Alpha vs. Beta: Which Hero is Best Suited for Your Romantic Fiction?
What type of romantic hero makes you swoon? Read on for our take on the Alpha vs. Beta debate.
If this was a debate about who you should marry, I’d be the first to say find yourself a Beta. Betas are the good guys, and they make great long-term partners and friends. I should know, I married one! But we’re debating the best type of hero for romantic fiction. And I say that Alphas, with their take-charge attitude and cocky swagger are so much more fun to read about.
Alphas provide the perfect escape from reality
In real life, I would clash with an Alpha. I’m a strong personality with a large drive for personal freedom and I wouldn’t deal well with someone telling me what to do. Maybe this should turn me off these arrogant, sometimes jerky men, but surprisingly it has the opposite effect. The part of me that likes to be in control sits up and takes notice of any dominant male that graces the page.
And no, I’m not talking about a sadist, or an actual Dom. I’m talking about a guy who is super confident, knows what he wants, leads the pack, and makes the world his oyster. I can enjoy these traits in a fictional man without any fallout in my personal life.
Alphas are suited to fantastical fiction
Paranormal Romances, Urban Fantasies, Dark Romances and the Motorcycle Club Romances are so far from my world that I can appreciate them for what they are – excellent forms of escapism, and Alphas are the perfect heroes for these sub-genres. Even if the heroine in these books doesn’t need the Alpha to save the day, the hero is there to back her up and make sure she’s taken care of. Cue my swooning.
Alpha males have stronger growth arcs
Suppose we start our romance novel with an already perfect Beta who is tender, kind, and unselfish. Where is the internal and external conflict and tension that drives good romantic fiction?
In chicklit and other genres, there may only be the need for one growth arc, but romance works best when there are two.
Now, I’m not saying a Beta male can’t have some issues to work through, but I’ve seen a lot of romances with Beta males that go something like this…
“You’re so perfect!”
“No, you’re so perfect!”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Good romance is about character development. Without an arc for both characters, there’s a lack of back and forth, a lack of mutual growth, and the tension is likely to be all one way, lopsided, or worse, there won’t be any tension at all. It will just be…flat.
I hate flat romance.
Great romance is about both characters pushing each other out of their comfort zone so that they grow – so that they’re ready for that happy ending. Before the couple in question gets their HEA, they need to work for it. The Alpha has traits that may need to be curbed. He may have some big lessons to learn. This provides the perfect opportunity for a strong growth arc.
It’s easy to take a ‘flawed’ hero and throw obstacles in his way to initiate change. And if he’s developing as a character, it’s likely our heroine is, too.
Which brings me to my final point.
It’s easier to create a likeable, strong, and kick-ass heroine when the hero is an Alpha
Without some conflict and tension with the hero, there’s nothing to propel the heroine towards change. Meaning, you could end up with a snarky, guarded heroine who keeps the sweet Beta at a distance.
Cue example dialogue.
“You’re so wonderful and beautiful, I want to take you on a date.”
“No, I’m not interested.”
The whole book could end up as a long version of this example, which would just be B.O.R.I.N.G. The heroine might also end up coming off as a shrew in this scenario. On the other hand, a snarky, tough as nails, guarded heroine is a good match for an Alpha.
Moreover, she’s likely to grow through her interactions with the hero, who is hopefully going through his own growth arc.
My final thoughts
The Swede will tell you that Alphas share personality traits with psychopaths. I agree that some Alphas exhibit traits that are a turn-off. However, this is because they have psychological problems just like any Beta might have.
You know what they say? It’s always the quiet ones!
I’m not saying it’s impossible to enjoy romantic fiction with a Beta as the hero – they’re considerate, put others first, and are all around good guys. Sometimes these heroes make better matches for certain heroines. And if the Alpha has a couple of Beta qualities that round him out and make him a better long-term potential mate, that’s great. But romance is about great, moving stories, and I think it’s simply easier to increase excitement, introduce dynamic tension and sizzle, and create brilliant growth arcs when the hero is an Alpha.
Look, I know Alphas are a big deal in romantic fiction, and it seems every leading man has some trait of Alpha in him. But for the whole package, I’m all about the Beta. I’m talking about the good guy, the one that makes sure to finish last (if you know what I mean). Maybe it’s the romantic realist in me. I’m around a lot of Alphas in real life, and I find arrogance and conceit downright unappealing. The last thing I want to do at the end of the day is to read about women falling in love with these jerks. The guys I’ve swooned over have all been good guys – the ones you’ll want to settle down with.
The Sheila will tell you that a beta romance is cut and dried. She will claim there can’t be tension because the guy isn't a jerk and therefore can't reform. Bah-humbug. Just because the hero is a Beta doesn't mean he doesn't have flaws (no-one’s perfect, as much as both the Sheila and I might hope we could be) or that he doesn't have a growth arc ahead of him.
The Sheila loves her some sexual tension (don't we all?) but I'm talking about the slow-burning romance and the emotional tension. The couple may be struggling with letting go of the past – maybe the heroine has a bad history with Alphas and it’s dented her confidence, maybe the hero has lost his wife or been cheated on and is scared to let someone in for fear of losing someone all over again. Slow and steady isn’t boring. It’s real.
And so, I present my case for the Beta.
He has long-term future potential
Sure, passion is key in romance, but I like a good, slow-burning, simmering romance where I can put myself in the heroine’s shoes and fall in love with the hero. For me, it’s all about wish-fulfillment. I don’t have a Beta to call my own, and so I search for him in the pages of the romance books I read.
When I get to the end of a romance novel, I want to believe that the characters are going to make it in the long run. Unless the Alpha transforms into more of a Beta throughout the novel, I can believe a happy-for-now, but one day that guy is going to cheat, or his controlling ways are going to get on the girl’s nerves – or worse. Now, the good Alpha romances have a solid growth arc for both the hero and the heroine, and they may prove to be a good match at the end of the novel, but I’m talking about the ones where the Alpha stays an Alpha throughout. That’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Example of a Bad Alpha
This character never outright calls himself an Alpha, but he clearly displays the following traits:
He stalks the heroine, keeps track of her every move;
He attempts to control the heroine – telling her what to wear, who to associate with etc.;
He has a dark past and uses it as an excuse to be ruthless;
He doesn’t change or even re-evaluate his actions when challenged.
Is the Alpha in your romance novel charming, arrogant, cocky, a risk-taker, clever, manipulative, dispassionate, tactless, impatient, aggressive, quick to anger and impulsive, a commitment phobe, and has a troubled past? I just described traits inherent in psychopaths. Still turned on?
Meeting his match
On this point I agree with the Sheila. In good Alpha romances, there is a strong heroine to match the hero. In bad Alpha romances, she’s a doormat.
The Sheila and The Swede
We agree that there is a place for both the Alpha and the Beta hero in romantic fiction. But the ideal hero could have Alpha tendencies and Beta tendencies. He can be tender and caring, a reliable friend, but he also knows how to take charge, can assert himself when needed, and protect those he loves.
Example of a great Alpha-Beta
Okay, this isn’t a romance novel, but when Chris Pratt says “I’m the Alpha” as he’s about to bring the raptors out in Jurassic World, that does the trick. Why?
A) It’s Chris Pratt and the man is looking fine these days;
B) He’s taking charge in a life-and-death situation and being confident about it;
C) Up until this point in the movie, he’s shown compassion and love towards the animals he works with, and is advocating what’s best for them;
D) He may be the Alpha, but it’s clear to everyone that his Betas are unpredictable, deadly, and their spirits cannot ever be truly subdued.
What do you think? Do you prefer an Alpha or Beta hero in your romantic fiction, or do you agree that the best heroes are a mix of both? Join the debate by leaving a comment to let us know. 😊