Posted On November 4, 2009 by Print This Post

Writing the Alpha Male

Jami October 2008Today, I’m dancing a jig at the thought of discussing the kind of men (at least fictional men) many of us like most. That’s right, today’s interview with author Jami Alden is all about the A-Man, the alpha male. What’s essential in this type of character and how should writers construct him? Jami will answer those questions and more.

Thanks for being with us today, Jami!

Kelsey: Could you define the alpha male/hero for our readers?

Jami: I follow a pretty standard definition:  a hero who is a natural leader, one who doesn’t necessarily know all of the answers, but is wicked smart and confident in his abilities as a problem solver to figure his way out of a tough spot.  He tends not to be superficially emotional.  That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care deeply, it just means he doesn’t spend a lot of time sitting around, talking about his feelings.  He’s single-minded and goal oriented, which can sometimes cause him to come off as brusque and insensitive.  Physically, he’s imposing, tall, strong, athletically fit, and generally hotter and sexier than the average guy ;)

Kelsey: What is the most common trait among alpha males?

Jami: I would have to say confidence.  A true alpha is a man who is confident in his ability to overcome challenges and face down the odds. That doesn’t mean he automatically knows the answer or thinks he’s always right, it means that he knows his own abilities, is smart enough to know his limitations and capabilities, and brave enough to take extreme risks when necessary.  He’s the guy who can overcome almost any obstacle no matter what form the obstacle takes. 

Kelsey: Are all your heroes alphas?

Jami: Yes.  I love reading Alphas, and for me, there’s something really sexy about a man who can take charge of a situation.  I’m going to sound so anti-feminist here, but there’s something so appealing about offloading everything onto a pair of big broad shoulders and saying, “Why don’t you just handle it?” and having absolute confidence that it will indeed be handled!

Kelsey: What’s your process for constructing an alpha character?

Jami: Wow, I have no idea!  I guess I have a construct based on the characteristics I mentioned, and then I add the finish work to round out his personality.  Is he a strong, silent type, or quick witted and ready with a snappy comeback?  Does he linger in the shadows observing the crowd, or does he swagger into a room and take it over?  It’s all that finish work that’s the fun, but also challenging part. 

Kelsey: Any trait that’s a “must have?”

Jami: I’m so cliché, but for me, aside from the confidence and intelligence that I mentioned, my heroes have to be physically imposing and attractive, even if it’s not in a conventional way.  I like my heroes big, muscular, with chiseled features, big appetites, –  testosterone overload all the way! My favorite heroes are those whose outside strength matches their inner strength. 

Kelsey: What type of heroine do you typically pair with an alpha hero?

UNLEASHED¥MECHJami: Well, every alpha, no matter how perfect, has a flaw, so I try to choose a heroine who’s going to hit him right in that weak spot!  For example, in my latest book, Unleashed, I have a hero, Danny, who’s very smart, very strong, very no nonsense.  At the same time, he’s totally emotionally closed off.  He thinks love is nothing but an excuse people use for their dumb decisions.  So I paired him with Caroline, his ex girlfriend, the only woman he ever loved, the woman who broke his heart, the only woman who knows just how vulnerable to love Danny can be. 

Kelsey: Do you have any tips for writing the alpha hero?

Jami: First and foremost, don’t force it. If you don’t love reading alpha heroes, and you don’t love the idea of an alpha hero, you won’t be able to write one with conviction.  You have to fall in love with your hero before anyone else can.  Other than that, my biggest tip is watch your language and be careful about your word choice. When you’re in the hero’s POV, ask yourself, “would any straight man actually use this word or phrase to describe what he’s thinking or feeling?” 

Kelsey: Could you suggest resources or authors that our readers might use to learn to write the alpha hero?

Jami: I personally think Linda Howard writes fantastic alpha heroes, as does Shannon McKenna.  I also love Julie Garwood’s older historicals – she was so great at writing Alpha heroes who weren’t at all cruel, just products of their time and cluelessness!  I also think it’s a great idea, no matter what subgenre you write in, to watch male oriented movies and TV programs.  A few I can think of off the top of my head are Black Hawk Down, Rescue Me

RU readers, do you have questions about how to write a believable alpha male your readers can fall in love with? Also – who are your favorite A-Men?

Please stop back by on Friday when author Therese Walsh is here to chat about the differences between romance and women’s fiction.

Jami Alden is the Holt Medallion nominated author sexy romantic suspense.  Her latest novel, Unleashed, is the third installment in the successful Gemini Men trilogy published by Kensington Brava. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her socially well adjusted alpha male husband, her sons, and a german shepherd who patiently listens to dialog and help her work out plot points. You can find out more about Jami and her books at www.JamiAlden.com

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18 Responses to “Writing the Alpha Male”

  1. Jami –

    Thanks so much for joining us today. I love Shannon McKenna’s heroes–very edgy and tortured :). Do you have any suggestions for finding that fine balance between a drool-worthy alpha and complete ass?

    Thanks!
    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | November 3, 2009, 11:13 pm
  2. Welcome Jami….

    Kelsey…lol….that’s what I was thinking too…every time I go for the alpha, I come off with the worlds biggest jerk.

    I read a great Harlequin where the alpha male was totally alpha, but could not for the life of him program his blackberry….and when he gave up, he tossed it into the nearest pool/out the window/over the cliff….it was fun to see an alpha with a weakness that only his heroine could fix.

    Do you ‘build in’ a character flaw into your alpha’s so they don’t come off as the bossiest-man-who-knows-everything? and is it easier to pair him with a heroine who can stand up for herself? or one who is an opposite, and has to learn to fight back….

    conflict conflict conflict. =)

    carrie
    (who yes, is up at 1am darnit)

    Posted by carrie | November 4, 2009, 2:08 am
  3. Hi Jami~

    Thank you for joining us today! Readers like strong heroines, too. Do you have any suggestions on keeping a strong male around an Alpha female?

    Thanks, Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | November 4, 2009, 6:37 am
  4. Hi Jami! Thanks for joining us. Do all romance heroes have to be alpha males?

    Posted by Conseula | November 4, 2009, 7:03 am
  5. Hi Jami. Thank you for being here. I tend to always write Alpha males myself. I guess, having grown up surrounded by them, it comes easier for me. I love digging in and exploring what is underneath all that macho stuff!

    Posted by AdrienneGiordano | November 4, 2009, 9:52 am
  6. Hey, Jami. Fun post. Alpha heros are a blast, but I’ve got one now who is dangerously close from crossing the line of being charming and into condescending. Do you ever notice if you’ve gone too far, or do you leave that up to your cp’s to catch?
    I tend to really push the boundary in what I think I can get away with, so I constantly wonder if maybe I’ve gone too far this time. Thanks!

    Posted by Keri Ford | November 4, 2009, 9:54 am
  7. Great post, Jami. I, too, love those big, strong Alpha males. Some friends of mine were recently discussing how odd it was that we love the fictional Alpha hero, but in real life, if someone tried to boss us around like that, we wouldn’t put up with it. I like your reason why.

    When my agent and I were working on my manuscript, there was a part where she told me he’s acting kind of wimpy and could I take a look. I read that snippet of my hero’s dialog to my husband and he said, “Yeah, this is pretty wordy for a guy.” I snipped the wordiness and he sounded much more Alpha.

    Posted by Laurie London | November 4, 2009, 10:37 am
  8. Hey everyone! Wow – great questions already! hoping the caffeine will help kick start my brain.
    Kelsey, the line between Alpha and ass can be a blurry one, and often up to the reader and author to decide. there have been heroes I’ve loved that other readers wanted to castrate. For myself, I tend to push the envelope, and as such I have to accept that my heroes may not appeal to all. That being said, I think the key is to motivate motivate motivate! If you properly motivate your hero’s assholeish behavior, you can get away with more.

    Carrie – hope you got some sleep! I don’t know that I purposely build in a character flaw so much as I try to make my characters somewhat real, and real people have flaws. And I like the heroine to be the one who can see right through that tough exterior straight into that weak spot.

    Tracey – In my personal opinion, if you’re going to have an alpha heroine, your hero has to be that much tougher. Not domineering, but they have to really bounce off each other before they realize they actually compliment each other and are much stronger as a team.

    Hi Consuela – absolutely not! For example, Jennifer Crusie writes fantastic non Alpha heroes, as does Susan Donavan. You have to go with what works for you and the relationship dynamic you’re trying to achieve.

    Hi Adrienne – I’m so with you.

    Hi Keri – like I said, as long as you motivate your hero’s behavior, you can get away with a lot. But yes, I have had my cp’s pull me back from the edge one or two times when I went a little too old school :)

    Hi Laurie – You know, I think the Alpha has evolved – I don’t see the modern Alpha so much as bossy as in charge. Especially in some of the contemporary romantic suspense/adventure – when you put the heroine in an extremely dangerous situation, it makes sense that she should follow the Navy SEAL hero’s lead, right?

    I’ll pop in as often as I can – I have kind of a wacky schedule today, but I’ll check in to answer questions.

    Posted by Jami Alden | November 4, 2009, 11:15 am
  9. Thanks, Jami. Your comments are “spot on.”

    Those alpha heros get my heart pounding. I’m writing one currently and luckily have an alpha son who is a wonderful resource, especially for attitude and dialogue. He’s a man of few words.

    I must know…who is the hunky guy in the picture at the top of the page?

    Posted by Nancy Mirtle | November 4, 2009, 11:55 am
  10. Hi

    What fun.

    How do you discover the unique voice of each Alpha Male Bloke?
    How do you keep them sexy and not, over the edge, to giggle-dom.
    Is it all fantasy?
    Lovely fantasy.

    Laurel

    http://www.symbolicbridging.com/
    http://www.aislingnano.wordpress.com/

    Posted by Laurel Kahaner | November 4, 2009, 4:19 pm
  11. Hi

    I think my comment vanished, just like Alpha Males vanish or are banished.

    Dang it.

    Laurel

    symbolicbridging.com

    Posted by Laurel Kahaner | November 4, 2009, 4:21 pm
  12. Thanks Nancy! As for the guy, I have no clue, but he kinda looks like a young Timothy Dalton to me.

    Laurel feel free to repost!

    Posted by Jami Alden | November 4, 2009, 6:53 pm
  13. Great interview, Jami! How many hours do you think we’ve spent discussing this stuff, LOL? You know who my favorite Alpha hero is: Nick Ward. Hands down.
    I think that is Timothy Dalton in Wuthering Heights.

    Posted by Monica McCarty | November 4, 2009, 8:04 pm
  14. Hi

    I don’t remember what I posted that vanished, but what is on my mind now is

    How do you differentiate and make singular the distinctive voice of each Alpha-Male?

    How do you make the Alpha Male tantalizing without crossing over the line and evoking giggles or groans from readers?

    Thank you,

    I’m enjoying your workshop.
    Learning is such a gift.
    I am newly single, these daze, would be lovely if the dang archetype actually existed in a package that didn’t include lots of frightening bits….

    more to be revealed (grin)

    hope this posts,

    Laurel

    Posted by Laurel Kahaner | November 4, 2009, 8:08 pm
  15. Monica, I’m fighting you for nick. Just warning you.
    Laurel- glad you’re enjoying the discussion! As to how I create a distinct voice, I think you have to approach each character as an individual. Like how you have friends who are similar and have a lot in common, but they’re all ver distinct. As for not crossing the line- I don’t know that I’m the bast person to ask- I regularly stomp all over that line!

    Posted by Jami Alden | November 4, 2009, 10:09 pm

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