Alpha is awesome, but is beta better?

This post appeared on the RWA NYC blog on June 21, 2013.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that romance readers love themselves an alpha male. I include myself in those legions that enjoy a hero with broad shoulders and a short temper. I’ll take one of Eloisa James’s tattooed pirates ordering his heroine around like she’s his first mate. Give me a shifter, whether he be one of Nalini Singh’s or Thea Harrison’s, and I’m into the “scent and seduction” of the pack leader. Jennifer Ashley’s maddening Lord Ian Mackenzie is delicious, and I’m even down with Christian Grey in all his tampon-yanking, GPS-tracking glory.
There’s something pleasurable about a hero who doesn’t take no for an answer and is uncompromising in his beliefs. Alphas, although they can be insufferable, can be quite awesome.
But what of the Beta male?

Should he always be overshadowed by his bossier brethren? Does a propensity to please make him any less of an inviting hero? 

I think not.

Many of my favorite heroes are not alpholes, but are more low-key and relatable. The Beta hero is one who seduces using his wits rather than his brawn. He may or may not have a dark past, abusive parents, and a broken heart, but he actively tries not to project his angst onto others. He is a caregiver, ready and willing to give the heroine what she needs, if only she will let him. But instead of forcing the heroine, the Beta male takes a different tack. He gets to know her, and tailors his actions to her specific desires. He thinks about what the outcomes of his actions will be, and tries to avoid confrontations that will be upsetting to her. Unlike his Alpha compatriots, he does not expect the heroine to react to and soothe his every mood swing; although, when his lady does cater to him it’s a sweet relief to him.

The Beta male does not seek to dominate his heroine; he seeks to support her using every ounce of his intelligence and skill. He doesn’t attempt to bend his woman to his every whim, but that doesn’t mean that he is weak and biddable, or less possessive and protective of the woman that he would claim as his. It doesn’t mean that the lovemaking in the books is boring, or that his overtures to woo the heroine are less profound. In fact, one of the best aspects of a Beta hero in romance is that when all is said and done, all of the seemingly low-key actions he has taken add up to something quite moving and overwhelming for both the heroine and the reader. There’s something to be said for slow and steady versus the quick, passionate release of Alpha dominance.

Some of my favorite examples of Beta heroes are: Jack Langdon in THE DEVIL’S DELILAH, by Loretta Chase; Archimedes Fox in HEART OF STEEL and TETHERED, by Meljean Brook; Robert Blaisdell in THE DUCHESS WAR by Courtney Milan; and Alan Ryves in THE DEMON’S SURRENDER (The Demon’s Lexicon Trilogy) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Which do you prefer, Alpha or Beta, and why?♥


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