sexual proficient thing also usually comes from the guy bouncing from bed to bed throughout his life. The nurse in me cringes at the thought-it’s something that definitely has thrown me for a few loops while reading.

    The over-sized heroes, I do the same thing with some characters that dance chica does. The overblown, professional weight-lifter thing isn’t a look I find appealing and I just blank out the character descriptions. Lean muscle works so much better for me.

    The control factor is the number one thing for me. I can’t stand being controlled in real life and most authors who write controlling heroes have me dropping the book real quick.

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  7. Angie
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 06:56:26

    I’m in the middle of a JR Ward book as well, and her description in a flashback of the guy’s new-grown equipment lying huge on his belly wasn’t enough — the Evil Woman and her two Evil And Unholy Gay Henchmen had to be heard exclaiming over his humongusoidal size as well. I had to stop reading right there because it was just so ridiculous.

    I’ll probably go back (I’m already plowing through Ward despite her egregious abuse of typography) but seriously, these books make me want to grab a box of red pens and go through her manuscripts. She’s got some great talent and some excellent ideas, enough to keep me reading I’ll grant but her execution…. [facepalm] She could be absolutely awesome if she’d just get past some of the over-the-top window dressing.

    But yeah, the whole supersize thing is ridiculous. Sorry, I don’t want a guy who’s seven feet tall, four feet wide and has a cock the size of a fence post. I just don’t. If I fell in love with a guy that big, it’d be despite his huge dimensions, not because of them.

    I also don’t find massive jealousy or possessiveness at all attractive. Jealousy comes from insecurity, and possessiveness comes from a lack of trust. I won’t tolerate either in a partner, and the man I married displays neither. Protectiveness, yes, at times, and that’s cool. But any guy who tries to symbolically piss on me and warn off all other men is going to get a knee in the balls and a cold, lonely bed. Yes, dear, I have male friends, and sometimes I’ll want to go hang with them without you. Deal with it or hit the road.

    I could enjoy a story about a guy who’s a jerk at the beginning if his personal story arc was about him learning better and changing. Character growth always rocks and there’s not enough of it in genre romance. One of the reasons Whitney, My Love is one of my favorite romances is for that moment when Westmoreland suddenly realizes that Whitney had wanted eight months (or whatever incredibly long period) to plan their wedding, and that therefore she couldn’t have been pregnant with another guy’s baby when she came to him. That “OMG I’m a fool and a bastard!” moment of realization was priceless (I swear I could see the look on his face :D ) and I loved watching him grow and change for the rest of the book. You can make your guy as much of a jerkwad as you want, if you give me that kind of a learning-and-growing arc.

    What really annoys me, though, is when all the “growing” is on the woman’s side, when she’s the one who “learns” that she has to give up her dreams and surrender her independence and accommodate her man’s irrational and immovable expectations. The whole, “Oh, I was so selfish! How could I have expected to pursue my own goals and think for myself! Love is so much more important than that!” :P I don’t know how many books I’ve read have based the heroine’s turning point on something along those lines. Yuck.

    I agree that it’s more than time for romance to welcome a much wider variety of hero types. I’ve never been all that fond of the whole “alpha” thing in the first place, but since the Alpha Hero became like 99% of the guys in the genre, my (mainstream, het) romance reading has fallen way off. For people who love the massive, grunting alpha, that’s cool — he should stick around so those readers can get what they want. But there should be other kinds of heroes as well, many other kinds, for the rest of us.

    Angie

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  8. Victoria Janssen
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 07:29:53

    This is why I love Carla Kelly so much. Yay for the so-called “Beta Hero”!

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  9. Anion
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 07:45:33

    I think the problem occurred when “alpha” became some kind of shorthand for “controlling jerk”. All my heroes are alphas, but none of them are dickheads like that. They like to be in control, people look up to them, they’re smart and several steps ahead of the bad guys, they’re not accustomed to apologies or explanations…but they admire/love women with brains who can speak for themselves, women who’ll stand up to them, and they don’t boss people around as some sort of overcompensation.

    An alpha is supposed to be a leader, not a bully. He is dominant, he’s not necessarily a dickhead. And I honestly believe most of these enormous jerk alphas are the product of bad writing. I’m not naming names and this isn’t a comment about any of the writers already mentioned in this thread (this sort of thing has been around for decades), but we all know there are writers out there who use “alpha” as some sort of shorthand excuse not to create a fully fleshed character, or to move along a rusty, creaking plot (same as those TSTL heroines. It’s too much bother to come up with something smart for them to do that could lead to rouble, so I’ll have them decide to sneak out of the safehouse–the safehouse they know is necessary–because they just can’t resist the feel of rain on their bodies! Tra la la!) Oh, he’s an alpha, so he’ll tell her to shut up so they can have a fight! Oh, he’s an alpha, so I don’t have to bother coming up with a real reason for them to fall in love, he’ll just say “MINE” and that’s all there is to it! Bleh.

    A real alpha KNOWS he’s in control. He doesn’t have to boss people around or act like a jerk because he KNOWS people will obey him, he knows they respect him, he knows who he is.

    JMO, of course, but this really bugs me.

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  10. Jennifer Estep
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 08:00:26

    I’ve never been fond of the alpha hero for the many reasons you mention. I didn’t like Twilight for the fact that Edward was a creepy stalker. The moment Bella meets him, nothing else matters but Edward. Not school, not her family, nothing else but making him happy and being with him forever and ever. Ugh.

    A lot of the alpha heroes come off as psycopathic stalkers to me. If some massive hunk of manliness started following me around, I’d call the cops, no matter how hot he was.

    The alpha hero being “oversized in every way” also makes me grimace. Like Shiloh said, that would be painful.

    I suppose the main reason I’m not fond of alpha males is that the heroine never seems to have any real power in the relationship. How can she when the guy is stronger and smarter and more experienced than her in every single way? And never misses a chance to let her know it?

    I want to read romances where the hero and heroine complement and bring out the best in each other. Where each has their strengths and weaknesses, but together, they are better than they are apart. Where they are considerate of each other.

    That being said, there are some traits I like in the alpha hero — his protectiveness of the heroine and others, his willingness to sacrifice himself and be in the line of fire. But really, those are just traits of a good hero in general.

    It’s when everything is taken to the extreme that the wheels fall off for me. Then, I’m rooting for the heroine to dump the alpha male and find a nice, regular-sized guy who’ll pick up the dry cleaning and doesn’t spend hours staring into space and brooding. But that’s just me. We all have our likes and dislikes. That’s what makes these discussions to interesting.

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  11. Sandia
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 08:06:54

    whenever i read JR Ward and other authors huge/muscley alphas, i wonder if her heros are a direct reaction to the fattification of america.

    i live with a bodybuilder and know men who have outsized muscles everyday – BUT – some of the biggest guys are some of the most softspoken guys i’ve ever met. so i have never related big muscles to big alpha.

    however, i think that b/c what we see day in and day out now is fat and sloppy, lots of authors have gone to the physical extreme opposite.

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  12. Sparky
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 08:20:55

    At the rate it’s going heroes will eventually be neanderthals with vast bank balances. They’re huge, violent, act like arseholes and often treat the heroine like children or property. They’re also horrendous Gary Stu’s. Seriously – someone who is physically incredible, uber rich, intelligent and can cause multiple orgasms by sitting next to a woman (usually with a flaw that isn’t much of a flaw as a classic sign – like tragic angst over previous dead lover) is total Gary Stu

    The only thing worse than the Uber-alpha male is his sidekick the Headache Heroine. They seem to be extra dumb/weak/helpless/frustrating in some awful attempt to justify the Alpha male being a domainant tyrant

    In times of crisis she can be relied up to kick her little feet and wail convincingly (or just faint) tears will gush from her eyes in Niagara-like floes. When she’s “spunky” it usually means being brain dead with a death wish (but don’t worry, super hero will save her!). When she’s “tough” it means she swears liek a sailor and has severe anger management problems. When she’s “independent” it means that she ANGSTS while relying on the hero to generally support her simperingness at every turn.

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  13. Lori
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 08:29:54

    Do readers read the stories though to identify with the heroines or get blown away by the heroes?

    I read for the heroines usually which is why I tend to love writers like Cruisie and Vicki Lewis Thompson, the women are just as smart as the men and drive the story (especially Cruisie who is heroine-centric). VLT with her nerd series certainly made heroes who didn’t touch alpha status and now her Hex series is doing the same.

    I’m currently reading The Dark Hunter series by Kenyon and of course all the Dark Hunters are over 6 foot tall, all gorgeous and take alpha to its full limits. But in what I’ve read so far the women aren’t fools and at the end, it’s the women who have to save the men to rescue them. And that’s what appeals to me as a reader.

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  14. veinglory
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 08:42:41

    We are finally beginning to get some non alpha-male romance which is brilliant. Especially as I read romance that is 50% male POV or more… and almost always identify with the *male* character, not the heroine. Having the male be a character not some hyper-sexual alpha/stallion/force-of-nature-weird-thing helps broaden the readership of the genre IMHO.

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  15. shenan
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 08:44:27

    The Stephanie Meyer vampire character mentioned near the beginning of the blog post is from a YA book? Really? Then I fear for whatever young women find him sexy and romantic.

    I’m so glad someone mentioned the hulking of the Romance Hero. I’ve dumped books upon reading the description of the hero as oversized. And even if I keep reading, I downsize him. And get rid of the muscles.

    Really, is there a Romance Hero in all of RomanceLand who isn’t at least six feet tall? I’d love to see some that are only average or maybe a bit over that. And slender — no freakish muscles.

    And while I’m at it, I don’t read books where the Hero is a SEAL or otherwise Mr Gung Ho Super Bad Macho Hero. Give me a math teacher please. Or an accountant. Some Regular Joe off the street. Someone I can relate to as real. Someone who must rise above himself in an action novel to Save the Day — even if he just barely saves it.

    Jealous guys don’t do it for me. Overbearing is just obnoxious. Pat the Woman on the Head types I wouldn’t read if you paid me. Super competent bores me. I’m not into Rescue Fantasies. In fact, I’d like to see stories in which the heroine saves the hero, whether physically or just emotionally.

    I want the Hero and Heroine to be more evenly matched. Even physically. I can’t get into large differences in height. If a guy just has to be oversized, I’d want an oversized heroine as well. And I want a Heroine, in any genre, who can hold her own with the Hero. I don’t want a Little Woman Who Needs a Man.

    Alpha Heroes bore me. And not just because they are so overdone and overused. I want emotional depth. I want the occasional fun guy. Even a silly guy. I want sweet guys. Guys who put a woman’s needs before his own lust. I want a guy who can fall in love instead of spending an entire novel working to get the Heroine into his bed because by golly He Has Needs and She’s So Hot!

    Heroes who overwhelm Heroines in whatever fashion, be it physical, mental, or emotional, don’t do it for me. I find them lame, obnoxious, and boring. Oh. And add rich and powerful to the list of what I find boring and overdone. Give me a poor working slob for Pete’s sake!

    shenan

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  16. Laura Vivanco
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 08:57:05

    In recent years, I've seen the romance alpha hero morph from tall, strong, and commanding to oversized, monstrous, and overbearing.

    In another post I wrote about alphas I included a quote from Laurie Gold reporting something that Jill Marie Landis said:

    In her view some of the aspects that drew many readers into reading romance initially are so politically incorrect at this point that they dare not be used any longer. So when readers crave something that’s missing from their current reading, they’re actually missing what they think they don’t want. [...] readers who missed that type of hero rediscovered them in Paranormals.

    The fact that the ultra-sized alpha turns up so often in paranormals (I notice that lots of the examples here are from paranormals) may be read as indication that (a) he is recognised to be somewhat monstrous, both literally if he’s a werewolf or other paranormal creature but also metaphorically in the sense that he wouldn’t be a good partner in real life and (b) that he’s nonetheless a fantasy figure that appeals to many readers.

    Alpha Male = Diminution of Females

    Probably the worst outcome of the ultra masculization, as Robin calls it, of the hero is the subsequent diminution of the female character. [...] Or, as I argued last week, the heroine is required to look TSTL in order for the hero to look more masculine, to fit that ideal alpha male mode.

    It strikes me that the fantasy of the fantasy-alpha’s super-sized penis might also fit in with something I thought in response to your description of the TSTL heroine, namely that it could be that if a romance minimises characterisation and instead emphasises physical features and physical interactions then perhaps the intent is “to evoke a certain reader response” and that certain reader response is a sexual one.

    I know Dance Chica, Shiloh, Angie and Jennifer on this thread so far have said that they find tree-trunk-sized legs, outsized genitalia etc more horrifying to think about in practical terms than arousing, and I’d agree with them, but presumably there are many readers who do find monster-sized heroes very sexy.

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  17. Kathleen MacIver
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 08:58:05

    I.e., if the hero should be heroic, shouldn't he be honorable? I.e., 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?

    You highlighted exactly why I have such a hard time finding romance heroes I like! To me, honor and humility are the sexiest characteristics in a man, because they indicate inner strength. Only a man who is secure in who he is has the strength to resist temptation, keep his honor no matter what, and be a man of his word. And that man doesn’t brag about who he is. Why should he? The woman worth winning will see his value without his having to flaunt it. It passes the tests that life throws against him, and proclaims him a man of worth.

    Sure, I like outer strength… but it’s a waste without inner strength.

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  18. (Jān)
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:00:12

    Anion said

    A real alpha KNOWS he's in control. He doesn't have to boss people around or act like a jerk because he KNOWS people will obey him, he knows they respect him, he knows who he is.

    Anion, I’m in love. This is exactly the kind of alpha hero I crave. Point me in his direction.

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  19. vanessa jaye
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:07:30

    I think the underlying appeal is that the Alpha is uber capable, and can protect/take care of heroine, understanding and satisfying all her wants/desires (even those she might not be aware of) and at the same time he’s finds her utterly captivating and this powerful being is completely helpless in the face of his love for the heroine.

    In this time and age where so many woman are prehaps feeling overwhelmed with the demands of career, marriage/relationship, motherhood, and other demands society places on us to be at a certain level of beauty, etc. This Alpha male is the ultimate fantasy. He’ll take care of everything, while still leaving the heroine in a position of power over him.

    It’s escapism, a fantasy, a careful balance of power. But it’s been exaggerated and that’s where the turn off has occured and behaviours become borderline unacceptable because the the power balance or trade off isn’t as believable.

    I love the Alpha hero, in all his guises from knuckle-dragging mule-headed sex machine to the heroic arrogant (and well-endowed) leader. But I only like him in books. Also, like dance chica, the waaay exaggerated physical descriptions always get scaled down in my head. Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) was the only westler I’ve found physically appealing and even he’s trimmed to a more realistic size since retiring from wrestling.

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  20. Kelly C
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:08:19

    I think the problem occurred when “alpha” became some kind of shorthand for “controlling jerk”.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    A M E N !!!!!

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  21. joanne
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:10:10

    I’ve admitted before in public forums that I’m not a “deep” reader… I don’t look for the underlying message or the affect the characters have on society or anything more then to be taken on a fantasy ride by the author. Beta males are not as interesting, or fun — to me — to read about as the alphas are.

    I don’t actually know any XXXL vampires so when I’m looking for a paranormal romance, that’s what I’ll buy. For me, it’s all about the fantasy when I’m book browsing.

    I certainly can respect the reader who wants more Beta Heros, but I don’t want authors to stop writing the over-the-top Alphas. I can pretty much figure out for myself that they’re not real but they certainly can take me out of the everyday crap for a while.

    I think there is enough variety in author styles and character descriptions to keep most of the readers happy so there’s no point in reading novels that don’t appeal to whatever it is that you’re looking for when you escape into a book.

    THE CAT PICTURE: Want Him. Love Him.

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  22. Chicklet
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:10:21

    I also don't find massive jealousy or possessiveness at all attractive. Jealousy comes from insecurity, and possessiveness comes from a lack of trust. I won't tolerate either in a partner, and the man I married displays neither.

    Yes, yes, YES. This. I cringed my way through Lord of the Fading Lands by C.L. Wilson and won’t be reading any more of the series precisely because the possessiveness of the hero (and the low self-esteem of the heroine) drove me batshit.

    Like several people have said above, I want heroes and heroines who complement each other; I think part of the reason I read so much m/m fanfiction and romance is that the power differential rarely gets as icky as it can in m/f romance.

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  23. JulieLeto
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:19:02

    What Anion said!!!!

    *But* dare we get into a chicken/egg discussion…how is it that authors who write these jerk/controlling/asshat heroes with tiny/TSTL heroines GET to the top of the bestseller lists so that editors everywhere start saying, “Make him more Alpha!” to every author who comes along afterward? Who makes these men the stars? Who accepts the women as doormats? Who makes Presents the #1 category line?

    Hmmm….

    I’ve never considered my heroes Alpha…I always went for Gamma. (A little Alpha (strong), a little Beta (reasonable)). But I also always write heroes who are leaders in their field, who are successful (though not always rich,) even if its just as a carpenter. But now that I am purposefully writing Alpha men for my Phantom series…I realize, I’m writing the same guys. I’ve come to realize that Alpha doesn’t mean what I thought it meant. (Cue Anion!)

    This discussion just came up on another loop I was on. Must be something in the water.

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  24. Kathryn Smith
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:19:28

    Thank you for this discussion!! I just turned in a book in which I was worried the hero wasn’t alpha ENOUGH. You’ve made me relax about it. He’s a man a little damaged, a little self-delusional and he used to be a real jerk. Now, he’s the kind of man who does go looking for a condom, and while he’s a big guy — he’s not massive. I don’t like massive. And I think he’s fairly considerate of the heroine. See why I’m worried? lol. Maybe you’ll actually like him, Jane! ;-)

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  25. veinglory
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:21:58

    I think the problem occured when the average alpha was written to *be* a controlling jerk.

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  26. Kalen Hughes
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:24:23

    Gamma. Gamma. Gamma.

    I love me a gamma hero (love to write ‘em, love to read about ‘em). *tip of the hat to Deb Stover, who came up with this designation*

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  27. Alison Kent
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:31:36

    The absolute best discussion I’ve ever listened to about alpha males is Jane Porter’s workshop, “Love, Sex and the Alpha Male”. Anyone wanting to write a true alpha, or even understand what a true alpha is (leader of a pack, etc.) needs to hear this.

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  28. Jill Shalvis
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:36:52

    Loved this discussion. Both in my reading and my writing, I prefer a hero who is a decided combination, one who is strong of mind and heart, and is willing to follow a heroine, not always lead.

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  29. Heather
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:38:22

    I have more of an practical issue with the supersizing of historical heroes. Unless they are vikings, they should not even be 6 feet tall without them being considered extremely tall. There a should be alot of difficulty finding a bed long enough to sleep in and they would be sleeping on the floors of the inns.

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  30. Jorrie Spencer
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:48:40

    Count me in as someone who rescales heroes while reading, too. I don’t like it when the author is too “in my face” about the heroine’s petiteness vs the hero’s gigantism. It actually turns me off.

    I can enjoy alphas, sure, but I really do like a variety. I actually wrote a book where the hero was an inch shorter than the heroine, though I should admit he was stockier.

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  31. che
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 09:58:44

    I read romances mainly for the hero and for the fantasy. I confess I balk if I read that he is under six feet. I couldn’t finish a Brockmann book because the hero was only 5′ 10”. Silly, I know.

    It’s not imperative that I know the size of his manhood, but if the author writes that he is average, or even tiny, well, I’m just not going to finish the book. Fantasy ruined.

    To add to what Jane said under Sexually Proficient- if he’s a football player, he has to be a quarterback. Not just any quarterback, but the #1 ranked in the NFl. Photojournalist? Hell, he won the Pulitzer Prize. Actor? He’s been named Sexiest Man Alive in People magazine. In short, they have to be number one in their field.

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  32. Kathryn S
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:01:53

    I admit I can’t get into shorter guys — but neither can I write about little women for the most part. I have no idea what it’s like to be petite and delicate, so I have to be able to relate to my girls on some level.

    And I think I’m a sucker for gamma as well. My favorite hero is the smart ass who always has a comeback and never seems to take anything seriously, but he’d die for the people he loves. Or the guy who seems so quiet but can kick some serious butt. Surprises. I like surprises. ;-)

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  33. Amanda
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:04:44

    Jo Beverley has written some wonderful Betas. Francis, Lord Middlethorpe in her Company of Rogues series is one of my favorites. (His book is Forbidden.) And Robin in A Lady’s Secret was slightly built.

    I also agree about Carla Kelly.

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  34. veinglory
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:06:47

    I love a short hero. Bujold anyone?

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  35. Bonnie Dee
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:09:37

    I’m not interested in alphas, large or medium-sized. I’m a fan of beta male heroes, regular guys or anti-heroes with plenty of flaws, and they don’t have to be physically impressive. I like the guy next door who turns from best friend to lover. I like the smart-ass who sacrifices himself for the greater good. I like the quiet, shy geek, who has a wonderful inner strength. Those are my favorite heroes to read (and write) about.

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  36. Anion
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:16:14

    *But* dare we get into a chicken/egg discussion…how is it that authors who write these jerk/controlling/asshat heroes with tiny/TSTL heroines GET to the top of the bestseller lists so that editors everywhere start saying, “Make him more Alpha!” to every author who comes along afterward? Who makes these men the stars? Who accepts the women as doormats? Who makes Presents the #1 category line?

    Hmmm….

    Ah, yes. I wasn’t going to go there in my comment but, as always, Julie, you are far too clever.

    Honestly? I think in addition to my “character shorthand” theory, one reason women are so desperate for these heroes is because they no longer exist in real life, at least not in the numbers they used to. Society has conspired to absolve men of responsibility, to teach them to be led instead of being leaders, to teach them to talk about their feelings and emotions and not fight and etc. etc. Those last couple are good things, but men used to be alphas because they were expected to be, because being a man meant being capable and in control; boys were raised to believe that when they grew up they would be expected to take care of a wife and family, that they were expected to fulfill their responsibilities.

    It’s just my opinion, and I fully accept that everyone probably thinks I’m some sort of antifeminist reactionary now (even though I’m NOT; I’m not advocating a return to traditional gender roles, either, just that we stop feminizing our little boys and downplaying the role of fathers in our families. I believe constant male role models are vital for most boys and I won’t apologize for that; of course it’s possible to raise great men without fathers but I think it’s easier with). But we lost something as a society when we started sheltering boys and men from accountability and started encouraging them not to anticipate being responsible for a family, when we started telling them it was okay to sleep with a woman and never call her back, that as long as he made a few child-support payments he could still be a good Dad, especially because Dads really aren’t necessary, etc. etc. etc. So I really do think that’s a big reason why alphas have such an attraction for women; an alpha is to some extent a man who still believes his primary responsibility is to protect and care for his woman, in an age when men seem to think they’re the ones who should be protected, cared for, and provided for.

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  37. Anion
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:22:25

    Oh, and while 6’7 and above might make me blink, there’s a foot difference between my husband and myself so I don’t really bat an eye. I like tall men; I’m another who makes up a different appearance in my head if he’s too short. Or blond.

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  38. Jane
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:28:23

    I will be the first to admit that I have my own ideas regarding physical attractiveness. What is happening, though, is an exaggeration of physical traits. Not only is the alpha male tall but he’s super tall. Not only is he possessive, but he’s super possessive. And on and on. It’s the exaggeration of these superficial character traits that make me wince.

    Also, in regards to the Brockmann character (Wes, right), I thought by the time he got his own book, he was 6 feet tall from his original 5′ 10″ stature.

    It’s telling that I have become so brainwashed that when I read Kristan Higgins Just One of the Guy’s and Trevor is described as 5′ 11″ that I immediately discounted him as the hero.

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  39. Jessica
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:29:51

    This post raises so many interesting questions, like the relation of physical attributes to personal characteristics (why does a strong personality require strong arms and a large penis?), which has a long history in Western (at least) culture, and the question of to what extent romance novels are about fantasy.

    For my part, I think sometimes romances are for reader fantasy (porn for woman, yes), sometimes they are about other things in addition or instead. The more romance novels are about other things, i.e. traditional literary values, the more ridiculous these outsized heroes seem. But the more that romances are about feeding reader sexual fantasy — even though different readers have different fantasies — the larger the men and their appendages get.

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  40. Kathleen MacIver
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:31:47

    I’m RIGHT with you Anion. I’m not anti-feminist either… even though some people call me so. I simply believe that both men and woman have powerful roles to play in society, and swapping those roles doesn’t set anyone free! I definitely think that this is why most readers want alpha men… because there AREN’T any. (Well, there aren’t many.)

    I like my fantasy to be found in the world-building… but I like my romance heroes to be the exact same type of men that our society is in short supply of. They’re not the type of overdone alphas that Jane’s complaining about… but they’re not the confused yet arrogant jerks that are in abundance today. But let’s face it… the fact that they’re confused about who they’re suppose to be is largely our fault, for we’re the ones who have sent mixed messages about the kind of men we want them to be, and we women are who raised them.

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  41. Anion
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:33:21

    Oh, I wasn’t disagreeing, Jane. I think my problem is, while most of my heroes hover in the 6’2 area, I just wrote one who is about 6’5 (although personality-wise I think he’s the least alpha I’ve ever written). So I can’t condemn the height thing when I just used it myself, you know? :-) But I do think it’s getting to be a bit much in general.

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  42. rebyj
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:34:29

    What about books where the hero is described as nerdy, geeky and plain then he whips his glasses and shirt of and BAM instant hunk with rippling muscles and a six pack.
    Vicky Lewis Thompson’s Nerd books come to mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love the books and they’re funny as hell happily resting on my keeper shelf.
    But take my nerds glasses off and he’s all but crosseyed trying to focus and get my nerd naked , he’s got a pot belly and a scrawny chest with saggy old man boobs.

    *looks over my shoulder to make sure he’s not in sight of puter*

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  43. Val Kovalin
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:38:07

    What Chicklit said: “I think part of the reason I read so much m/m fanfiction and romance is that the power differential rarely gets as icky as it can in m/f romance.”

    Absolutely. Me, too. I’ve been just starting to dip my toe in the water of the m/f Romance genre, and I find that’s my one problem with the genre: when I run across those over-the-top alpha males. Don’t like them at all!

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  44. JulieLeto
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:38:29

    Kathleen, you’re agreeing with Anion…but I agree with her, too, so we’re all good. :-)

    It concerns me, however, that readers will not–seriously–accept a strong heroine without labeling her as a bitch. Those readers who seem to want the fantasy of an Alpha male want it at the expense of the heroine and that concerns me. There are many authors who manage to pull off both the strong hero and strong heroine (JD Robb, anyone) but by and large, those are not the authors who are making it to the top of the bestseller lists and that concerns me.

    I guess I am a feminist, though a rather traditional one. I don’t think men have to be strong at the expense of the woman. They should be able to be strong TOGETHER. That, to me, is the whole frickin’ point of romance novels.

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  45. Kathleen MacIver
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:43:05

    I do admit that I like my heros tall (and brown-haired), but then, my hubby is six foot tall, dark, and handsome, and I’m 5’4″ so that’s what realistic to me. :-) My sister, however, is 5’1″ and her husband is 5’2″… and she laments shorter heroes.

    5’4″ is about as tall as I’ll go… probably because hubby’s brother is that tall. He’d actually make a fantastic cover model… he’s got a grin that is hard to resist, he’s built, he’s got longish-dark-brown hair and eyes so dark they’re almost black. And he and his tiny 5’4″ size 0 wife are 27 and 24 and have four kids… and they live in a house he hand-built out of a barn. LOL! But he’s also the least-alpha of any of hubby’s brothers. Laid-back and easy-going as all get out.

    Anyway…

    I’m also writing a 5’10″ hero in my short story. He’s a teakwando expert, but he hasn’t got much else going for him, and he’s totally out of his element. (Actually a lot like hubby’s youngest brother.)

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  46. Kathleen MacIver
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:44:16

    I fixed my typo, Julie… and I agree that TOGETHER is the key. Show me a romance where they become a team, and I’m sold!

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  47. Jessica
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 10:58:09

    What a great post! I agree with Jane that there is a difference between a hero who tops the charts, and a hero who is off the charts altogether, and I am not sure anyone has addressed that particular point.

    I see a few different, but connected, issues raised in the post and the comments:

    1. Uber Alpha heroes are problematic because romance is for reader fantasy, and many readers fantasize about Betas and Gammas. (The consumer perspective — here the emphasis is on romance as a form of sexual fantasy)

    2. Uber Alpha heroes are problematic because they endorse pernicious gender stereotypes about men (they have to be controlling to be manly), about women (women are are weak, submissive), about what makes a good pairing of women and men, and about what women want in a man. (the social perspective)

    3. Uber Alpha heroes are problematic in literary terms: They are shortcuts to characterization, or they are unrealistic, or they combine qualities that don’t sit together well under one hood, so to speak (true heroism and aggression for example). (The artistic or literary perspective.)

    For my part, I agree with all three!

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  48. Jill Sorenson
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 11:10:07

    I love Anne Stuart’s heroes, which are extreme alphas because of their psychology, not their physical size. What’s going on inside a hero’s head is always sexier than what he’s got in his pants.

    I’ve never liked the muscle-bound, Fabio-sized heroes, huge chest, body-builder types. I cringe when I read a Ward description, but I love her dialogue and characterizations.

    And yet, part of what I like about the male-female dynamic is our differences. Hairy legs, yes. Some nice muscles, please. I want a man who is taller than me, bigger than me, stronger than me. Flat where I am curvy, hard where I am soft, out where I am in.

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  49. Janine
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 11:18:39

    In another post I wrote about alphas I included a quote from Laurie Gold reporting something that Jill Marie Landis said:

    In her view some of the aspects that drew many readers into reading romance initially are so politically incorrect at this point that they dare not be used any longer. So when readers crave something that's missing from their current reading, they're actually missing what they think they don't want. [...] readers who missed that type of hero rediscovered them in Paranormals.

    The fact that the ultra-sized alpha turns up so often in paranormals (I notice that lots of the examples here are from paranormals) may be read as indication that (a) he is recognised to be somewhat monstrous, both literally if he's a werewolf or other paranormal creature but also metaphorically in the sense that he wouldn't be a good partner in real life and (b) that he's nonetheless a fantasy figure that appeals to many readers.

    That Landis quote is interesting. I do think that there’s not as much tension and conflict in romances as there used to be, and conflict is something all fiction needs. Something has to be wrong, for the reader to keep turning the pages. It’s possible that in paranormals it’s often partly the fact that one character is human, the other not that constitutes that conflict.

    Maybe the popularity of uber-alpha heroes who dwarf the heroine physically and sexually is there because they inject excitement into the story. I think that while we all want the heroines to feel safe with the hero at the end of the book, a feeling of safety throughout a book doesn’t compel the reader to turn the pages. Something has to be threatned in a book, be it the characters’ lives or their hopes and dreams or what have you.

    In a romance, it’s all about the relationship so what has to be threatened is the happiness of the relationship. There are a variety of ways to do that, but perhaps the uber-alpha has become a common shortcut for creating a subliminal sense of threat and danger.

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  50. Animejune
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 11:22:30

    I’ve found Lisa Kleypas to be a HUUUUUUGE offender when it comes to overblown alpha males. Every single one of her heroes is built like a wrestler, radiates “overpowering virility” and basically tells the heroine what to do (all the while the heroine giggles at being swept along for the ride).

    Being “Alpha” is an attitude, first of all, and doesn’t need to be physical. A short man can be an alpha male. A skinny man can be an alpha male. Hell, a FAT hero can be an alpha male. I would LOVE to read a romance where the hero’s five feet tall and can still command a room.

    Still, I don’t like how romances focus on alpha males, as if that’s the only type of hero that’s pleasing. It’s certainly one type, but it’s not the only one.

    Just as bad as the alpha is the rake, is my opinion. “Oh gee, you sleep around in Regency England? EVER HEAR OF SYPHILIS? That’s HAWT!”

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  51. kirsten saell
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 11:28:23

    I think a lot of writers forget that the hero can wear pants–even THE pants–and still not treat the heroine like a child and always act like he knows better than she does.

    Being able to occasionally defer the leadership role to the heroine, not out of a smug sense of indulgence but out of a genuine understanding that she might be better at something than he is, that’s the sign of a real man to me. Most alphas, I get the feeling that if I won a game of pool, they’d go on and on about how they “let” me win–which to me shows insecurity rather than manliness.

    Love Bonnie Dee’s books because she can write a romance where the heroine wears the pants, and still not emasculate the hero. Loved December Quinn’s The Black Dragon because her hero was alpha, but vulnerable, honorable and kind.

    That said, there’s something crack-like about a good OTT alpha male romance where the hero spends the whole book acting like an ass and being a jerk to the heroine–but only because you know you’re going to get to see him grovel in the end. That groveling and begging her for forgiveness is better than sex, IMO. And when it doesn’t happen, that’s when the book hits the wall.

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  52. Julia Sullivan
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 11:32:00

    I think that, in real life, people (both male and female) should fulfill the social roles and expectations that THEY find appealing to them. All ideas of “men should be like this” and “women should be like this” are pretty damned silly if you ask me, because people are very complex and individual.

    On the other hand, fiction (especially popular genre fiction) isn’t real life. So I don’t have beef with “alpha heroes” and fluttery heroines if the author makes them work.

    I tend to prefer the Georgette Heyer/Hollywood screwball comedy back-and-forth between alpha males and alpha females–extraordinary, powerful people getting together as a team, just like their wolf counterparts do as leaders of a pack. But that’s me, and the reason they print lots of different books is because readers like lots of different things.

    It strikes me that the subtext of the Landis quote is that because it’s no longer OK (for most houses, for most subgenres) for authors to write self-fulfillment-through-rape scenes, they compensate by skewing the power dynamic elsewhere. I don’t know what I think of that.

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  53. Jessica
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 11:39:37

    This is why I stopped reading Silhouette Desire. I had this exact conversation with a Desire author at Nationals and she had to agree if I wanted a beta hero then that line and category may no longer be for me.

    I read the passages of outsized males to my very average sized husband and we cackle over it at night.

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  54. Alyssa Day
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 11:48:37

    There’s a big difference between alpha males and what I call alph-hole males. One I find very sexy and love to read and write. The other I find myself wanting to call an abuse hotline . . .
    Re: height – I’m 5’11″ tall so I tend to write tall men, but I also write mostly very tall women. <shrugs) It’s what I know. :)

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  55. Barb Ferrer
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 12:14:14

    Thing the first: I don’t like alpha males. At least, not much. Not even when they were *ahem* reasonable. I’ve never made any secret of the fact that in the OUTLANDER series, for example, I’d take Roger over Jamie any day. And it’s not just because Jamie acts like a jerkface sometimes– his jerkfacedness is era-appropriate behavior, so in and of itself, it’s never bothered me. I just like Roger better. More my cuppa.

    Thing the second: Alyssa Day is my friend, again, not such a big secret. So I don’t expect many people to believe me, necessarily, when I say that I’d read her alpha heroes even if she wasn’t my friend. Thing is– her heroes, they have a lot of the surface traits that we associate with the current alpha– they’re physically large and imposing, but hey– it’s a paranormal series and they’re Atlantean warriors, for heaven’s sake. You’d expect them to be just this side of godlike in terms of their physical attributes. But unlike what passes for so many of today’s alpha heroes, they’re not complete asses. And to be fair, while Alyssa has some big boy warriors, the largest, physically speaking, she matched with a tall, female shapeshifter. Someone who would provide a good match for the hero in physicality and strength. Actually, that’s the other thing– she’s not written a pairing where the physical matchup is unreasonable– nor is the mental. Her heroines are strong, without resorting to being ball-busters, but even better, they’re not meek, little, lock ‘em in a closet wimmens who take whatever the alpha dishes out because “ooh, he’s oh, so strong and manly and can overpower me.”

    It might sound odd, given that she writes a paranormal series, but her characters? They feel real.

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  56. Barb Ferrer
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 12:17:16

    It concerns me, however, that readers will not-seriously-accept a strong heroine without labeling her as a bitch.

    Neither will some editors, Julie. Which sucks.

    IJS…

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  57. Alison Kent
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 12:43:57

    Someone who would provide a good match for the hero in physicality and strength.

    This is one of the big points Jane Porter makes in her workshop that I linked to above. Seriously, best workshop I’ve ever heard, and I listen to the tape over and over again.

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  58. Janine
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 12:48:54

    It strikes me that the subtext of the Landis quote is that because it's no longer OK (for most houses, for most subgenres) for authors to write self-fulfillment-through-rape scenes, they compensate by skewing the power dynamic elsewhere. I don't know what I think of that.

    Yeah, I think that’s the subtext of the quote too, but I also think there are a variety of other ways to engage the reader’s interest besides rape scenes and ultra-alpha heores. I think a hero and heroine can both be strong and a book can still be very compelling.

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  59. LizA
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 13:00:34

    I must say I never really got the concept of the alpha hero. The idea of it is quite alien to me, the whole leadership thing – why would a women nead a leader in her life? And why can’t the hero be just competent (competence is sexy) but has to be the very best, ever? If I read a book about someone who is the best, ever, I always wonder how that is messured. It’s not like there is a scale where you score! I think a real man should be able to adimit that he did something wrong once in a while, or that he is out of his depth, or that someone knows more than he does… for me, that does not diminish a hero at all, but rather shows that he has character.
    Posessivness I completely hate, and even protectiveness is not my cup of tea. It is okay when both look out for each other, but not if he starts to run her life! And I am always puzzled at physical describtions. Why does he have “rock hard abs”? That sounds really uncomfortable to me. Or a granite jaw. That sounds like he wants to take a bite out of something to me…. luckily I am used to the metric system so the 6’5” thing is completely meaningless to me. I just take it as shorthand for tall… and imagine whatever size suits me. I don’t quite get the appeal of the ultra tall hero, overall – I used to know a guy who was over 2 m tall (well over avarage!) and he always complained that he never could find pants that were long enough, and he always hit his head on doors, and did not fit into small cars. Altough that is funny again, just imagine the uber alpha being picked up by the heroine in her Fiat 500 (VERY tiny car)….

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  60. Lissa
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 13:07:04

    I like Alpha males – in books and in real life, but a true Alpha male is not just BIG, he is smart, and respected and sure of himself, and that has nothing to do with intimidation.

    As for the size of some of the Alpha’s written – like most of you, I laugh at Ward’s descriptions. I have big men in my life – all 3 of my son’s are well over 6 ft,pushing 200 pounds, including the 14 yo – and they are all athletes, so they lift weights. None of them wear XXXL, or have legs the size of tree trunks. They have normal proportions and wear normal sizes.

    I agree too with the comments about the oversized “equipment”. Daily use of such equipment would wear out the playground – and make you sore as could be. Tone it down a bit and I will find your stories a tad bit less laughable.

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  61. Lori
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 13:27:03

    I really started to notice and be bothered by the Supersize Me trend in heroes when I started seeing descriptions that are just completely unrealistic. I know and that romance novels are fantasy and I love that, but I still want them to be grounded in the real world.

    For example, extremely tall SEALs always pull me out of a story a little bit. There’s a height cut off for even trying out because in that job being very tall has serious disadvantages. The majority of those who finish the training are between 5′ 9″ and 5′ 11″.

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  62. DS
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 13:35:39

    Animejune says:

    I've found Lisa Kleypas to be a HUUUUUUGE offender when it comes to overblown alpha males. Every single one of her heroes is built like a wrestler, radiates “overpowering virility” and basically tells the heroine what to do (all the while the heroine giggles at being swept along for the ride).

    Ah, when Jane was writing about tiny hands I thought of quite probably the only book I ever read by Kleypas– I became fascinated by her repeated references to the heroine having tiny hands, short little arms, etc. I ended up picturing her as a very odd looking creature.

    Unfortunately any time Kleypas is mentioned that is what flashes into my mind.

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  63. Jody W.
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 13:42:27

    I like variety and complexity of character types in my romance novels instead of the same ole same ole over and over again. Seeing how different people work things out romantically against a backdrop of…whatever the author chooses…is fascinating, especially when those characters are multifaceted. And kind of funny :). I don’t like to see the same two archetypes over and over. I can predict their responses to each other and the situations they encounter too well.

    I tend to write and seek out stories that involve non-alpha males because the various permutations of alpha are so easy to find. Variety–not so easy to find.

    I particularly like stories where protagonists are thrown out of their comfort zones, whatever those are, and have to buck up to make things happen. With the typical alpha male, he is less often thrown out of his “comfort zone” than the non-alpha male, although the female character is almost always thrown out of her comfort zone.

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  64. Patrice Michelle
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 13:43:14

    I love writing alpha males and I’ve written them as tall as 6’5″, but when it comes to reading about overly large heroes–in any respect–I just can’t wrap my mind around it.

    I’ll second Alison’s mention of Jane Porter’s Alpha Male workshop. I remember attending it at NJ RWA five years ago. Jane does a great job with it, using video clips and other ways to “show” an alpha male in action.

    I have a blast writing a good, strong alpha male, one who struggles his way through figuring out how to work with a heroine who doesn’t back down. It’s important to me to always pair alphas with females who can hold their own against them. In my mind, a good alpha male is loyal, protective and dedicated to the core, but above all he listens to the heroine and her opinion. There’s a level of respect that’s important and healthy for a relationship to flourish, and I need to see and feel that to believe that it’ll last beyond that happy ever after. Sometimes my heroes save the heroines, and sometimes the heroines save the heroes–I believe in equal opportunity heroism. :)

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  65. RfP
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 14:25:47

    Speaking of how big is big…. A few average heights for men:

    Netherlands 6’1″ (185 cm)
    Germany   5’11″ (180 cm)
    USA      5’10″ (176 cm)
    UK       5’9″ (175 cm)
    Canada   5’8.5″ (174 cm)
    Italy     5’8″ (173 cm)
    Iran     5’8″ (173 cm)
    China    5’7″ (170 cm)
    Spain    5’7″ (170 cm)
    India     5’5″ (165 cm)

    So… the average Italian Billionaire is as tall as an average American woman in heels. Barring a tiny heroine, Spanish readers would probably picture her towering over her Vengeful Spaniard. Betty Neels’ immensely tall Dutchmen make sense these days, but perhaps not back when she started writing them.

    More interesting would be to look at how much *variation* there is within populations. One shortcut is via ethnicity:

    White American   5’10″ (178 cm)
    African-American   5’10″ (178 cm)
    Mexican-American   5’7″ (170 cm)

    Chinese     5’7″ (170 cm)
    Rural Chinese   5’6″ (166 cm)

    And since we’re discussing exaggerated perceptions of alpha males:

    Cro-Magnon   5’10″ to 6’0″ (176-184 cm)
    Neanderthal   5’4″ (164 cm)

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  66. RfP
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 15:04:36

    ^ I meant “Barring a tiny heroine (I’m picturing tall, willowy must-be-hoors models)”

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  67. Gina
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 15:05:44

    I think like any other cliche, there are some who can do it justice and most who can not. One author who tickles my fancy is Shelly Laurenston, especially her novel Go Fetch!. Yes, oversized alpha hero. But when he loves the heroine because she’s vicious and sarcastic, it works for me. So it’s less about the actual use of alpha traits than it is about the authors ability to tinker with them to make a hero I can root for.

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  68. trisha
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 16:41:09

    We have somehow equated alpha characteristics with hero status and I'm not sure how we got there.

    See, this is why I have such a problem with using hero and heroine to refer to the protagonists of romance novels. It always makes me feel (as a reader who has absolutely no desire to become an author) that because of the terminology, the author feels they must create at least one protagonist who is heroic. Whereas I find the most compelling male protagonists to be those who aren’t traditionally heroic. They’re not out there saving the female protagonist or the country or capturing the bad guy. Ultimately, I guess this is a preference for internal conflict rather than external, especially since it often seems like the only approved internal conflicts for alpha males in romance are 1) mother/ex-wife who cheated, or 2) death(s) of the alpha’s comrades/family.

    Re: what other commenters have said about power differentials, for me it’s much more a situational thing than an alpha male thing. I mean, it’s the power differential in boss/secretary, cop/suspect, Navy SEAL/woman needing saving, or in terms of historicals, Norman/Saxon or English/Welsh, relationships that bother me.

    And ditto what everyone said about supersized men not being attractive.

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  69. Jorrie Spencer
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 16:47:09

    One thing I have to say is that I honestly find a lot of the traits used to describe alpha heroes-’protective, capable, attractive, does what needs to be done-’these are traits that describe beta heroes!

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  70. trisha
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 16:51:53

    Oh, and by traditionally heroic, I was referring specifically to heroic actions in romance novels, not the Joseph Campbell hero’s journey archetype.

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  71. Gail Carriger
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 17:44:04

    I agree with a lot of what has been said, but in defense of the alpha male isn’t he a little bit like the “rape fantasy”? Many women love the idea on paper, but know they could never tolerate it in real life.

    On a different note, my little classically-trained soul takes umbrage with the: “Heroic qualities are not inherent in the alpha male trope.”

    I should like to know what is meant by “heroic” as the mythic archetypal hero is very similar to the super sized alpha male of today. From Gilgamesh on through Achilles, into Roman times, and beyond, heroic meant the quintessentially alpha male. Heroes were bigger, better fighters, greater leaders, and more masculine than other men. Sometimes they were smarter. They often had a divine connection and a mandate of superiority (noble birth). Any one of these qualities could formulate the hero’s principle characteristic or his fatal flaw. Take my personal favorite, Heracles, as an extreme example. The exacerbated, domineering alpha of today’s romances is nothing new, he is, in fact, the oldest trick in the book. Or should I say, the oldest trick in the scroll, or in the clay tablet?

    That doesn’t mean it isn’t time for another trope. I like to write my females strong, Amazonian, and alpha to match wits with the males: arguing is so much sexier than capitulation. Of course, I often find my readers become overly fond of the beta males in my stories, and I don’t know if that says something about me and my writing, or them and their preferences.

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  72. Evangeline
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 18:22:54

    LOL RfP!

    I’m nodding my head to most of the replies here, because I’ve complained about how labels we used within the community have turned into short-hand characterizations. If a guy shows up who has bedded a ton of women and makes the heroine’s knees weak: he’s the hero. If a heroine talks back and climbs trees: she’s feisty. There has been an extreme erosion of nuance and individuality in characters both primary and secondary, and for what reason? Is the romance genre exist to reaffirm reader fantasies? Is there no other purpose for the genre outside of stroking a fantasy/romantic ideal? It worries me, and causes me to scrutinize my own writing.

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  73. Angie
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 22:06:11

    Trisha — I’ve always thought the whole “hero” and “heroine” thing was silly. [nod] It’s like the speaker is talking to kids too little to know what a protagonist is. Or are they just too special and sparkly to be “the main characters” or “the guy and the woman?” No other genres use those words as standard, not even adventure fiction. It sounds precious and girly to me, and not in a Grrl-Power!! way.

    And I agree with you absolutely that the terminology has helped shape the idea within the genre community of what the characters have to be like, especially the “hero.” It’s fine for the woman to be weak, ditzy, defensive and insecure. But if the man starts out with enough real weaknesses to actually support a character development arc, he’s criticized as “not heroic.”

    Gail —

    From Gilgamesh on through Achilles, into Roman times, and beyond, heroic meant the quintessentially alpha male.

    You’re right. And they were all jerks, bullies, braggarts and rapists. [wry smile] I think that’s the problem we’re talking about.

    Angie

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  74. Jane
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 22:07:56

    I’ve seen you make that comment before, Trisha, and it is such a good point. I wonder when that started – the hero/heroine meme.

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  75. Angelia Sparrow
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 22:17:28

    I like writing alpha males, but on my terms. They aren’t always tall and stunning. I’m a firm believer that what is in the heart and head make the man, not height or what’s between his legs. I have pudgy, middle-aged architects and lamed gunfighters who are alpha males.

    I don’t like reading things that come off as abuse or coercion. Had enough of that in real life, thanks, don’t need it in fiction. These days, even the “love scenes” in The Empire Strikes Back come off coercive: foot-taller male traps small female in narrow space and proceeds to ignore her protests.

    I like betas in my reading books. Richard in the Anita Blake series, for one.

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  76. Angie
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 22:18:47

    Jane — I first became active in the online romance community back around ’88 or so, when I was on staff on GEnie’s RomEx RT, and the whole “hero/heroine” thing was well established then. I’d guess it’s been around for at least a couple of generations, and probably for as long as romance fans gathered to talk about what they read.

    Angie

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  77. Kaetrin
    Sep 30, 2008 @ 23:37:37

    I love the hero to be “perfect” or close to it. That’s because romance for me is the fantasy which so often doesn’t happen in real life (eg HEA’s). Having said that, I don’t want the hero to creep me out either. He has to be “manly” without being a stalker or an axe murderer.

    Some of my favourite hero’s have been tortured souls who have struggled with issues in their life and have come out the better for it. They are alphas but with weaknesses which the heroine helps them overcome. eg, Jervaulx from Kinsale’s Flowers in the Storm.

    I have read and enjoyed stories where the hero is “height challenged”. A recent Brockmann book (something about Ice or Storms, but I can’t remember just now) with Jenk and Lindsay – Lindsey is small of stature, so even though Jenk wasn’t very tall, he was still taller than her and in my mind, as I prefer the man to be taller than the woman, that worked for me.

    One of Jo Beverley book’s has the hero as a virgin and the heroine as an ex-prostitute. The hero is in many ways “alpha” – he is a successful gambler, the life of the party, a notorious “whip” but part of the story itself is that it is all a “glamour”. He does truly heroic things by the end of the book, including demonstrating forgiveness and standing up for his lady.

    Some of my favourite heroes are not so possessive that they cannot let their woman shine, although they love them to distraction – Rothgar is one (Malloren series, Jo Beverley) – he is “high in the instep”, clever, urbane, handsome, tall, a Duke, rich, with the ear of the king (“eminence noir”). In all this “alphaness” however, he is strong enough in himself to let his lady (Diana) run her own estate, keep their titles separate, stand with him back to back against highwaymen, etc. Even when he rescues her, he allows her to choose the punishment of the villain rather than taking it out of her hands.

    Another favourite alpha hero is Roarke (in Death series, JD Robb) (although, as much as I love these books and characters, the things revealed about his past in Vengeance in Death (hoping not to provide spoilers here)icked me out a bit; not so much that he had taken lives, but the manner of it. I thought it was more villain (serial killer) than hero and I still don’t quite know how Eve reconciled that – perhaps, like me, she just doesn’t think about it!).

    There are plenty of really good heroes out there. A stereotype (IMO) insults readers, like its some sort of formula – 2 cups of abs, 1kg of testosterone, a big penis and add water… I want a better hero than that. Sure, I want him to be pretty darn perfect – but not interchangeable from one story to another!

    I love the fantasy (which, in many ways I am lucky enough to have in reality) of the hero who loves the heroine so much that, while retaining his masculinity, he puts her first. He makes her feel safe, valued, important, priceless, beautiful, that he will drop everything to come to her aid, that her happiness is his measure of success. In any good story there will be some conflict with this (the battle with self at least) and I think that Roarke shows that with Eve very well. Ultimately, she is the most important “thing” (sorry Eve!) in his life and he would sacrifice all for her, although he would prefer not to and will try and MacGyver his way around it if he can. I want to see that kind of heroism. The self sacrifice with the masculinity. The acceptance of the female – flaws and all. I love the “rescue” in the Eve/Roarke example he rescues her all the time by holding her/waking her up from her nightmares. She is in no way diminished by this and that’s the best kind of rescue I think.

    Some of my other favourite books don’t really have a “hero” at all. In Bet Me (Jenny Crusie), Cal is not particularly heroic (or alpha for that matter, he’s too laid back for that), neither is the heroine (Min). It is a great book and I loved the characters and really got immersed in the story. It ranks right up there in my favourite books but there is not a hero in sight. (Having said that, one of the many things I loved about Cal is that he loved Min just as she was, he wanted her to eat donuts and enjoy life, not be worried about her weight, he loved her as she was and stood up for her – I suppose that is “real life” heroism.)

    A hero doesn’t have to be an alpha to be a hero, a romance doesn’t necessarily need a hero to be great (although some heroic traits would be good) and an alpha doesn’t have to be a jerk (’cause if he is, he’s not a hero)…does that make sense?

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  78. Kaetrin
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 03:42:00

    True heroism is about self sacrifice I think and one doesn’t need to be an alpha (or a male for that matter) to demonstrate this. (eg, JD Robb’s Eve is a “hero”, Alyssa Locke (Suz Brockmann) is a hero, some of Kresley Cole and Sherrilyn Kenyon’s female characters are pretty alpha and heroic)

    Jenk in the Brockmann troubleshooters books is short, with red hair and freckles, Tom Paoletti is “hair challenged” (I imagine him sort of like Bruce Willis, at least in the hair department).

    At least two of the heroes in Jo Beverley books are virgins who find their HEA’s with “experienced” women (one of whom was formerly a prostitute). The leader of her “Company of Rogues” is a mere mister.

    Roarke (In Death series, JD Robb) is heroic when he allows Eve to do her job even though it is dangerous, because he is putting her needs before his own desires. He also gets to “rescue” her from her nightmares pretty regularly which is nice. (Although, I’m not sure about his “serial killer” past (Vengeance in Death) – I gloss over that now because I can’t really reconcile that with the term “hero” – not so much that he killed – that I can cope with; it was more the method/s employed. eek. …IMO, Eve glossed over it too, but that’s love for you… That’s the only thing I don’t love about these characters though, they’ve become 1 of my top 10 couples.)

    Also, Rothgar (Malloren series, Jo Beverley) was very alpha but also strong enough to allow Diana to fight her own battles. Even when he stepped in to rescue her toward the end of the book, he let her decide the villain’s fate rather than doing the stereotypical duel challenging thing.

    Jervaulx (Flowers from the Storm, Kinsale) was pretty heroic in overcoming the effects of his stroke and he was also alpha – he certainly had flaws but during the course of the book, he overcame and he learned how to be a better person, whilst still remaining masculine and himself.

    Lots of “heroes” in romance novels aren’t alphas. Eg, most of Jenny Crusie’s heroes are not alphas – they’re too laid back for that – Cal in Bet Me is no alpha, but he does show hero qualities in that he champions Min – he thinks she’s hot just as she is, she should eat as many donuts as she wants, he stands for her.

    I don’t mind an alpha hero, but I don’t want a stereotype; take 1 cup of testosterone, add washboard abs and a big penis and mix well… I think that insults the reader. There needs to be more to him than that and, they ought not be interchangeable from one book to another.

    I like a manly man, but being masculine doesn’t mean being a stalker or a jealous teetering-on-the-brink-of-battery control freak. (Actually, this is true in romance novels AND real life, at least for me!)

    In short, a hero doesn’t have to be a alpha, but he must have some heroic characteristics to be “likeable”. And, just because a character is an alpha, doesn’t mean he’s a hero!

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  79. Caroline
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 09:30:54

    Alpha Male = Diminution of Females

    And that’s why I hate the typical alpha hero.

    Honestly, he can be pretty overbearing IF the heroine is capable of kicking him in the butt and taking him down a peg or five. I’m all about equality of power in a relationship. All too often, though, the hero is this magnificently larger-than-life creation and the heroine is really just part of the audience, a sort of mirror to reflect how awesome he is when he rescues her from bad guys or ignores other women to pursue her or amazes her with the size of his attributes.

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  80. DS
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 11:11:45

    The hero/heroine thing was always just short hand for me. The guy and the gal works just as well. I think it might have filtered from the movies and/or stage melodramas into popular adventure/romance literature.

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  81. handyhunter
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 11:14:32

    The hero in Suzanne Enoch’s By Love Undone (which I just finished reading, barely) hits pretty much all those points, except maybe being physically overpowering, unless being so pretty the heroine can’t believe it counts.

    I wanted to like this book because the set up and initial meeting of the H and H were interesting, but then it devolved into the domineering hero, complete with a TSTL heroine at one point – so the hero could save her, of course – when she’d been smart and rather capable before, 2-dimensionally evil characters (plus the whole sexually active female must mean they’re whores and evil characterization) and a weird, tacked-on ending that doesn’t really resolve any of the issues, except for that the H/H are together, of course.

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  82. Leslie Dicken
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 15:27:34

    As a writer, I like to turn the alpha-male stereotype in different ways. In my Golden Heart finaling historical, my hero had only had sex once and that left a terrible memory with him. He was tormented by his desire for the heroine, not necessarily controlling, he even had a large scar down his cheek — yet, I would still consider him alpha.

    As a reader, I do get tired of SO SO LARGE penises and men who are overly possessive or controlling. I tend not to read the SEALS or COPS type of books, but that’s more personal preference over assuming the heroes are typical alphas.

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  83. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 15:49:41

    “Hero/heroine” has been around as an industry construct since the 1950s at least. I have a Faith Baldwin “How to Write Romances” book somewhere that uses it.

    Faith Baldwin was actually pretty good: most of her books would stand up well in today’s marketplace with just a tiny bit of editing for workplace changes.

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  84. Lisa
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 15:49:53

    So many great points have already been made, but I just wanted to add that I see a true alpha hero as a man who is at the top of his game in at least one area of his life. If he’s top dog, and knows it, all the way around then he has no opportunity for growth aside from deflating his ego — and that’s boring to me. So, for me, an alpha hero can be an uber-geek whose epic success could be in astrophysics or languages or computer networking. To me that’s still alpha and he doesn’t have to be a jerk. I do think there’s something in the water though, because I blogged about geeky alpha heroes almost a month ago and I keep seeing it pop up elsewhere too.

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  85. Kimber An
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 17:21:10

    Nothing disturbs me more than when this jackass-idea-of-manhood is passed down to the next generation as the ideal male. It contributes just as much as drugs to the number of children who are dead or languishing in foster care right now. No orgasm is worth a dead baby. In Real Life, at best the woman will be left to raise her child alone on welfare.

    A true Alpha Male is capable of both good loving and good fathering of the resulting offspring.

    The rest are nothing but a bunch of jackasses who should never be allowed the opportunity to procreate, in Real Life or Fiction. They are villains, not heroes.

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  86. Kaetrin
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 18:42:04

    Sorry about the double post above – I had some trouble with posting and did it twice, then Jane fished them out for me… (thanks Jane) so, they basically say the same thing.

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  87. high brow, low brow « Books to the Sky
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 18:59:53

    [...] Brow: Dear Author explains the Alpha Male in romance novels. Actually, it’s a pretty insightful critique of a recent tendency of romance authors to try [...]

  88. Sherry Thomas
    Oct 01, 2008 @ 23:10:32

    So… the average Italian Billionaire is as tall as an average American woman in heels.

    RfP, you had me laugh out loud at that.

    And in a semi-related confession, I am glad I’ve never learned exactly what Alpha and Beta heroes are. So I just write whatever I want.

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  89. Jane
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 09:40:22

    One thing that I wanted to comment about is that I do enjoy the alpha male. I respond strongly to the capable leader, the top dog. I think that’s almost part of our beast, so to speak. What I don’t want to see so much of is the over exaggeration of the alpha male or the use of certain “calls” to our collective romance consciousness rather than a full fleshing out of the character (beyond this size, his clothing preferences, etc.) Just asking for a greater variety, I suppose.

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  90. handyhunter
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 12:00:24

    I respond strongly to the capable leader, the top dog.

    Me too. I think competence is a good thing, even if it’s only in one area of their lives that they’re that secure (hi Scott Summers). And a guy who is so insecure that he has to manage the heroine (and everyone else) isn’t really an alpha anyway.

    When did ‘alpha’ = obnoxiously domineering and creepy?

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  91. Julia Sullivan
    Oct 02, 2008 @ 13:56:39

    Here’s the thing, though: If we’re going to go on the “wolf pack” model, then we should remember that alpha males pretty much only mate with alpha females and vice-versa.

    Way too many of the supposedly “alpha males” in romance these days are more like bull walruses, who intimidate the females and juveniles as well as the other bulls. That’s not how alpha wolves, male or female, roll.

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  92. Kaitlin
    Oct 03, 2008 @ 00:19:03

    After reading this entry, I’m nodding my head. I read the Twilight series for Jacob, not Edward. Edward just skeeved me out from the very beginning.

    As for the height of the hero, for me personally I like ‘em tall. That’s b/c I’m 6’1″ and like the idea of looking up at someone. However, I do have issues with the super-sized man who is 6’8″ and built like a tank. I do not find brawny men sexy at all. I like long, lean muscle with that lovely v-taper. But again, that’s me. :)

    I like the term gamma male, because it encompasses the good aspects of both an alpha and a beta male. Can make for very interesting men. :)

    And as for the paranormal that I’m working on? He’s an Alpha (because he’s a wolf), but he’s also a good man. *sigh* My favorite.

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  93. Chrissy
    Oct 03, 2008 @ 15:45:19

    I’ve been saying forever that most people trying to write Alphas have never met one.

    A true Alpha doesn’t need to be a bully craphead. He leads because it would never occur to anyone not to follow. It’s a given. He’s head of the pack because he SHOULD be and doesn’t need to intimidate anyone because his superiority is THERE.

    And I’m ridiculously tired of the response “it’s FICTION.” I have this niggling suspicion that people who defend bad fiction with no basis in reality whatsoever live lives of fiction. Good fiction doesn’t need to be defended. The willing suspension of disbelief comes naturally because it FEELS natural to the story.

    And frankly, the fact that some adult women have dismissed criticisms of the Twilight series because they’re “fiction,” in spite of the fact that they send TERRIBLE messages to young readers sickens me.

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  94. Wendy
    Oct 20, 2008 @ 11:14:58

    I really liked this post. As a strong, independent lady who is also married to an alpha male… most of these characterizations make me really annoyed. My alpha man doesn’t act like any of these. Every now and then he forgets and acts a bit the brute, which is when he needs a strong woman to cock an eyebrow at him and say, “oh, really?”

    For some reason, many women believe that in order for them to be strong, men have to be weak, and that strong men must be jerks. In the US, I see more & more effeminate men. Or the portrayal of men as not being masculine. It is kind of disturbing. I want a REAL MAN … and it isn’t a threat to me at all. Because I’m a REAL WOMAN.

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  95. Rebecca
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 22:13:21

    Another favourite alpha hero is Roarke (in Death series, JD Robb) (although, as much as I love these books and characters, the things revealed about his past in Vengeance in Death (hoping not to provide spoilers here)icked me out a bit; not so much that he had taken lives, but the manner of it. I thought it was more villain (serial killer) than hero and I still don't quite know how Eve reconciled that – perhaps, like me, she just doesn't think about it!).

    I have to say, I love these books, but I’m always a bit squicked out when Roarke physically forces a painkiller down his wife’s throat or drugs her drink to get her to sleep when she’s overtired. I get that she will destroy herself to “stand for the dead,” I get that he protects her from enemies without and within, but … ew.

    Am I the only one? Nobody I’ve discussed the books with before is bothered by this. (And sorry to revive a dead thread, I hope that’s not verboten here.)

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  96. Jane
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 22:21:34

    Absolutely feel free to comment on any thread. I actually get tired of Eve’s self destructive nature and Roarke’s then subsequent attempts to “save her”. I think, though, it’s part of their routine and how Roarke shows his love for her. But I can see where this would be bothersome.

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  97. Angie
    Nov 10, 2008 @ 22:34:08

    I haven’t read those particular books, but I’ve always had a problem with guys who treat the girl like a child “for her own good,” whether it was spanking her when she was being “unreasonable” about something, or whatever.

    I remember this one book where the girl was pregnant and didn’t feel like eating breakfast, so the guy grabbed her and was forcibly mashing scrambled eggs against her gritted teeth because she “should” be eating “for the baby.” [eyeroll] Sorry, not at all my image of a desirable partner. I mean, I get that there are times when a woman (or a man) might not be acting in their own best interests, but someone who claims to love them romantically should respect them enough as an adult to let them make their own choices, even if they’re not the best ones. (Especially, like in the case of the book where he’s trying to force-feed her, where it’s just a matter of opinion, ’cause seriously, I don’t care how pregnant you are, skipping one meal isn’t going to hurt anything.)

    I just can’t see relationships like that working in any kind of a healthy way. If one partner thinks he (or she) has an absolute veto or override on the other’s behavior, and is willing to use force? Umm, no. :/

    Angie

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  98. alphadominance
    Nov 17, 2008 @ 18:36:33

    Being male, and not, therefore a reader of romance novels, I find this post intriguing. This trend(?) is clearly a case of an archetype, which is always taken to extremes. Think of an epic hero like Beowulf. These epic tales were not limited to either gender, yet their hero’s engage in clearly unlikely deeds such as swimming for days in icy arctic waters whilst defeating seamonsters and the like. Similarly the present-day male corollary could probably be defined as the bawdy insatiable porn-starlet with triple G cup implants. A sight to behold, but in the cold light of day not many of us men want women so disproportioned. The truth of the matter is that the fantasy world has always been disproportionate to reality. It is the extreme that tickles our fancy, not the mundane. Alpha males in real life do come in a variety of shapes and sizes, often they are pudgy, balding, or outwardly ignominous, but they have a certain quality to their bearing and are powerfully charismatic, such that they are irresistable nonetheless. Bill Clinton comes to mind, no Fabio he, but his wealth, status and confidence ensure that in the recesses of their minds many women would gladly have traded places with Monica. This then is the reality of life, the pin that burst the bubble of fantasy. The physical he-men are as likely to be your pool-boy as the alpha male of legend, and the alpha male might just as well be the toad as prince charming. It’s just difficult to get it all in one package. But then, it’s no easier to find a woman that embodies all the qualities that drive men crazy either and if you do there’s no guarantee that she’ll stand by you. Poor fare for fantasy novels though, so enjoy them for what they are, escape from the tedious monotony of real life.

    Read more on the Alpha male: http://alphadominance.com

    ReplyReply

  99. Marc Nobbs
    Jun 26, 2010 @ 03:55:25

    I found this a really interesting post. So interesting in fact, it prompted me to write a response of sorts on my own blog in which I compare the heroes from my novels with the characteristics you listed here.

    I’ve always tried to avoid falling into the ‘trap’ of writing stereotypical alpha-males as my heroes. I think I’ve suceeded but I suppose it’s not really up to me to make that judgement call.

    Anyway, if you want to read my response post you can find it at here.

    ReplyReply

  100. Ashlee
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 07:41:51

    Well to be honest i find that everyone is different and some are more secure than others and so relish the idea of an equal relationship but for those who are not they enjoy knowing their men want them so badly they want them safe. A few of my fave authors have been mentioned Nalini Singh, Alyssa Day, JR Ward: and i think all of these have the Alpha Males: those who find the ONE woman for them and then do there best to make them happy and safe and i dont see aproblem with that. Sure, in this aim, they could get a little enthusiastic about this but there woman can control them if the man really wants her to be happy as they’d have to submit to her, which means the woman has the power. When reading Twilight i saw someone who had lived 100+ years in unhappiness and had found the one thing that could make him happy and so he protected it. I think other authors like Gena Showalter, Lora Leigh, Lara Adrian and CHristine Feehan do a brilliant job and inspire other writers and people to find their ONE true partner and inspire people to not have affairs. Thank you for the amazing books guys!!!!!
    Ashlee

    ReplyReply

  101. What Attracts Women? What Do Women Want in A Man? « JustBeAManAboutit – How to "Just Be A Man About it" in a Post Feminist World
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 10:09:42

    [...] In the blog article, Non-Alphas Need Not Apply: Can only Alpha males get published in Romancelandia?, “Geek girl” laments about how the romance novel industry only seems to be willing to publish books with one type of character in it. That character is arrogant, aggressive and domineering. In a rant she writes: In the old school romances of the 70s and 80s, Alphas were assholes who practiced forced seductions if not rape. Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan of Smart Bitches Trashy Books (SBTB) gave this hero the term alphole in her book Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels and that today this type has thankfully become the minority. But Jane at Dear Author discusses how even the stereotyped Alpha male has morphed of late from strong and confident to monstrous and overbeari…. [...]

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    [...] that today this type has thankfully become the minority. But Jane at Dear Author discusses how even the stereotyped Alpha male has morphed of late from strong and confident to monstrous and overbeari…. She goes on to lament: We have this warped view of alpha men.   They are caricatures relying [...]

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