Sunday, 5 December 2010

Alpha Shmalfa...!

Heroes may not be braver than anyone else. They're just braver five minutes longer. ----Ronald Reagan

(Warning: Snippet included contains language)

The other day, during a discussion on alpha males, a dear writer friend chided me—quite good-naturedly—and said I was a ‘true beta lover’. Why? Because I simply love a man who has that trace of something in him that lets him cry, lets him be in touch with—and, damn, does this ever sound cliché—his sensitive side. I was going to say ‘his feminine’ side, but who says crying was strictly a girl thing? Bushwa to that.

Busted. She’s right. I accept my crown graciously and wear it with pride.

But, wait. The truth of the matter is, I decided to research alpha and beta males.

After studying, I will admit my perception of what constitutes an alpha male was pretty much off target. For some reason, I believed alphas had to be perfect in every way—strength, confidence, looks, charm, the whole checklist of qualities to make him…well, a hero. Turns out, like I said, I was slightly wrong. The distinction between alphas and betas is really nothing more than a matter of leadership, a take-charge, protector persona as opposed to a more secondary male role.

The role a beta male was, however, more clearly defined. And it was as follows: An unremarkable, careful man who avoids risk and confrontation. Beta males lack the physical presence, charisma and confidence of the Alpha male.

Aha! Turns out, according to that description, I may have to relinquish my Queen of the Beta Lovers crown because that does NOT personify the male characters I love.

Here’s the question, then, if the above is truly a portrait of a beta male. Who the hell IS the character I love? So he cries, sure. But he does not avoid risk or confrontation, he certainly does not lack physical presence, and most assuredly DOES have charisma and confidence.

So. Is he an alpha or not? I don’t know. You tell me.

My novella is scheduled for release in March. In this book, my hero is physically and courageously about as macho as macho can be. He carries all the alpha trademarks: good looks, good body, charisma, power. But, alas, he is sentimental, he is emotional. He cries. He’s jealous where his lover is concerned. He plays La Paloma while making love. His boyhood teddy bear shares the glove compartment with his glock.

Here’s an unedited snippet of a scene where the hero’s lover, Carlos, worries over being the care-taker of this man’s heart:

“That’s just it.” Carlos slunk back in the chair, wrapping his arms around himself. “That heart of his. This man, this powerful man, so fucking fearless.” A tiny chuckle. “Sorry for the language.”

She nodded gravely, absolving his stronger-than-usual cursing.

He continued, “And yet nobody would guess what a delicate heart he has.” Sitting forward, he cupped his hands. “And he’s put that heart, that beautiful, fragile heart in my hands. My hands.” He twined his fingers together and pressed them to his mouth. “It scares me fucking shitless.” Her disapproving glare stabbed him, and he added, “Sorry.”

Aunt Dahlia closed her eyes and tapped a finger to her lips, clearly weighing her words. Finally, she squared her shoulders. “You are right that Candelario is a strong man. He is. And you are right that he has a tender heart. The community knows this, he is loved."

"But, I’m not talking about his kindness to the community. I’m talking about his love for me. That’s—”

“Do not interrupt me.” She pursed her lips, and her hand shot up. “His gentle heart and his power are separate. So far, the two have never fought in his soul, but they will if you throw his heart back at him, damaged.” Drawing a finger over the stitches on the mitt, she added, “He has put his heart for safekeeping in your hands. So, rather than falter under the responsibility, should you not stand as strong as he does? He will give his life to protect what he loves. Can you not at least protect his heart while he protects you?”

So there. I think my hero is no less an alpha for having a fragile heart.

Although many writers and readers feel that an alpha male indeed CAN be vulnerable, can cry and that, in fact, they love them more when they DO exhibit these tendencies, others argue that it emasculates them to some degree, strips them of the alpha status. Many see this in the case of real-life relationships as well. Let a man cry at something, and he is out the door on his bum faster than you can say Jack Be Nimble.

Does crying, being easily affected by emotion, make a man less masculine? Personally, I don’t think so. If anything, I think it makes him more masculine, simply for the fact that he is strong enough, confident enough to not feel the need to hide behind a macho persona.

Jose Saramago said this: I never appreciated 'positive heroes' in literature. They are almost always clichés, copies of copies, until the model is exhausted. I prefer perplexity, doubt, uncertainty, not just because it provides a more 'productive' literary raw material, but because that is the way we humans really are.


An example who comes to my mind is King David. Powerful King of Jerusalem, fearless leader of legions in his army. Wise. Yet one of the most romantic, poetic souls in history. The Psalms contain some of the most agonizing, tearful, poignant prose ever written. Yet his constant inner angst personified the beauty of his character without negating his power.

I think I shall not choose to categorize my heroes into alpha, beta, or any other Greek alphabet. They just are who they are. How about if I just call them the heroes of the story?

But for those who might feel there should be that distinction—alpha as opposed to beta— what is your opinion? Does a hero lose critical points for being sensitive and possibly vulnerable? As long as these softer sides of his persona do not thwart his ability to take control, can he still be an alpha male?


Victor J. Banis said...

Well, I read Stephen Hunter's books (he's got a Pulitzer but I don't hold that against him) - they are heavy action thrillers, many of them starring Bob Lee Swagger, who is as tough as they come, yes an alpha male, and he cries, though he prefers to do it in private.

But I generally pay those "rules" no mind. Once my characters have come to life for me, I let them behave their way. If one of them wants to cry, that's up to him.

Julie Lynn Hayes said...

Here are my thoughts for what they are worth - alpha and beta are designations thought up by novelists. Real men do not fit into tidy little packets, they are all over the charts in their behavior.

Yes, Virginia, real men to cry. And seemingly weak men can display dominant behavior under the right circumstances. And powerful men can be weak. If this were a one size hero fits all world, what a dull place it would be.

Let your man be the man he is.

Sarah Ballance said...

I think the key to defining the hero of a story - and his weaknesses - is a thoughtful, thorough presentation of the hero himself. Crying to one man is not crying to another. If a guy is constantly bawling, we pay him less mind. If a guy who never cries is brought to tears, wow, that's a powerful, telling event.

When the reader is allowed to really get to know the hero, then those labels fall to the wayside. We know his flaws and weaknesses alongside his strengths, and can truly appreciate him for who he is. A label is just that - a label. A wonderful author such as yourself has a way of letting characters define themselves in real and unforgettable ways, and that's exactly as it should be.

Tess MacKall said...

Now you can go research Gammas! lol Which, in the strictest definition is probably who your hero is.

Perception is what it's all about though--and painting the hero exactly as you see him. Just like in life, no one is one way or another. But do lean one way or another. A Beta can be a hunk and still cry or be non-confrontational.

And your book that is coming out? The dude is Alpha with a touch of Beta. A definite Gamma. LOL

No character must be all one way or another. I tend to like Alphas in their strictest definition. I can handle an Alpha with some Beta characteristics too.

C. Zampa said...

Hello, Victor! "It's up to him"...well said! And Bob Lee Swagger sounds like a character I'd love to read!

C. Zampa said...

Welcome, Jules!

I love your comment that even weaker men can display dominant characteristics under the right circumstances. I hadn't thought about it, but you're absolutely right!

And, you're also right that it cannot be put into tidy packages. Human nature is just too complex.

Thank you for visiting!

C. Zampa said...

Hello, Sarah!

Well said, about once we get to know the heroes, the labels fall by the wayside. I like that. So very true!

Thank you for the compliment.

Thanks for stopping by!

C. Zampa said...

Hi, Tess!

Gammas! I didn't even know there was such a thing! I am going to have to study that!

And you hit the nail on the head! We lean toward certain tendencies, but doesn't mean we're 100% one way or the other. Very, very good point!

Thank you for visiting!

Unknown said...

I'm with Victor. My characters are who they are. There are some, like Spider or David who wouldn't cry openly, but I think even in Geography of Murder, Jason thinks he sees Spider's eyes wet at the end. He'd die before he admitted it, but whether that makes him alpha, omega or alphabet soup. They tell me what they are going to do in any situation. I dictate to them at my own peril. LOL.

Natalie Dae said...

I always thought I wrote beta men, but after that definition, I'm going to have to look up gammas--I suspect I write those.


C. Zampa said...

Hey, Pat!

I agree. No formuala. They dictate who they are to me. And if it involves tears, fine; if not, that's fine, too.

Thanks for visiting!

C. Zampa said...

Hi, Nat!

I, too, have to check out gamma males. I'd never heard of them. But, if my characters were to be 'types', then maybe that's what they are. Somewhere between alpha and beta?

I just like 'no titles' better. LOL.

Hugs, and thank you for visiting!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I love it when my male protagonists are tortured souls. I'm with you, Carol. The more tortured the better. My protagonists are yearning, hungry and torn between what they want and what they know they can't have.

C. Zampa said...

Amen, Joylene! Sure, I like them strong, but I like for them to have to be rescued and cared for, too!

Fiona McGier said...

In "A Dirty Job", Christopher Moore writes a classic definition of a beta male, and his character muses on his "beta-ness" all through the book. But when push comes to shove, he's man enough to get things done. Interesting post. I agree with an earlier poster, I don't label my male characters, nor do I ever try to influence them. They tell me their stories their way, and that's what I write!

C. Zampa said...

Hi, Fiona!
I agree!

I don't label mine either. He's just who he is, and acts on his own accord, not to any precription.

Thank you for visiting!