Writing Romance – the Alpha Hero

The most obvious starting place to discuss the types of romance heroes is with the Alpha male - Alpha hero.

Alpha Male:  a domineering man; the dominant member in a group of males, especially animals.

They say that the term was coined mainly to distinguish between boring heroes and exciting heroes.  Really?  I’ve seen some very un-boring heroes who were Beta or Delta Heroes - we’ll get to those later.  And it’s the plotting that makes the story exciting, don’t you think?

Here’s a fun conversation between Booth and Brennan from tv’s Bones.

Booth: Ok, what is so funny?

Brennan: I just never figured you being in a relationship.

Booth: Why? Do you think something's wrong with me?

Brennan: Not wrong. You just have alpha male attributes usually associated with a solitary existence.

Booth: What me? You're solitary.

Brennan: No no, I'm private, it's different and we weren't talking about me.

Booth: I was.

Brennan: I wasn't. Look, I'm happy for you. Relationships have anthropological meaning. No society can survive if sexual bonds aren't forged between -

Booth: What the hell are you talking about?

Booth is most definitely an Alpha hero.

When we look back at the history of the romance genre, we see a time when the heroes of these novels had their way with the heroines, whether she wanted to or not.  The biggest writers in the genre in the early ‘70s - Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers - both wrote these type of “heroes.”  These types of heroes might not fly today - I mean, taking her without her permission - um, that’s rape.

It’s entirely possible that I’m out of touch here.  When Googling romance books with Alpha Heroes, I found a list that started with Fifty Shades of Grey and continued with erotic romance heroes.  I’ve not read Shades and erotic isn’t my thing.  So, forgive me if I don’t include your favorite if that’s your genre.  What I’m trying to say - and not very well, I might add - is that “dominant” or “domineering” heroes may be Alpha males or may just be jerks.  So maybe the Alpha hero has himself evolved.  Or maybe he hasn’t.  I guess it depends on the genre.

At the most basic level, the Alpha hero is a leader. Or so says Alicia Rasley. “The Alpha hero is above all else a leader. He's someone who takes charge. He's just about bound to end up as the boss of whatever group he's joined.  That is, whatever wounds he's suffered in the past don't keep him from accepting his ultimate role of leading. He is not an outlaw (or if he is, he's the leader of the outlaw band). He is part of a group, not an outsider. And no, he's not dark and dangerous. A truly dark and dangerous Alpha would very likely be a tyrant. The Alpha male is a social creature, not a loner.”

Your Alpha hero is the guy that takes charge.  He’s in control of the situation and in control of himself.  He’s not touchy-feely and holds his cards close to his chest.

He’s John Wayne in almost every movie he was ever in.  He’s William Wallace, Jetro Gibbs, Raymond Reddington.

Some of the conflicts for an Alpha hero include:

Loyalty vs Truth

Ambition vs Friendship

Power vs Abuse

Confidence vs Insecurity

Last month I sent you away with homework.  Your homework is to think about your favorite romance hero.  What makes him heroic?  Why do you love him?  Did anyone do it?

This month I’d love to hear who your favorite Alpha Heroes are.

Next month, we’ll talk about the other types of romance heroes - the Beta, the Delta, the Theta.

Remember, all heroes have a bit of each of these types inside.  These are just jumping off points.  Feel free to digress.

Have a great month, Campers.  Remember BICHOK - Butt in Chair - Hands on Keyboard.

Writing Romance – Starting with a Great Hero

Which came first, the plot or the character? Likely a question as old as fiction writing.

I’m not going to answer this question so you can relax.  But what I am going to say is that, at least for romance novels, readers fall in love with characters.  Not plots.  So where do we start writing a romance.

My opinion is that we start with a hero.

Let me tell you a story.  Years ago, I was driving back to Westcliffe from Pueblo West, along that stretch of Highway 50 that is straight and barren.  I zoned out for a moment.  When I zoned back in, for just an instant I didn’t know where I was.  My “what if” took off and, by the time I got home, I had the beginnings of the plot for True Valor.  More important, though, I had Nic.

What I did in that instance is take a germ of a plot - what if the heroine finds herself behind the wheel of the car, not knowing where she is, how she got there, or even who she is.  She needed a hero.  But what sort of hero?  Nic D’Onofrio is an Air Force PJ (Pararescue Jumper) whose nickname is Batman.  He simply can’t help himself - he HAS to rescue those in trouble.

That was a little side trip.  But let’s get back to what makes a romance hero.

Well, that sorta depends.

Susan May Warren, in her book How to Write a Brilliant Romance, says that first of all, a hero much be NOBLE.  I think she’s right.  I’d add honorable, gallant, virtuous, courageous, valorous.  In my True Heroes series, I used those in the titles of the five books. 

Did you realize, though, that within the romance genre, there are categories of romance heroes?

Author Alicia Rasley breaks down the categories this way.

  • The Alpha Hero
  • The Beta Hero
  • The Delta Hero
  • The Theta Hero.

Jo Beverly adds a Gamma Hero.

And what about the Warrior Poet?

Tami Cowden has these hero archetypes:  Chief, Bad Boy, Best Friend, Charmer, Lost Soul, Professor, Swashbuckler, and Warrior.

Confused yet?  Don’t be.  It’s all good.

Laurie King has her list:  the Duke, the Laird, the Golden Boy, the Lone Wolf, the Warrior, the Brain, The Libertine, the Black Sheep, the Sorcerer

The thing to remember here is this: 

Powerful Characters create Powerful Drama. 

So, above all, we want our hero to be a character that catches the imagination of the reader and holds her in place, flipping pages, until that last kiss.

In the next few articles, I’ll go into detail on some of these hero types and what makes them tick.  Your homework is to think about your favorite romance hero.  What makes him heroic?  Why do you love him?  Feel free to comment.  That will be fun!

Until next month, campers, remember BICHOK - Butt in Chair - Hands on Keyboard.

Jax

 

Romance: Tropes, tropes, and more Tropes

jean-honore_fragonard_-_the_stolen_kissBefore we get into the popular tropes in romance, I guess I should define a trope.

From Merriam Webster:  Full Definition of trope. 1a : a word or expression used in a figurative sense : figure of speech b : a common or overused theme or device : cliché <the usual horror movie tropes> 2 : a phrase or verse added as an embellishment or interpolation to the sung parts of the Mass in the Middle Ages.

I think, for our purposes, though, the Urban Dictionary comes closest:  “Despite the erroneous definitions already published here, TROPE on the interwebs really refers to an often overused plot device. It can also be described as another variation on the same theme.”

I do like what Tahra Seplowin says in her article at So You Think You Can Write. “Tropes are time-tested scenarios or plot devices that appear again and again, while hooks are any element of the story that might draw the reader in. You may have heard “trope” and “hook” used interchangeably, and there are often similarities and overlaps. One fundamental difference is that tropes are always tried-and-true devices, while hooks can be either well-known or brand new.”

If the theme of the romance genre is “love wins in the end” - then tropes are the subcategories of the theme, the overarching plot within the romance.

This is the list of tropes from the Romance Writers of America website:

Top 10 popular romance tropes: (1) friends to lovers; (2) soul mate/fate; (3) second chance at love; (4) secret romance; (5) first love; (6) strong hero/heroine; (7) reunited lovers; (8) love triangle; (9) sexy billionaire/millionaire; (10) sassy heroine

I’m not entirely sure that #6 and #10 are tropes.  And it seems to me there are some fairly common tropes left out of this list.

Secret baby - though not one of my favorites - doesn’t show up on the list. It’s the one where the hero left town, leaving heroine pregnant and now he’s back and shocked to find that he has a child.

547008052_1280x720Forbidden love - heck this one goes back to Romeo and Juliet, doesn’t it - though R&J wasn’t a romance, was it.  This is the one where hero and heroine aren’t allowed to fall in love - maybe he’s her commanding officer - or from True Honor, she’s his lawyer.

Is “older man, younger woman” (or vice versa) a trope?  I have used that one.

I really like the friends to lovers one because the hero and heroine enjoy each others company for a while before the physical longings show up.  This one can work nicely with the love triangle too.  Am I wrong in saying that Oliver Queen and Felicity Smoak (Arrow) had a friends to lovers story?  Or maybe that was a different trope - loving him from the moment she saw him but from afar.  Maybe Oliver and Felicity had a “girl next door” story - or more like “office downstairs.”

Good grief!  RWA might want to add some to the list.

As I was exploring this topic, I found an article that listed - wait for it -  64 tropes.  Yes I counted them.  So, if you don’t like the secret babies trope, you don’t have to use it.

But honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever given tropes that much thought when crafting a story.  Maybe that’s because I’ve read enough romance that love stories seep out of my heart.

Tropes might be a handy tool to use as a romance writer.  The list of 64 tropes might be a great idea generator.  But now you know about them.  My work for the month is done.

Remember, the only way to get books written is to WRITE.  So BIC-HOK - butt in chair, hands on keyboard. See you next month.

Hello and Here’s to Romance

Hello from the high mountains of Colorado.

After what can’t be called a hiatus - because it was too long - I am back writing for the RMFW blog. Looking forward to it. When Patricia Stoltey asked me to write, I asked her if there was a topic she’d like me to explore. She replied that she’d like more posts on writing romance. Her wish is my command.

When I was a kid, I really didn’t love to read. I was captivated by television - maybe even addicted. That was back in the day before recorders (yes, campers, we did have color TV in those days) and I knew exactly what days and times my heroes would show up on the screen. Woe be unto anyone who interrupted. And, if my mom planned something different for me - EGADS!!! I’d have to wait and catch that episode on reruns.

Looking back, I realize that this obsessive TV watching was feeding the romance writer in me. Feeding my fascination with heroes.

Then, when I was in my late teens, I was introduced to romance - historical romance to be exact.

Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers.

The Flame and the Flower, The Wolf and the Dove, Sweet Savage Love and Dark Fires.

8131425And I became a reader. I then married a military man and books kept me company in Germany during the long weeks when he was away.

I carried stories in my heart for years, wondering if I could actually write a novel, before finally making the leap. Whether you write romance, or sci-fi, or fantasy, or whatever you write - you know that feeling of taking a deep breath and beginning that first story.

Though some of my tastes in romance have changed, I still love going on the journey. Romance is a journey whose destination is pre-determined. To be classified as a romance there must be a happy ending. The hero and heroine must be together in some sort of committed relationship at the end of the book.

Romance readers demand it.

As an aside - this is why some of us rail at the categorization of Nicolas Sparks as a “romance” writer. Hello. No, Message in a Bottle is NOT a romance novel. It’s a love story. But - spoiler alert - a book in which the hero dies halfway through - not a romance.

Sorry for the digression.

And how committed are the readers of romance? Pretty darn committed.

Romance is the number one selling genre.

screen-shot-2015-01-19-at-13-51-33

According to Romance Writers of America, 84% of romance book buyers are women. (That’s surprising to me. Yet, I do have male readers of my military romance.) 64% of those readers read romance more than once a month, 35% buy romance more than once a month. And by and large, those readers have been reading romance for 10-20 years.

The top rated sub-genres in romance are:

Print: romantic suspense (53%); contemporary romance (41%); historical romance (34%); erotic romance (33%); New Adult (26%); paranormal romance (19%); Young Adult romance (18%); and Christian romance (17%).

E-book: romantic suspense (48%); contemporary romance (44%); erotic romance (42%); historical romance (33%); paranormal romance (30%); New Adult (26%); Young Adult romance (18%); and Christian romance (14%).

The reason I mentioned these statistics is to show that writing romance is not a whim. It very well might be a great business decision if you love the genre. Also I wanted to point out the wide variety of stories you can tell within the category.

Why do I write romance?

Because I believe in love. Love that overcomes obstacles. Love that, after all is said and done, wins the day. Love that binds two imperfect people together to face the world together.

I’ll be back next month and we’ll get into some of the requirements of the genre.

Until then, campers, BIC-HOK - Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.

Jax