In Defense of the Beta Hero
If you’ve read at least 10 romance stories, then there’s a good chance you’ve met an Alpha hero 8 out of 10 times, at LEAST. Alpha heroes are the popular types in most romance stories, regardless of genre. Sometimes, you can even tell from the cover of the book what sort of hero you’re getting! If the novel involves werewolves, vampires, or high-class businessmen, there’s a 99.9% chance, that hero is an alpha.
Now, this list is a more modern “romantic” hero list, not the classic/historical definition of alpha and beta.
And let me say this up front - these are just my opinions, "more like guidelines really", but they're great talking points :)
So...what is an alpha romantic hero? I’ll give you a quick definition because I want to get to the heart of this post. Those betas!
This is NOT an exhaustive list of typical Alpha romantic hero characteristics, but a few general characteristics:
- overtly strong and powerful.
- The take-charge type
- May not be the best verbal communicators
- Demonstrate their commitment and love through actions
- Presents as confident and protective
- Can tend toward being controlling or demanding,
- Sometimes perceived as arrogant and/or aggressive
- Definitely show off a grumpy side.
- Many times they’re the “untouchable” brooder
- Highly competent in his world (but maybe not in love or self-knowledge)
- Their character arc is usually pretty big as the heroine delves into the hero's broken past to find the inner gentle side of him that only she can unearth, tame, and/or heal.
- Many would suggest these guys have a higher “sizzle” factor for romance
- has to “thaw’ because he’s determined to hide his wounds and keep from being vulnerable at all cost. (but, of course, the heroine finds a way to help him).
- usually very aware of his own power and how to use it to get people to do what he wants.
- can often appear aloof or distant.
- The “treasure” of the alpha hero is peeling back all the standoffishness to find the golden heart underneath (thus the reason why he is usually the hero chosen for romantic fantasy tropes).
Of course, as with any “category” there is margin, so not all alpha males are created equal. A few cinematic examples might be Gladiator, Maverick, Thor, Scarface, Sylvester Stalone ANYTHING, James Bond...you get the idea.
The trick to a good alpha is this - he has a little beta in him.
What is a beta romantic hero then?
(They’re my favorites, btw).
I often think of the alpha as the hunky daydream and the beta as the guy you’d actually want your daughter to marry. That’s not to say beta heroes can’t be hunky, it’s just that they’re not going to likely be the ones taking up so much space in the room with their personality. In the heroine’s heart? Well, that’s another story :-)
Unfortunately, betas get a bad rap because—compared to the alpha—they can be misconstrued as weak. This isn’t true at all. It’s just that their gentler approach to women, relationships, and life don’t stand out, initially, as much as the alpha’s personality does.
Here are a few beta characteristics:
- A beta’s superpower is his relational awareness and abilities, usually.
- He may have a tough backstory, but he’s either learned to work through it or cope with it through humor or deference.
- Quieter strength
- He can be just as interesting as an alpha when he enters a room, but he’ll likely cover the attention with humor, a story, conversation, or attention shifting.
- May appear to not act as demonstratively as an alpha
- Competent in his world
- He is more likely to attempt to persuade or convince than demand.
- His actions are usually less forceful and more communicative, unless provoked.
- Sure, he can be as protective as the best alpha, when he needs to or feels like the people he loves are being threatened, but this is not his usual MO.
- Instead of being physically aggressive or confrontational, he is more likely to work behind the scenes to get what he wants.
- One thing I like most about a beta is that he “matches” the heroine. They’re a pair and you see that working out in the way they interact with each other as equals.
- And though a beta may not have as pronounced a character arc as an alpha, because he’s human and flawed he still has great potential for growth.
- Usually he’s not considered as swoony because he may not need as much obvious “saving” as the alpha, but betas can hide lots of hurt behind their smiles.
- For the most part, these guys are generally well-rounded, somewhat more comfortable in their own skin, and usually have a more temperate disposition.
- His milder ways do not equal pushover, but he is more likely to use his brain/emotions to solve problems rather than brawn/power.
- He usually has more emotional intelligence about himself and others, even though he can be a numbskull with the best of them when it comes to relationships too (again...human).
- A beta has long term potential that involves more than just fights and heated nights of passion (though he is just as capable of having both of those as an alpha.)
The best betas have a little bit of alpha in them.
Of course, the very best heroes are likely a blend of alpha and beta. Not sure what to call them? Alta? Belpha? Or...just perfect? :-)
So...what types of heroes are in some of YOUR favorite books? Do you like variety or do you stick with a certain type?
If you’re interested in reading a few of my beta heroes, I’d suggest taking a look at Henry from When You Look at Me, Titus from Jane by the Book, Alex from Charming the Troublemaker, David from The Thorn Keeper, Jonathan from My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge, August from The Thorn Healer, Jeremiah from The Red Ribbon, or Brodie from my upcoming release Authentically, Izzy :-)
Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance “peppered” with grace and humor. Writing both historical and contemporary novels, she loves to incorporate her native Appalachian culture and/or her unabashed adoration of the UK into her stories. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she is a wife, mom to five great kids, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate, jazz, hats, and Jesus. Her first book with Thomas Nelson, Authentically Izzy, debuts November 15th! Pepper loves connecting with readers and other authors through social media outlets like Facebook &
You can learn more about Pepper and her books on her website at www.pepperdbasham.com