The Romance Genre on the Web

Researching online romance genre communities and their perspectives

Heroes – Alphas? Or Leaders? Or what?

Filed under: Discussion questions — Bron at 7:06 pm on Wednesday, April 25, 2007

There was a great, lively discussion last week in response to Sarah Frantz’s post, Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know; or, Just a Jerk? on Romancing the Blog.

Personally, I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with discussions in the romance genre about the ‘Alpha’ hero. Part of it is my reluctance to pigeon-hole anyone, fictional or otherwise, and to slap a label on them – particularly when there’s only a choice of three labels: alpha, beta and gamma. I think there’s some confusion, also, about what the terms mean, particularly with ‘alpha’, and this was highlighted in the above discussion, with some interesting but conflicting views. I’m not sure that the wolf-pack or animal origin of the ‘alpha male’ term really translates effectively to humans and human emotions and interaction. I also worry – maybe unnecessarily, but it’s there – that if WE, readers and writers of the genre, confine our discussions of male characterization to these three types, then are we providing fodder for those who criticize the genre for cardboard-cutout characters? If we can’t articulate the depth and variety of characterization within the genre effectively, how can we ask others to comprehend it?

I love complex characters, and I read characters in books as complex people, not as stereotypes or even archetypes. Yes, I like characters – male and female – to have strength and power of some sort, whether that be physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. Emotional strength and confidence – the ability to accept, respect and value oneself AND the other – is, to me, an essential ingredient in a committed relationship, so in order for me to have faith in the ‘HEA’, both the lead characters need to attain this somewhere along the way of the story.

I was musing on the whole ‘Alpha male’ thing last night while I was lying awake with a spasming back, and it occurred to me that perhaps the notion of leaders and leadership could be applied to many romance heroes, and that there are different types of strengths that are displayed by various characters. When I got up to get some painkillers, I also woke up the computer and jotted down some different types of heroes: Warrior, Commander, Strategist, Servant leader, Dynastic heir, Techno-genius, Entrepreneur, Scholar. Then I got thinking about some of the key positive characteristics of each broad type:

Warrior: physicality, and courage

Commander: leadership, courage, and responsibility

Strategist: intelligence, risk analysis, conviction

Servant Leader: commitment to duty, integrity, compassion for others (NB, this is a term from leadership theories which is not about servants in the employer/servant concept, but rather describes a style of leadership in which the concept of service to others is a prime motivating factor).

Dynastic heir: pride, self-confidence, commitment to family/cultural traditions (?)

Techno-genius: intelligence, ‘out-of-the-box’ or creative thinking, focused

Entrepreneur: imagination, audacity, confidence

Scholar: intelligence, broad knowledge, questioning

Now, I’m not pretending that that’s a complete picture, or that these are the only archetypal heroic figures. Tami Cowden came up with a different list of eight hero archetypes (and eight heroine archetypes) that go beyond the standard alpha, beta etc, but, while they work a bit better, they never quite did it for me entirely. There are also a range of other archetypal characters identified in literature, although not necessarily applicable to the romantic hero (or heroine).

When I thought about the heroes I’m writing, I could place them in the broad framework above, whereas I’ve never been able to label them as ‘alpha’, ‘beta’ or ‘gamma’ or anything else in that framework. Elliot is a mix of Commander and Servant Leader; Cole is a mix of Warrior and Scholar; Ronan is a Techno-genius Warrior. For Gil, I might have to add a ‘Lone Wolf’ type, although the mix of Strategist and Warrior probably works for him.

So, there’s some pain-killer-assisted ramblings about the nature of romance heroes. It’s very much initial thoughts, and comment, criticism, and additional ‘types’ are welcome. (Perhaps we need to add the Hedonist…)

Do we need to think beyond the traditional alpha, beta, gamma etc in our discussions of heroes? Do those traditional ‘labels’ help or hinder our understanding of the genre, and the perceptions of it? Does it matter, as readers, or writers, or academics?

(And why do we spend so much time discussing heroes, and not so much discussing heroines? Our ‘labels’ for them tend to be more negative – TSTL, Mary-Sues, ‘feisty’. About the only one that I can think of at the moment that isn’t negative is ‘kick-butt’.)

Time to read?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bron at 9:19 pm on Thursday, April 5, 2007

I haven’t had any time to read these past couple of weeks – or post to this blog! – so I’m hoping that sometime over our 4-day Easter break, I’ll be able to settle down with a good romance for an hour or two… in between editing a conference paper, finishing judging some writing contest entries, updating my writing website, and catching up with some housework. (That last item may take some time, given that housework has been at the bottom of my list for ages, but as my sister and her family are coming in a week or so’s time, I can’t put it off any longer!) I don’t do anywhere near as much reading as I’d like to these days; juggling a full-time job, with a part-time PhD, and writing as well, means that I’ve had to give up a lot of my recreation time. I miss the days when I’d read 3 or 4 books in a week – or more!

Anyway, pondering the delightful anticipation of a couple of hours of reading got me wondering about when and where other readers do their reading. I’m a curl up on the sofa kind of reader, and Sunday afternoon can be a good time for me, although the evenings sometimes see me with a book, too. However, since I find it very difficult to put a book down until it’s finished, I can’t start one too far into the evening!

I’ve never been able to read in a car or a bus, but I can on a plane, except when its taking off or landing. I always cart several books around with me when I go flying anywhere, especially now that knitting needles aren’t allowed on Australian planes.

So, where and when do you do most of your reading? Do you read in a few minutes here and there, or shut out the world until a book is finished? And is it a significant activity for you, or do you squeeze it in among many other things?