If you’ve read any romance you’ve come across the alpha male. We all know an alpha when we see one. He’s a natural leader. He doesn’t need permission or validation. He’s charismatic. He often walks a fine line between being admirable and being a gigantic asshole. Alpha males are fun to read about and work well in stories because they’re dynamic, they get stuff done, and they’re extreme. They’re great for the going on of quests. Or sweeping the love interest off his or her feet.
But there are other types of heroes besides alphas. Thinking about it, there have to be. There is not, despite what some say, a lot of room at the top. Everyone can’t be the leaders, so that’s where you beta hero comes in. Now beta heroes are definitely not wimps. They may not be as larger than life as an alpha hero, but they can be just as interesting. They’re the sidekick – Robin to the alpha’s Batman, Watson to his Holmes. They’re the loyal lieutenant. They can be an alpha’s right hand man. His executive officer, actually getting the things done that the alpha commands will be done. A beta tends to be a bit more practical, flexible, and realistic. Maybe able to compromise according to circumstances that would lead the alpha to decide he was being insulted and offer someone single combat.
The pure, full on, Grade A, definitely an asshole alpha male is pretty rare these days, but less dick-like alpha heroes are still very common in m/f romance And why not? They’re certainly fun to read about and great fantasy material – as long as they keep on the right side of the asshole line. I’m a bit unsure what they’d be like after the happy ending, when they have to settle down. Can you imagine trying to persuade a guy like that it really is his turn to clean out the cat’s litter tray or do the ironing? (Fortunately many alphas are able to put their natural leadership skills and lashings of charisma to good use and are billionaire tycoons, so they employ people to do that stuff.)
A + A? But what about in m/m fiction, where you have another hero to contend with, not a heroine? Of course you could have two alpha heroes and oh boy, the sparks will fly then! They’ll inevitably be rivals as well as lovers. They’ll jockey for position. It could be a very exciting relationship. I’m working on a book right now with two alpha heroes trying to figure it all out. They’re not giving an inch!
A + B? Or an alpha paired with a beta, which will have more of that hero and sidekick vibe. It’s not the same as with a hero and heroine of course, at least not if written well, but the alpha and beta have their own dynamic. The beta isn’t a wuss, as I said. He can definitely stand up for himself and the alpha can’t walk all over him. But we know who the top dog is.
B + B? Pairing two beta heroes on the other hand is kind of fun too. (Frankly, it’s all fun, putting these guys together.) Two beta heroes will form a partnership, a team, not only in their sexual relationship. They know how to cooperate. They’re team players. Adam and Zach in Higher Ground are both beta heroes at the start of the story. Neither thinks of himself as a natural leader. Zach is a rather anti-social, academic sort of guy; Adam is fun-loving and a touch lazy. Alpha heroes are certainly never lazy. An alpha doesn’t hit the snooze button when the alarm clock rings. He leaps out of bed ready to kick the world in the nadgers and make it submit to his will. I kept many characteristics of Adam and Zach equal or near equal, like age, intellect, stage of their career, to make sure that neither of them was an obvious candidate to be “in charge”.
Though Zach ends up the leader of the group in the story, that’s something he only feels he can do as part of a team, which includes Adam as his right hand man. Though this puts Adam into the sidekick position for a while, he gets the chance to show his mettle too and how far he’ll go to protect someone he loves. In a way, they’re alphas in training. Not all alphas are born bossing people around. Some take time to come into their own. They’ve got the potential in them, they’re just waiting for the right circumstances to test then and bring that potential out.
Zach especially has much more confidence by the end of the story than he does at the start. He’s a man with the intellect to be a leading scientist eventually, but he doesn’t have the confidence to take a leadership role until it’s forced on him. But once he takes that on, he learns how to cope, he blossoms. In the end B + B = A in this story. Two betas together add up to an alpha. Neither can be that without the other. I know, when you get down to it, this is all silliness. Men aren’t wolves, lions or gorillas, the whole alpha, beta, gamma, omega thing isn’t directly relatable to humans, and characters should never fit exactly into a mould. But it’s a lot of fun to speculate about and see how well a hero fits into a classification, or doesn’t.