Thanks so much for the interest everyone has shown in these posts! I really appreciate it, and if I’ve helped you at all, I’m happy. Today, I promised to talk about the alpha hero, the centerpiece to a Harlequin Presents. First, let me say that the divine Kate Walker did a whole series of posts on the alpha hero on her blog starting in April. Go search her archives if you want to know more than what I say here!
I am talking about my experience, and my version of the alpha. Other writers may phrase it differently.
This is the man who either inspires great love or great disgust in readers. Readers who dislike this man dislike him because he’s too mean, too arrogant, too bossy, too abusive, etc. I don’t happen to agree with those labels, but I’ve heard it repeated more often than not as the reasons some readers don’t like the HP alpha. Every reader brings something different to the table — if you don’t like this kind of hero, you don’t like him. And I wouldn’t dream to tell you that you are wrong in your feelings if this is your reaction.
But there are many, many women who love these heroes and the stories they populate. So, the centerpiece of a classic HP is the untamed alpha hero. A classic alpha, from the guidelines, is “a powerful, ruthless man who knows exactly what—and who—he wants, and he isn’t used to taking no for an answer! Yet he has depth and integrity, and he will do anything to make the heroine his.” Depth and integrity are important.
(I am not talking about Modern Heat, btw. I don’t know how to write that kind of hero, so this is not about him at all. Modern and Modern Heat are both part of the HP line in the US. To see who the Modern Heat authors are, visit Sensational Romance. For Modern, aka classic Presents, visit Harlequin Presents Authors.)
There is a fine line to what constitutes abuse, and in my world there are definitely things a hero won’t do. He may bluster and threaten, but he would never harm. He may be ruthless, but when faced with evidence he’s wounded the heroine (not physically, people — that is a NO), he feels it. He is a thinking, feeling human. That is KEY. The HP hero must have strong emotions that run deep, perhaps far deeper than anyone suspects. Except the heroine. She usually figures this out, usually finds the chink in his armor and chips away until she gets inside his head, his skin, his emotions. She is the only one who can do this.
Another way to look at Harlequin Presents is as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. The Beast was rather beastly, wasn’t he? But he was emotionally wounded, quite deeply in fact, and he was so bitter about the curse and about his life slipping away. He’d quite given up — until Belle arrived. Belle, who stood up to him though she was frightened at first. Belle, who saw beneath his gruff exterior to the heart beneath. Belle, who fell in love with the Beast who gave her a library, who played hide and seek with her, and who rescued her from those horrible wolves when she first tried to run away.
The layers were slowly peeled away as they got to know each other, weren’t they? The Beast was horrid — but then he wasn’t quite so bad when he rescued her, and then he got a little better, and then his vulnerability was revealed, and etc. The layers were stripped away until, by golly, you love the Beast too (I did, anyway!).
So remember when crafting your classic hero that he is not a jerk or an asshole or a woman hater. He has emotional scars (remember that?) and he reacts to fear and pain and anger. The heroine brings it all out in him because she brings out the fear. The fear he will lose control, the fear he will feel things he doesn’t want to feel, the fear he will lose something vital (himself!) if he loves her.
If your hero is ruthless, he better have a reason! If he’s out for revenge, he needs a reason. If he dislikes the heroine on sight, he better have a reason. A good reason, not one you tossed together to let your hero behave a certain way because you want him to. His actions and reactions grow from the emotional drive of your story. (Your heroine’s do too, btw.) It is absolutely essential that your hero BE a hero.
To look at it from another angle, Mr. Darcy is also a classic alpha. Mr. Darcy is arrogant, ruthless, and absolutely convinced he’s right. And when he realizes he’s wrong, he goes to extremes to fix everything again (secretly purchasing Mr. Wickham’s cooperation in marrying Lydia, etc). Darcy is the king of those sardonic looks! He is the master of any room he enters, the top dog so to speak. But let Elizabeth challenge him, let her probe and pick, and Darcy is awash with longing and the desire to possess her. He is vulnerable to her — and he doesn’t like it one bit! He fights it almost to the bitter end. (Oh sigh! I’m feeling the urge to watch P&P again!)
I don’t know everything, and I certainly don’t speak for anyone but myself, but I think I’m on to something with this guy. Make your hero understandable; make him bigger than life; wound him; give him fears; give him a strong heroine; and then make it all fall apart for the poor dear man. THIS is why I love Harlequin Presents, why I have always loved them, and why I’m so proud to be one of their authors.
Tomorrow: wild card. I’m leaving it up to caprice to decide what to write about next! Hope you find this useful! Leave me a comment and let’s discuss the alpha. Who are some of your favorites? Can be movies or books….