Posted On December 30, 2009 by Print This Post

Beta Males: Hidden Gems?

As romance writers, we hear a great deal about the Alpha male. They’re larger than life, intelligent, intense, and sexually stimulating. They make us purr, they make us yearn. They make us want to reform them.

For different reasons, women and men love Alphas. Although now that I think about it, we might love them for some of the same reasons. But that’s a different post.

Today, I thought it would be fun to explore the poor, often overlooked, Beta male. You’ll notice in this article that I have more questions than answers. I’d love for our readers to chime in and give their opinions on the Beta male’s role in today’s romance novel.

To start us off, I ran into a Beta Sunday afternoon. He shared many of the same characteristics as other Beta males — good-looking, charming, a peacemaker, and always there to backup the Alpha male in a pinch.

His name was Dr. John H. Watson, friend and right-hand to Detective Sherlock Holmes of 221B Baker Street, London.

I wouldn’t label Dr. Watson as purely Beta, though. The things he did with that walking stick was all Alpha. This realization got me to thinking about many of the series books I’ve read. From what I’ve observed, there’s generally only one Alpha in a romance book. Sure, you’ll find strong, equally sexy brothers, friends, etc. who will have their Alpha moment in a book or two down the road, but in this book they defer to the hero. And that, my friends, is a Beta quality.

But what about male characters who won’t have their 15 minutes of Alpha fame? What place do they have in today’s romance novel? Are they secondary characters who simply help the hero solve a problem, achieve character growth, win the girl, or are they on the page to provide comedic relief?

I wonder about villains. They’re highly intelligent, often handsome, and always ruthless. Are villains Alpha wannabes? Are they ticked off because they didn’t get the girl or the money or the recognition they surely deserved, and now they’re going to kill someone or blow something up to make it “right”?

Am I oversimplifying our villains? Probably. But I hope my questions made you think about Beta males in a new way. I know this exercise has given me much food for thought.

* * *

RU Readers, how many of you have seen the new Sherlock Holmes movie? Did you like it? Do you agree with my assessment of Dr. Watson? What about my thoughts on villains? Do you think they’re Alpha wannabes?

Be sure to join Kelsey on Friday, New Year’s Day, to learn how you can plan your writing and personal life.

Tracey’s bio:

Tracey Devlyn writes historical romance with suspense elements. She’s a member of Romance Writers of America and Windy City, Hearts Through History, The Beau Monde and Kiss of Death RWA chapters.

Her first manuscript, A Lady’s Revenge, won first place in the Put Your Heart in a Book contest (New Jersey RWA) and finaled in the Ignite the Flame contest (Central Ohio Fiction Writers).

Tracey lives in the Chicago suburbs with her once-in-a-lifetime husband and their Alpha puppy. For more information, please visit

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17 Responses to “Beta Males: Hidden Gems?”

  1. Hi Tracey,

    I saw Sherlock Holmes this weekend…absolutely loved it! I agree completely – Dr. Watson is a beta male, the loyal friend who always has Holmes’ back. Jude Law’s portrayal of Watson as a blend of intellectual and fighter was perfect – beta males aren’t wimps, but they aren’t the center of the story’s universe, either. Some of my favorite movie heroes have been “beta” males…Mark Darcy in “Bridget Jones’ s Diary” comes readily to mind.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    Posted by Victoria Gray | December 30, 2009, 9:52 am
  2. Oh I love Mark Darcy…..=)

    morning all…

    Another beta male that comes to mind is in a book, Nora Roberts Vision in White…I really enjoyed the character of Carter Maguire, with his tweeds and calm attitude. Ron Weasley from Harry Potter…Martin Short in Captain Ron…lol…there’s a huge list to choose from!
    haven’t seen Sherlock as of yet, but it’s on my to-do list!


    Posted by carrie | December 30, 2009, 10:05 am
  3. Great post, Tracey. Now I need to go see the movie!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | December 30, 2009, 12:30 pm
  4. oh I love Mark Darcy!

    and Ron Weasley, and Carter from Nora Roberts book Vision in White…there’s definitely a place for beta males in romance!


    Posted by carrie | December 30, 2009, 3:33 pm
  5. I like your “beta male” post as I have been struggling with some issues along this line. Yet, it feels to me as if many of the beta males are there so that we can learn by contrast what we truly value in our heroes.

    I just picked up a copy of “Bullies,Bastards, & Bitches:How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction” to get a better handle on the inner workings of the male “villain”. So, I’m obviously “wondering” about getting more depth of feeling from their viewpoint. Never quite pictured them as “alpha wannabes” but it certainly does fit for some characters. I do love these posts to get those brain wheels moving!

    Now, of course, I will have to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie as well.

    Thanks and Happy New Year!

    Posted by Barbara Ann | December 30, 2009, 6:10 pm
  6. Tracey: Thank you for your post. I say hooray for beta males! I dearly wish there were more of them as romantic heroes.

    I realize alpha males make up 99% of the heroes in today’s romance fiction, and that’s a conservative estimate. But what about those of us who prefer nice guys, lovable men, realistic heroes? We must hunt far and wide to find any.

    The usual thinking behind alpha males is that a romance hero must be an arrogant, egotistical, overbearing, power-hungry control freak because the heroine must reform him. If he’s already a good fellow, what’s there to reform?

    But why can’t there be some other dynamic going on in the two main characters’ relationship? If he’s a beta male, and there’s no need to reform him, that frees up the author to create more interesting situations, to take romance fiction where it has not gone before.

    I for one would love to read about two protagonists who are already able to give love and are worthy to receive it, but in order to experience it fully they must overcome various obstacles, both within and without. Or to be more precise, they must face and deal with the overall predicament created by these two types of obstacles. In short, I’d like to read about real love, the kind that can take on and overcome whatever fate throws at it.

    That, in my humble opinion at least, would make for better reading than the zillionth romance about how Frances Feisty and Max Macho are thrown together against their will, then alternately fight and make ill-motivated love with each other. I may be in the minority, but I simply don’t care to read another power fantasy about how a woman who has nothing ends up controlling a man who has everything.

    And even though power fantasy is the predominant formula for romance fiction, I believe there must be other readers like me who are just as tired of it, and open to other modes. And if the type of romance fiction I like ranges from rare to nonexistent in the current works issued by publishers, what do I do about it? You guessed it. I write my own!

    Keep up the good work!

    Posted by Mary Anne Landers | December 30, 2009, 6:25 pm
    • Hi Mary Anne!

      You took the words right out of my mouth – “write my own.” I did the same thing with historical romance. After reading hundreds of historical books, I hungered for grittier material. That’s when I started writing A Lady’s Revenge. My opening scene is of the hero saving the heroine from a French torture chamber. I know call me sick, but I wanted to read a darker Regency–so I created one.

      Evidently, others did too, because ALR won 1st place in the New Jersey RWA contest. And this is a book whose beginning had changed at least three times due to my fear of breaking the “rules.”

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Posted by TraceyDevlyn | December 31, 2009, 6:35 pm
  7. Tracey –

    I’ve read a few of Vicki Lewis Thompson’s “Nerd” books. Some of those guys are betas who rise to the occasion (no pun intended :)) when alpha tendencies are needed.

    I haven’t see Sherlock Holmes yet, but have plans to do so soon.

    Honestly, I think betas are more “real life,” and that alphas feed into the fantasy aspect of romance. As for betas in romance, I think they must have their time in the alpha sun in their own books. If they don’t, then they’re probably better relegated to sidekick status. I’m all for a laid back hero, but he needs to be willing to kick ass when pushed to his limit. In fact, there’s something incredibly sexy when a man like that is pushed and reacts out of character.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | December 31, 2009, 8:27 am
  8. Hey Kelsey!

    I’ll have to pick up one of Vicki’s books. Sounds like a great read.

    I agree about the fantasy part. A “true” Alpha male would drive me bonkers – I like to be right every once in a while. 🙂


    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | December 31, 2009, 6:38 pm
  9. Well said, Mary! I found this blog post as part of one of my bi-annual searches for Romances that depart from the cliches you describe. I find something so… empty and disappointing about the tens of thousands of iterations of Frances Fiesty and Max Macho’s love story. I’ve found one or two romances that fulfill my desire for *more* humanity and nuance in a relationship but those are usually in books in other genres. Antryg and Joanna in the Windrose Chronicles books by Barbara Hambly, for instance. Or the relationship between a former monk and a single mother in “The Monk Downstairs.” Magen Whalen Turner’s fantasy books “The Queen of Attolia” and “The King of Attolia.” Loretta Chase’s “Miss Wonderful” is one of the few I’ve found in the Romance genre. I find these and I just am so, so pleased to finally have something speaking too my heart instead of enraging my brain with tired, dehumanizing (to everyone! tell me an alpha male isn’t a dehumanization of men!) fripperies. Urk. :-/ Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in my frustration!

    Posted by Angel | January 17, 2010, 4:38 am
  10. Thank you, Angel! You’ve just proved that there are more of us out here.

    I especially appreciate the titles and authors you cited. I’ll have to check them out.

    Posted by Mary Anne Landers | January 17, 2010, 8:24 pm
  11. I’m on Livejournal, actually! I guess we’re two non-traditional Romance fans, separated by different social networking platforms! Woe. 🙂

    Posted by Angel | January 17, 2010, 8:45 pm


  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by RomanceUniv: Tracey Devlyn explores the Beta male. Are they hidden gems or wallflowers?

    uberVU - social comments - December 30, 2009

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