Friday, April 15, 2016

My Problem with Alpha Heroes by Alison Henderson

My problem isn’t that I don’t like alpha heroes. I love them—when somebody else writes them. The problem arises when I try to write one myself.

Why should that be a problem, you ask. There’s room in our genre for all types of heroes: alpha, beta, and everything in between. Writers are free to create whatever character best fits each individual story.

So why do I struggle? Because some stories, like the one I’m working on now, scream out for an alpha hero. Dominic “Nick” Rosetti, my hero in Boiling Point, is a former Detroit police detective who left the force after his partner died in a shootout. When the pair cornered an armed drug dealer in a blind alley, Nick hesitated a second too long, and the gunman fired first, killing Nick’s partner. With his confidence gutted by guilt, he moved to Chicago and became a P.I.

I have to write Nick as a tough guy, because he is. He carries a lot of emotional baggage he prefers to keep to himself. He’s used to taking charge without wasting time on explanation. He’s a man of few words. Yet I keep having to stop myself from writing him dialogue that sounds more like Nick Charles from The Thin Man movies than Nick Rosetti.

I think it’s because I love witty banter. Writing dialogue is my favorite part of any story. When my characters really get going, the air is thick with provocative statements and sharp retorts. I can’t seem to help myself. I’ve always been more attracted to intelligent wise guys than sullen tough guys. That’s how I ended up with OG. (Not to suggest he isn’t tough, but his wit attracted me first.) Most of the men I’ve met in real life who would fit the current fictional definition of alpha males are self-centered, arrogant jerks and not attractive to me at all.

That’s because fictional alpha heroes are just that—fictional—and because we write romance, they are creations of fantasy. Some authors are brilliant at bringing those fabulously unrealistic men to life. Sadly, although I love reading about them, I don’t seem to be much good at translating that sort of fantasy to the page. My heroes all end up being men I would actually enjoy spending time with. Hence, my struggle to bring proper balance to the character of Nick Rosetti.

Since passing the half-way point in the first draft of Boiling Point, I think I’m finally getting a handle on him. However, I’m afraid some of my favorite bits of his dialogue will end up on the chopping block when I go back to revise. Sigh. The sacrifices we authors make for our characters…

Alison
www.alisonhenderson.com

20 comments:

Leah St. James said...

Sounds like you've already figured it out, Alison! I know what you mean by real-life alpha males, so I try to dig underneath and find their vulnerabilities to make them less like jerks. :-) My girlfriend and I have total opposites for husbands, and sometimes we joke that if we could blend them, we'd have the perfect man. :-)

Margo Hoornstra said...

Digging deep into our characters feelings is what makes them less than one dimensional. So what if Rosetti has a sensitive side? Like most 'real life' males, he'll no doubt deny to the bitter end. Like Leah said, it sounds like you've got his number pretty well figured out, so go with that particular flow and enjoy!

Liz Flaherty said...

You have my admiration because you're doing it at all. If an alpha hero even suggests himself to me, I tell him to go to the barn because I know I can't write him. Good luck with Nick!

Rolynn Anderson said...

I'm the same way, Alison. It's difficult when writing banter (that has equal give and take), to keep the guy in Alpha mode. He'd have to 'win' and muscle the winning line in...or consider banter as below him. It's hard to love such a turkey. My husband is alpha and can use some low-blow sarcastic wit to challenge me. He doesn't mean to be hurtful, so I have to straighten my shoulders and give it back to him. Alpha's are fun to tease, too...they like it but pretend they don't...they aren't very good at teasing, themselves.

Jannine Gallant said...

Nick sounds a lot like my Kane in EMSM. He finally broke down and talked about his emotional problems that he'd kept bottled up for a long time, and I think that made him really likable toward the end.

Alison Henderson said...

Leah, I think I've got his number now, but he's been a stubborn one!

Alison Henderson said...

Margo, I'm working on fleshing out all his dimensions, but I still have a big job ahead of me.

Alison Henderson said...

LOL, Liz. I tell him to go back to the barn every day, but like any good alpha male, he refuses to listen!

Alison Henderson said...

Rolynn, I think my only recourse is to force him out of alpha mode from time to time, no matter how much he protests.

Alison Henderson said...

I hadn't thought about it, Jannine, but Nick really is quite a bit like Kane. Since I liked Kane, it's all good!

Tena Stetler said...

Interesting post. I am right now struggling with my Alpha male character, I know who he is but every time I write dialog, it isn't quite him (and I love writing dialog). Too witty, not strong and silent enough, but we are working though our differences slowly. Maybe this time he is a mixture learning to verbalize. We'll see.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Enjoyed them.

Ashantay said...

Oh, the pain! Sometimes I don't get a handle on characters right away, either. But, whoever said alphas can't be witty and funny? There are tons of cops who use humor to deal with their job. It's probably the only thing keeping them from going over the edge. Best wishes with Nick - glad you two are talking.

Angelina Barbin said...

I love modern Alpha heroes. Not the 70's or 80's versions. :)

Alison Henderson said...

Tena, it sounds like we're in the same place with our heroes. We'll tame them yet!

Alison Henderson said...

Ashantay, I think I've finally figured him out, and I'm not going to try to tame his smart mouth. LOL

Alison Henderson said...

Angelina, it's funny to look back at those early alpha heroes. They wouldn't work at all for me now.

andreadowning.com said...

Alison, Batman doesn't exist--you're obviously writing really believable, HUMAN characters who are multi-dimensional. Good for you!

Alison Henderson said...

Andi, I never much liked Batman anyway. :-)

Alicia Dean said...

Ahhh...yes, that is a bit of a conundrum. I love writing alpha males, but I try to add in a bit of vulnerability. I'm sure you'll do a splendid job!

Diane Burton said...

It's a dilemma, that's for sure. I love macho guys in books. Real life, not so much. If I'd married one, it wouldn't have lasted 42 years like my beta hero. I hope you work out the problem with your Nick. Would love to read the witty dialogue.