Posted On May 26, 2010 by Print This Post

AMM: Why We Love (and Resent) Alpha Males

Good morning and welcome to Anatomy of the Male Mind. Today, Laurie Schnebly Campbell joins us to dissect Alpha Males. Sound like fun? I thought so too!

Here’s Laurie!

Alpha males sell books.

No matter what else they might be good at — and we’ve all seen them be good at LOTS of things! — they’re fabulous at selling books.

But that doesn’t mean every reader, much less every writer, adores those classic alpha males.

For one thing, we have a hard time defining exactly what an alpha male IS. I’m going to ask your opinion, down below, but first let’s look at what we love about these guys…and why we resent them.

Alpha males take command, right? Which can be wonderfully attractive — and which can also be downright annoying.

What makes the difference?

Or IS there any difference?


Picture a guy who’s standing at the scene of a disastrous five-car collision, telling everyone what to do. “You! Back up the van. You! Get that bike out of the way. You! Move your vehicle toward the curb.”

He’s a laudable hero, managing to accomplish whatever needs taking care of and getting everyone around him to do what he says.

But now picture that same guy giving those same orders in a grocery store parking lot where nobody’s hurt; there are just a lot of cars milling around. Suddenly he’s a bossy jerk.

Yet he hasn’t changed his behavior. It’s only our interpretation of his behavior that’s changed.

Which is part of why it’s so tricky to write the kind of alpha hero who’s guaranteed to delight readers.

What else makes it tricky? Well, let’s see:

* There’s a fine line between a man who’s powerful enough to stand strong against whatever the world throws at him while never breaking down, and a man who’s incapable of expressing any emotion except anger.

* There’s a fine line between a man who’s all about protecting what’s his, including the woman he loves, and a man who views that woman as his possession.

* There’s a fine line between a man who’s so incredibly sexy that every woman in the room is dazzled by his sizzling presence, and a man who’s willing to share that smoldering sexuality with every woman in the room.

How much is too much alpha?

How little is too little?

(Okay, did everyone else’s mind just go to the same place mine did? Uh, never mind.)

Back to the fine line — women who love reading about alpha males don’t usually stop to think where that line should be drawn. All they know is, they LIKE their romantic heroes strong, courageous, forceful, vigorous, confident. Suave or rugged is okay, millionaire or firefighter is okay, battered Harley or magnificent steed is okay, but aside from those little details there’s not a whole lot of room for compromise.

With alphas, there’s NEVER much room for compromise.

And that’s exactly what makes them so easy to resent.

How come they always get to call the shots?

How come they can attract any woman they want just by crooking their little finger?

How come they don’t have to deal with the things all the rest of us do?

Oh, but wait!

Once this alpha hero falls in love with the heroine, he’ll have to change his ways. Right?




That’s tricky, too.

Because if suddenly this rip-roaring testosterone-driven leader of the pack is murmuring, “Yes, dear, I’ll pick up the drycleaning and be home for dinner whenever you say” — drat it, he’s no longer quite such a thrilling prize.

He’s more of a regular guy…the kind most readers experience in everyday life. So where’s the romantic excitement in THAT?

You see the dilemma?

Genuine alpha males can be as tough to write as they are to live with — and yet they’re so attractive, we can’t just throw them out of our pages!

How do we get around that?

Here’s where your opinion comes in. Two questions, and I’d love to hear what other writers and readers think. (I’d also love to quote you in my “Alpha Males From Abe To Zeus” class next month, so please let me know if that’s NOT okay.)

First question: Do you know any alphas in real life — and if so, what are they like?

Second question: Have you written any alpha heroes — and if so, what was the biggest challenge you faced?

I’m eager to get your thoughts on this…and by the way, if you live with an alpha male in real life OR in fiction, you have both my admiration and my envy!

Laurie, betting everyone here would appreciate tips on How To Live With An Alpha from those who’ve figured out the techniques 🙂

* * *

Thanks, Laurie!

RU Readers, get your keyboards a cookin’! I can’t wait to see your answers to Laurie’s questions.

Don’t miss C.J.Redwine’s special installment on Friday. She’s going to give readers her fabulous tips on synopsis writing.

Laurie’s Bio:

Laurie Schnebly Campbell has been intrigued with alpha males ever since she heard that they’re the ones who are always breaking dishes. (Suddenly her husband looked less clumsy and more sexy!) She’s teaching a brand new class on writing irresistible alpha-male heroes, from June 7-25 at

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58 Responses to “AMM: Why We Love (and Resent) Alpha Males”

  1. Hi again Laurie,
    First question: Do you know any alphas in real life — and if so, what are they like?

    I’ve worked for alphas and I find that although they are great at getting things done, they nearly always assume their way is the right way and don’t consult with any one else–which leads to resentment from the people working for them and an unhappy atmosphere.

    Second question: Have you written any alpha heroes — and if so, what was the biggest challenge you faced?

    I’m writing one now.
    Although I wouldn’t want a totally alpha partner (too emotionally draining) I do love an alpha hero. But only the ones whose aplhaness is a direct result of the conflict they find themselves facing eg the collision in your example. I love the way they take command of such a situation, know exactly the right thing to do and have everyone organised and responding to their commands without question. So as long as their alphaness is well motivated (by their perception of danger or need for thie own emotional protection) and we know exactly why they are reacting in this high-handed way they are characters to be admired. But it’s essential to get the reader on their side (through little snippets of H POV) He can’t be dominating just because he enjoys watching people scurry around obeying his commands.(Which many apha bosses do. Although if I could hear their thoughts as we do in a romance novel I ‘d probably like and undesrtand them alot better)

    And a Blake Snyder ‘Save the cat’ moment helps too.

    Posted by Janet | May 26, 2010, 5:05 am
  2. Hi Laurie,

    Thanks for joining us at RU!

    I’ll take my Alphas in books only please. LOL My husband turns alpha when the situation calls for it and I know he’ll take care of the issue. But every once in awhile he’ll go alpha on something goofy and I want to smack him upside the head. LOL


    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | May 26, 2010, 5:42 am
  3. Hey, Laurie! Wonderful post!!

    Yes, I know an alpha…I married him 20 years ago. LOL However, he’s not brash or overbearing, but he does take charge and has an answer to pretty much any problem. A lot of times, I’m grateful not to have to come up with one myself! LOL But what I have found is when we disagree, I usually just let it go UNLESS it’s really important to me. And hubby has learned that if it’s really important, then he gives in (I’m guessing that’s the love part?) LOL

    Yes, I’ve written alpha heroes. Ooo love them on the page! They take charge, catch the bad guy, save the day. But the ones I write are also strong enough to let the heroine save them from time to time as well. I even have several alphas that wouldn’t have been able to save the day if their heroine hadn’t been at their side.

    The kind of alpha I can’t stand to read is the one who comes on the scene and tells the little lady that she can’t do whatever it is she’s trying to do. “What are you thinking tryng to run this factory? You’re a woman. Running a factory is man’s work.” Er…bite me. LOL And don’t let the door hit your taut buns on the way out. But I know lots of women who swoon over such stories, and that’s fine.

    Me? I like an alpha who can lead through reason and not by knocking me over the head and dragging me off by my hair. LOL

    Thanks, Laurie! Lots of fun!!


    Posted by Laura Garland | May 26, 2010, 6:14 am
  4. Hi, Laurie –

    Wonderful lecture, as always!

    I’m a fan of alphas in the books I read, for sure. Real life, bit of a different story…

    I think one reason alphas work better in romance novels than they often do in real life is that romances take the reader up to the point of real life. We rarely, if ever, see the heroine and hero dealing with a broken washing maching, which in-laws to visit for Thanksgiving, overdue bills, etc. And in a romance, there’s normally some urgent or life-threatening problem that the hero’s alpha tendencies are well-suited for.

    Would I want my husband to “go alpha” if our lives were on the line? You betcha! Do I want him to do it while we’re playing a board games with friends (which strangely enough, he has)? Ah, no. One ends up with holes in her walls – LOL.

    My dad and brother are what I would call alphas. Both attractive to women; both “do it my way” kinda guys; both able to fix anything with chewing gum, string and spit. But my dad was a real softy, especially when it came to his girls.

    Now my husband, to me, is the right combo–going alpha normally only when the situation calls for it. For example, we witnessed a wreck a few months ago where a van rolled to its side. My husband drove through the intersection, pulled our truck onto a curb, told my son and me to “stay put,” and jumped out to go help. Other people were milling around, but he helped the guys (unharmed) crawl out of the van and what really impressed me was that he immediately checked the fluid on the ground, smelling it to make sure gasoline wasn’t leaking and likely to set the whole scene on fire. To me, that was heroic, alpha behavior even though he didn’t run around telling everyone what to do. I suppose he’s quietly, efficiently alpha when the situation calls for it.

    Thanks for being here, Laurie!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | May 26, 2010, 6:54 am
  5. Hi Kelsey!
    …quietly, efficiently alpha when the situation calls for it…. is PERFECT. You lucky girl!!!!!

    Hi Laurie!
    I Loved this post. You’ve made some great points. Thank you!
    I love to read alpha males. In my fantasy life, the thought of having a man take control is wonderful. No more difficult decisions, he’d make them all. No more nagging, he’d know what has to be done and do it. No more worrying about money, he’d be rich…, he’d be a Navy Seal….. Of course my children would listen to everything an alpha dad had to say and do as instructed, the first time, without talking back. And in the bedroom….well….ya know.

    But the truth is, as nice as that seems sometimes, I like running my house, doing my job, and managing my kids lives…or at least trying to! And I don’t respond well to having decisions made for me or being told what to do. For me, happiness is an equal partnership, give and take.

    Posted by Wendy Marcus | May 26, 2010, 7:25 am
    • Wendy –

      Yeah – I’m a fan of his, even when he goes into that male “I can solve your problem” mode. That doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes I just need him to understand no advice is required, I just want him to be mad/sad/happy/disappointed along with me!


      Posted by Kelsey Browning | May 26, 2010, 2:04 pm
  6. Oops, just realized I can combine responses instead of scattering them after every post…make things less cluttered.

    Laura and Kelsey, I like your vision of a great alpha — one who can lead through reason rather than dragging you off by the hair, one who can save the day during a real-life accident. (And having met Laura’s husband, I agree he’s a sweetie!)

    And Wendy, your idea about happiness being an equal give-and-take partnership is SO on-target…seems like that’s one of the toughest parts of living with a (real or fictional) alpha, is keeping the balance equal.

    Which takes us right back to Kelsey’s point about how the romance novel doesn’t HAVE to address that aspect of real life. No wonder they’re fun to write — and read!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | May 26, 2010, 7:53 am
  7. Morning Laurie!!!!

    I can do alpha in books, in real life on occasion, such as when the toilet plugs and Mr. Manly says “I”ll take care of that!” or when the cats bring in a pheasant and I scream eek! and Mr. Manly leaps into the fray and sets the poor pheasant free. Now that’s when I appreciate the alpha male! =0)

    And I agree there are times their alpha comes out at inappropriate times….and kind of leaves you a little shell shocked.

    But in books, when I write the alpha male, I always try to give him a fault. Something goofy. He can’t figure out how to run his PDA. He’s color blind. He has a silly dog. Something that gives him a human side. Or, in my latest ms, he’s been wounded, and walks with a limp. Gives them a human side too.

    But, I agree, living with one 24/7 might be a whooooooole different matter!

    See ya in class Laurie! =)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | May 26, 2010, 8:22 am
  8. I am I suppose an Alpha male, but I only take charge of a situation when all else fails. I feel embarassed watching things “fall apart” in the hands of others.
    One more thing, I always stop at the scene of an accident, you know the sort, broken, splintered bones, blood everywhere, or the stiff lying on the sidewalk, with other people hurrying by looking in the other direction.
    Have you ever blown air into a dead man’s lungs, after removing his dentures of course? His tongue was lodged in his throat, I had to blow down his nose and pinch it and force the air out of his mouth to loosen it.
    I must admit if I hadn’t told somebody else to take over after a while, I would have thrown up. I didn’t know he’d lay there for more than seven minutes, he was as dead as they come poor guy.
    I am anything but a hero.
    Life is not all Buns and Roses being what I am. 😕 😕 😕 😕

    Posted by Thomas Sharkey | May 26, 2010, 8:49 am
    • Okay, Thomas – you get a hero gold sticker for this one. However noble the effort, never expect a thank-you kiss right after something like that. I’d suggest a new toothbrush and a buttload of mouthwash before even thinking of romancing your girl after that incident ;).


      Posted by Kelsey Browning | May 26, 2010, 2:08 pm
  9. Do I know any alphas. Where do I begin? 😉 My father was what I call an alpha on steroids. Completely over the top. He drove me crazy, but he died eight years ago and there is a gaping hole in my life where his energy was. He made us laugh with his crazy stories and horrifying antics, but there were definitely times where all that alpha-ness caused problems. I did an RU post on him last year

    Then, of course, I married an alpha, which is great because he’s not an alpha on steroids. He loves to be in charge, but he’s reasonable about it. He’s actually learned to ask “Am I supposed to fix this or are you just venting?”

    I had a very funny alpha moment with him a few months back. We had just gotten our puppy, a stubborn Wheaten Terrier, and the dog kept nipping at us. My husband stood there, hands on hips, explaining to the dog that he had to stop biting and that he wasn’t in charge. All I kept thinking was, he’s having an alpha war with a dog. Then, when hubby was done giving the dog his orders, he said “That should be the end of it.” I laughed so hard.

    And yes, I do write alphas. One of them is an alpha on steroids and people seem to love him or hate him. No in between. I actually had a contest judge tell me he was an “asshole.” Of course he’s an asshole, that’s the point! Thankfully, more people love him than hate him, so he’ll be okay. LOL.

    Thanks for a great post, Laurie. It made me smile. Great way to start the day.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | May 26, 2010, 9:00 am
  10. Hi Laurie – first I can hardly wait to take your class next month!!

    First question: Do you know any alphas in real life — and if so, what are they like? I think in modern day, this is hard to find because men are taught to be less overbearing. I can say that I do know men who sometimes act alpha. My husband can take over, be overbearing etc, and usually when he does it, I love it because its not all the time. 😉

    Second question: Have you written any alpha heroes — and if so, what was the biggest challenge you faced? I think its hard because you run the risk of the guy being a jerk, you have to do it in such a way to keep your character in context but likable.

    All my best~

    Posted by Kim Preston | May 26, 2010, 9:15 am
  11. Very interesting explanation of Alpha Males, Laurie. I learned a lot. I definitely do not know any now, but I dated one years ago. You came close to touching on it, but that fine line on Alpha Males made me feel that the Alpha Male could also become too controlling and stifling. Instead of taking over when the occasion warrants, he could take over everything. Scheduling things, telling me the type of clothes to wear, making unexpected plans, etc.. But the alpha males who stop to help or take charge temporarily are a good thing. (Wish I’d known one.)

    I have not written any alpha males, and I’m not sure I will. Of course, if the decision ever comes, I probably would try to combine some alpha male characteristics in a hero. The best of the alpha male type.


    Posted by Darlene | May 26, 2010, 9:22 am
  12. Hi Laurie!

    Love, love this post. I think the alpha male at home and work angle has been covered brilliantly already so I’ll talk books. Mills and Boon Modern/Harlequin Presents pulled an entry of mine out of a contest a couple of years ago saying the writing had *spark* but that I needed to study their lines and to submit directly to an editor they designated when I had a new story for them. I did and thus began my near-two year quest to write an engaging, devastating Alpha Male. Anyone who reads the line can tell you that while the heroine is critical, Modern/Presents stories are all about creating the perfect Alpha Male. By the way, they put out 12 books a month and have an intimidating stable of writers who are giving them 3 books a year with new takes on the perfect Alpha Male. I read. I studied. And I wrote. Then, I submitted. They gave me detailed feedback and asked me to submit again. After a year of this, they dedicated an editor to the cause. She has, for the past year, worked one-on-one with me on my stories and guess what’s been the hardest element to get right? The Alpha Male. The balance is so incredibly difficult to nail – this mix of power to the point of bossiness that gets stronger when the perfect (for him) woman comes along and causes him to begin (for the first time in his control-driven existence) to lose his tight grip on his emotions. Oh, and he has to change because of her. So, he will likely start off arrogant or with some other trait that, given the situation, could be a real turn off, but he is never insulting to her intelligence – and then his command doesn’t get diluted when he finally reaches his breaking point (because of her) and gives himself over, wholly and completely, to the one woman who is his perfect fit! Sounds harder than walking through fire to me. And it has been. But it’s also amazing because I still remember Kim Lawrence’s Roman O’Hagen (asleep and awake – oh-la-la) or Luca Di Rossi (oh my!) and I read those stories a year or so ago. (Isn’t it shocking how I couldn’t tell you who the women in the stories were? ha.) Creating a memorable Alpha Male has to be one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever embarked on! Oh, but to nail that perfect mix of arrogance and sexiness. That he’s the kind of man who literally takes what he wants (he’s always self made) and creates his own destiny … and then he picks you, er, the heroine, who has the same flaws we do. That this perfect man who normally spends his precious little free time with models and A-list actresses (who form lines around the block to be with him) and rarely gives anyone a second glance because not one woman has ever truly affected him … (that is until he meets you, er, the heroine) is incredibly seductive isn’t it? So, having said all that, I’ve submitted my sixth Alpha Male to them and in the next couple of weeks will find out if I’ve hit that perfect mix of arrogance and power. Wish me luck! And best of luck to anyone else trying to write the perfect Alpha Male, whatever your genre is. He’s complicated and close to impossible to get right, but I can’t imagine writing any other kind of man. Take care. And best of luck to everyone!

    Posted by Barb Han | May 26, 2010, 9:23 am
  13. I see alpha males as warriors who have the courage to follow their hearts — often in areas that don’t ooze machismo. Leaders in civil rights and peace movements, investigative reporters, lyricists…even comedians. Men who may not lift weights, but do lift spirits, reveal truths, drive action and create a better world.

    In real life, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, John Lennon, Woodward & Bernstein and George Carlin are just a few that come to mind. You can conjure up the best of all their traits in fiction.

    But passion for their missions may be the most difficult parts for the women who love them to endure, since they generally aren’t at the top of the list of their mate’s priorities. They have no choice other than to go along for the ride and support their mate’s vision. The good news is, their support can make them heroes, too.

    Posted by Barbara Maack | May 26, 2010, 9:45 am
  14. Oh, gosh, what a treat seeing all these WONDERFUL comments on alpha males! This is a great group; people are coming up with the kind of thoughtful insights and entertaining anecdotes that make me read twice.

    Carrie with her trick of always giving the alpha some goofy trait. Adrienne with her vivid alpha-male-vs-alpha-dog standoff (that’s darling!). Kim facing the challenge of keeping him “in context but likable.” Darlene spotting the value of alphas who take charge “temporarily.”

    Barb waiting for word on whether she’s mastered that perfect mix — ooh, I’ve got my fingers crossed! Barbara noting the powerful, enduring appeal of alphas in “areas that don’t ooze machismo.” And Thomas, who gets my vote for Best Question of the Day with a classic: “Have you ever blown air into a dead man’s lungs, after removing his dentures of course?”

    LOVING all of this!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | May 26, 2010, 10:29 am
  15. Hi Laurie!

    Do I know any alpha males in my life? Heck, yeah, I married one! And as to what he’s like? Hmm…that’s easy. He’s a leader, not a dictator. He’s the most honorable man I know. He has a set of values that I admire and respect. He has a good sense of humor (but mine’s better 😉 ) and before we had children I was his only soft spot. I’d never been anyone’s soft spot before, so that was the draw for me. He’s the man I’d want to be with if the plane I was on went down and I was stuck on a deserted Island – because I’d know everything would be okay…Well, that and we’d finally get some time free of daily distractions (other than the head hunting tribes stalking us, that is) to have some…*insert me getting my mind out of the surf here – sigh* – back to my answer. Hey, a girl can dream can’t she? 😀

    Okay, I think if you’re going to write an alpha male – you must start with the heroine as she’s the one who really defines his image to the reader. In my mind, she can’t be emotionally helpless – she may be rendered helpless because of her current situation, but the most consummate alpha male should be vulnerable to her – ALWAYS on some level. It balances the power between them.

    I write the alpha male and the one consistent thing I do is make sure that his core values are easy to understand to the reader. He will not go against them – even if it’s for a good cause – there is no compromising. Of course, that’s fiction – but I love an edgy guy who has always been in charge without question – until the heroine shows up in his life and he’s suddenly exasperated, irritated and totally charmed by her uniqueness.

    There is one thing that fascinates me about the alpha male discussion. It’s all about HIM. Although I realize, that as women (writing romance) we are trying to understand and get into a psyche that is far removed from ours – but what about from the heroine’s perspective? Can’t more be learned from exploring what the heroine needs from her man – to write a well-balanced alpha? I guess what I’ve learned writing my alpha – is that you have to view him through the heroine’s emotional glasses to get the rose colored image you want the reader to buy – otherwise? He could be construed as bossy, mean and unlikable.

    Murphy – who loves a tall, dark and strong guy who can be wrapped around the heroine’s capable little finger whenever she feels he needs to be roped in. 😀

    Posted by Murphy | May 26, 2010, 11:17 am
  16. Great blog, Laurie! I love writing Alpha males because I love writing the females that take them on. The road between my-way-or-the-highway and I-love-you-too-dang-much-to-lose-you-so-I’ve-gotta-change is SO much fun to write! CJ

    Posted by CJ Snyder | May 26, 2010, 11:30 am
  17. Do I know any Alpha males? Oh, yeah. Unfortunately for my husband, his two best friends are both Alphas and he spent most of his junior high/high school days playing diplomat. Anyway, my observation about real-life Alphas is that it never occurs to them that any other way exists to do things. This isn’t the kind of attitude you can affect with any kind of success and they don’t have to. They don’t consciously realize they’re dominating the conversation or making all the decisions, it’s just the way things are. Which is why I think they get so upset when someone calls them on it. It’d be like someone coming up to us and asking why we don’t let the kids make up the family budget. It’s ridiculous!

    Writing an Alpha male? You betcha and I love him to death. My biggest problem has been to not show him as an irredeemable jerk before he decides that the heroine isn’t his enemy. The way I do this, and I’ll admit I have the luxury of more word count to do it in, is to show him maturing. He’s only nineteen at the beginning and truly believes he’s one degree shy of God. Through her successes, the heroine spotlights the fact that he too has clay feet and he hates her for it. Time and experience teach him that, while he’s very good at what he does, he isn’t perfect. The biggest leap for him is the realization that considering the heroine his equal doesn’t demean his own position. In fact, it’s the realization that what he’s really been looking for in a woman is an equal, not a servant, that leads him to fall in love with her.

    I would like to throw in something here that the heroine learns between the second and third books in the trilogy. We hear a lot about men who need to be strong enough to let a woman be strong. What we don’t hear is that women also need to be strong enough to let men be strong too. In my heroine’s case that means picking her battles and allowing him chances to protect and care for her- even when she doesn’t need him to. ;>)

    Posted by Heather Jackson | May 26, 2010, 11:31 am
  18. Wow, more fascinating material coming in! And we’re moving toward the heroines, here, who absolutely ARE necessary for those captivating alphas to get star billing in a romance. (Notice I’m not saying “top billing” — just too graphic. :oops:)

    Just looking at some highlights, I love Murphy’s idea that readers need to see this guy through the heroine’s emotional glasses…and CJ’s appreciation of “the females that take them on”…and Heather’s observation of how they BOTH need to be strong enough to let the other be strong.

    Gorgeous, gorgeous stuff! (And, no, I’m not talking about the beefcake. )

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | May 26, 2010, 12:00 pm
  19. Hm, Laurie, you got me thinking. Ouch! 😉 For me, motivation in an Alpha, whether in real life or in fiction, is central. I love an Alpha with a marshmallow core. He’s got Alpha characteristics because he cares deeply about people and helping them or keeping them safe — firefigters, parmedics, soldiers, etc. He is strong, but he doesn’t abuse his power. Whereas men who pretend to be Alphas and are in it solely for the power trip are usually scared little boys inside, trying to compensate. Apologies to the fans of the uber-Alpha, power-hungry business tycoons — obviously those heroes don’t do it for me. 😀

    I also like what I call a reformed bad boy, who still has an Alpha edge, but will pick up the dry cleaning and cook dinner and be damn sexy doing it.

    That said, I tend write mostly Betas, but every once in a while an Alpha will slip in there. 😉

    Posted by Carrie Weaver | May 26, 2010, 12:14 pm
  20. Alright, my husband is a complete alpha. It often drives me nutso. I’m a strong, independent woman, darn it! He’s a cocky flirt and always pushes to get his way. He’s the last to admit he’s wrong. He’s strong, fierce and when he shows his vulnerable side, it melts all the ice my frustrations created.
    You’d think I’d have an easier time creating them but I don’t. I often visit the Art of Manliness blog and site to remind myself all the ways a man is manly.

    Posted by Amber Scott | May 26, 2010, 1:05 pm
  21. Laurie, I loved the line:

    “Yet he hasn’t changed his behavior. It’s only our interpretation of his behavior that’s changed.”

    To me, the most attractive alpha is the one who knows the difference. He can take charge and be the hero in go-to situations, but sit back and play the strong, silent and level-headed type when it’s warranted, too.

    I always think that writing alphas is so hard because on the one hand you want to get across the take-control action, look-danger-in-the-eye heroics, the in-charge high handed manner, and the life-on-the-line bravery and know that the really difficult and dangerous situations are in the most capable and well trained hands. It’s tough creating all that without also depicting this rough, reckless, bulldozing kind of personality, and the challenge is to root around in all that stuff and find the likable, redeemable quality worthy of a romance (and real-life, for that matter) hero.

    The real-life alpha I know is someone I consider a true hero. He’s one of the most fearless, courageous, accomplished people I know, but he’s also dangerous, reckless, and unpredictable. Given what he has seen and done, this makes sense to me – I don’t think anyone could confront those hellish situations and come out the other side as whole as when you went in. Those experiences are going to leave a mark. In admiring the alpha in him, I have to also be prepared to accept the dark side of what he’s seen and done and realize that he has a lot of ghosts and emotional scar tissue that he has to negotiate every day. Anyone who cares for him gets drawn into this darkness so it’s been my experience that caring for my real-life alpha action hero took me through a more intense and much different kind of emotional relationship.

    On the other hand (somewhat related to the topic of your post) I was in a relationship with a guy who didn’t (and wouldn’t!) take charge of any of the most basic and important stuff when the situation warranted it, and that SO did not work for me. Needless to say the lack of an alpha bone in his body made me realize how much I needed a partner with a stronger backbone in my life. That special someone doesn’t have to be a full-on alpha (preferably not!), but it would be nice to have a partner who at least feels protective in tough situations. The whole looking out for your woman thing seems heroic to me.

    Posted by Becca Wilder | May 26, 2010, 1:17 pm
  22. Hi,

    Another thought-provoking column.

    First question: Do you know any alphas in real life — and if so, what are they like? In general, police and firefighters are alpha. You know they are always telling people what to do and have to believe that people will follow through.

    Second question: Have you written any alpha heroes — and if so, what was the biggest challenge you faced? I want more alpha in my males, but finding the line between jerk and alpha is tough. I also want them funny and that’s a really fine line. Sometimes I try to channel Bruce Willis from the Die Hard series or even from Moonlight (definite alpha with humor).

    I read a Christopher Moore book that gave a good explanation as to why beta males are better. His theory was that back in the cave man days, alpha males were out fighting to get food and fighting other tribes, so they were regularly killed. While the beta males hung around the campsite and were able to impregnate all of the females whose alpha males were killed doing alpha male stuff 😆

    Posted by Heidi | May 26, 2010, 1:46 pm
    • Oops, we were posting at the same time…if I said “Dr. Heidi,” that would’ve fit nicely into the ABC’s to follow!

      Perfect example of Bruce Willis as an alpha with humor — and intriguing to think how many alpha males’ genes died out with the dinosaurs. Wouldn’t it be a fascinating study to see how many policemen & firemen have kids, compared to men in less alpha-like professions? Hmm…

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | May 26, 2010, 1:51 pm
  23. What a kick, getting the ABCs of creating fabulous alphas from Amber, Becca and Carrie! Working back through, take a look at these gems:

    men who pretend to be Alphas and are in it solely for the power trip are usually scared little boys inside

    when he shows his vulnerable side, it melts all the ice my frustrations created.

    Anyone who cares for him gets drawn into this darkness … root around in all that stuff and find the likable, redeemable quality

    Just skimming off the cream, here, but these are all FABULOUS insights!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | May 26, 2010, 1:48 pm
  24. Hi Laurie. I always enjoy your take on things!

    I always write alphas and love them in fiction. My husband is a nice blend of alpha and beta. After our twenty-plus years of marriage, he’s got it down pat! Guess that’s why I have no trouble writing alphas…I can look to my real-life inspiration.

    Enjoyed reading everyone else’s comments too. Shaking my head a lot in agreement!

    Posted by Misty Evans | May 26, 2010, 2:32 pm
    • Hi Laurie! Major snort on “How little is too little.” 😀

      It’s strange that I like the alpha guys in romance novels, but I have since I read my first romance by Judith McNaught years ago. I’ve found writing them is very tricky. For me, providing the alpha hero with a sense of humor is key. At the same time, the heroine needs to throw him off-balance. I think it’s fun when the heroine is smart and able to stand up to Lord Alpha. Everyone else may jump to do this powerful guy’s bidding – everyone but the intrepid heroine. And that’s what intrigues Lord Alpha, even if he doesn’t acknowledge it – yet.

      Posted by Vicky Dreiling | May 26, 2010, 3:08 pm
  25. Hey, Laurie!
    I like my alpha males with their edges shaved off, I have to say.

    The only males exhibiting alpha characteristics that I’ve encountered in real life are, ahem, assholes.

    That’s the hardest thing, to make someone forceful and strong, yet a good listener with true confidence, not just bravado or arrogance covering insecurity. When I read *those* alphas I melt all over my shoes.

    I’ve been studying the characters in my past books–up to 25 or so now–to see which ones seem strongest. I assumed most of my guys are betas, but really studying them I can see the ones who the most “yum” comments from readers and reviewers are alpha-ish, but with a softer side–a good listener, typically, or a big heart, or hyper attuned to the heroine, or a caretaker of those he loves.

    Very intriguing topic and you make alphas seem more palatable and buyable than ever!
    Dawn Atkins

    Posted by Dawn Atkins | May 26, 2010, 2:33 pm
  26. Most of my novels are written with what might be called alpha males because many of them are cops, firefighters, military, etc. You have to have an element of alpha in you to do these jobs. But I think every writer should learn how to balance that trait with a bit of beta side, depending on the conflict and the story you’re trying to write. 🙂 You don’t want to turn off your reader by creating a hero who is too overbearing. This isn’t to say he can’t have issues with being overbearing when it comes to the safety of the heroine, but he’ll need to learn to moderate that. In my last Heart of Justice SWAT novel that’s what happened to the hero. His past made him overprotective, and he had to learn where that line was so he didn’t appear too overbearing. 🙂

    Denise A. Agnew

    Posted by Denise A. Agnew | May 26, 2010, 2:50 pm
  27. This is such an interesting post, Laurie. It has really gotten me thinking about what kind of male characters do I enjoy reading? And, I think the bottom line for me is I want characters that are complex. In romance, that translates to: I want them strong, but with a soft side so that some of their sensitivity and vulnerability is showing. Even an alpha male has to have that somewhere deep down. I guess that’s the fine line you talk about. Thanks again, Laurie. I always enjoy your perspective and am a fan of your books!

    Posted by Nan McNamara | May 26, 2010, 2:55 pm
  28. Oh, boy, I’m right there with Misty in nodding as I read…people are coming up with such right-on-target points!

    Like combining alpha and beta traits for a yummy hero. And Vicky’s thought on what about the heroine appeals to Lord Alpha. And Nan’s on enjoying the complexity of an alpha whose tough exterior shields some inner vulnerability.

    All these concepts are ALL going into the June class, so thanks to everyone who’s adding still more depth to the lectures coming up. (And, drat, why isn’t there an icon with a graduation cap? Ooh, maybe this one is close: 💡 )

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | May 26, 2010, 3:47 pm
  29. Hilarious! I was laughing at some of the posted comments when honey, asks: “What’s so funny?”
    I give him the short cut version of the topic and my posted comment on the subject. He says: “Well, that’s good to know – desert island with just me after 25 years of marriage – I must be doing something right.” He starts to walk off when it occurs to him. “What if that Scottish guy was on the plane with us and made it to the island – what then?” (He’s referring to Gerard Butler. Conveniently, honey, can never remember the names of any of the guys I find physically attractive – sheesh!)
    I shrugged, “Well, I guess he’d have to start swimming for shore – because the island wouldn’t be big enough for the three of us.” *insert me praying I don’t have Pinocchio syndrome, or if I do, honey leaves before he sees the fast growing protrusion appear* 😛
    He nods and starts to walk off when that little devil – you know the one I’m talking about – the bright red one with the horns and prodding trident – jabs me in the arm and says – For cripes sakes, come on, mess with him a little
    And, my bad, I do – when I call. “You know, if there had to be three of us on that island it would have to be me, you and Salma Hayek..” (I ALWAYS remember the names of the women he finds attractive)
    He stops, turns and shakes his head. “God, you’re awesome!”

    And, yep, I am. Awesomely sneaky, that is, because I failed to mention the fact – that it would only be a poster of that woman. *insert devil rolling off my shoulder laughing his ass off, here* but really, who can blame me? Geez, I think it’s a magnanimous gesture just allowing the poster at all, don’t you? She’d always look perfect when he gazed at her – while me? Not so much…er, not at all…I’m thinking one day on the island, and the visual of me would be, brillo-pad hairdo and torn outfit that shows off everyone of my less-than-perfect attributes – ones that I’ve been trying to hide from him for over two decades! 😉

    Murphy – who thinks the bottom line here is – the alpha male can be intimidating sometimes, but he’s really fun to mess with ALL of the time..and that, um, would be both, figuratively and literally. 😀

    Posted by Murphy | May 26, 2010, 4:03 pm
  30. Laurie, since Lisa sent your well-constructed thought-starter this morning, I have been weighing whether I should even TRY to get in this exchange. Trying to ‘keep up’ with your witty and wise contributors is not a job for most guys……..certainly one which I am nervous about trying. (You know that I am not a “he-said, she-said” person…that I have trouble keeping up with the conversational flow the three women of this house are so naturally suited to creating and sustaining.) But in the course of reading all the comments, it occurred to me that no one observed that the Alpha Male might be illuminated more fully by reporting some responses to his Alpha-ness on the part of OTHER males. Certainly that would be tangential to the goal of making the central male and female figures life-sized and very involved with each other. But it might be a way of showing how great the guy really is. Even to those who would be his PRIMARY competition — other males — he could be seen as a competent leader and a respected guide.

    Posted by Larry Schnebly | May 26, 2010, 4:34 pm
    • Oh, Larry –

      I think you have a heck of a point! And perhap’s that’s where the phrase “a man’s man” comes to light.

      In series books, it’s always interesting to me how the author balances the hero’s alphaness while introducing his friends (who will be heroes in future books). Fine balance, because if the author makes the friend appear beta in the first book, it’s hard to transform him to alpha in the reader’s mind because s/he already knows this character in another light.

      And to Laurie – I think we have to follow this lecture up with something on alpha females!

      Posted by Kelsey Browning | May 26, 2010, 5:01 pm
  31. This is such a fun afternoon! I’m enjoying Murphy’s skill at working around (or with) the alpha dh…perfect description of what that little devil insists on.

    And it’s so cool to see my dad here 🙂 — thanks to my sister, who took the up-top photo of Pete & me and sent this page to the whole family. Pretty rare thing, getting a male perspective on alphas, and I like Kelsey’s take on why people talk about a man’s man.

    Alpha females some other time…wow, sounds intriguing!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | May 26, 2010, 5:35 pm
  32. Hi Laurie!

    I’m late to the party. I love alpha males in books, not so much in real life. I used to work in a male dominated industry awash in a sea of testosterone and not in a good way. I have lots of soldier and Marine contacts in the Middle East right now. They’re definitely alpha! But they’re also prone to heartbreak (when they get the Dear John letter-which happens more than anyone would think) and while they’re able to adapt to living in the harshest of conditions (and damn proud of it!), they can be like little kids when they fight over the squirt guns, yo-yo’s and cookies I send in their care packages. I never would’ve thought a tough Marine would get all misty-eyed over a package of marshmallow Peeps, chocolate bunnies, and a wind-up chicken!

    My husband switches to alpha-mode when he’s barbecuing or making gravy and for reasons unknown, when he’s in the car and I’m imploring him to stop and ask for directions. :mrgreen:

    When I write alpha males, they can be tough as nails, pin the heroine with the stink eye or own the thousand mile stare, but they’ve all got an Achille’s heel…whether it be a wind-up chicken, the color pink, or possibly the feisty heroine who annoys the hell out of them.
    Enjoyed reading everyone’s post!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 26, 2010, 6:33 pm
  33. Laurie and everyone–

    Thanks for hanging out at RU today. What a great conversation.

    Here’s to all the men in our lives who “go Alpha” when it counts!


    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | May 26, 2010, 8:40 pm
  34. Laurie,

    I think that Larry has a great point and that showing some interaction between males would be a useful tool to indicate that the Alpha is not always a complete jerk (before he is reformed). It would be a great opportunity to even show compassion on his part, that he does think of something else other than his greatness.

    My father was either an Alpha male, or the one pretending who had a boy inside. Don’t know. But he seriously was like King Henry the 8th – he was just absolutely right and that was that. And there just wasn’t any room for any other options. Too bad.

    I have written an Alpha as you know. He was a cowboy and it was hard to balance his jerkiness with his humanness. What was funny, was that one editor said that the herione seemed like a bitch, but there were no comments on what a jerk the hero was! LOL! And really, she wasn’t being a bitch, she was being assertive and strong.

    Great blog, Laurie! Thanks!

    Posted by charlotte raby | May 26, 2010, 8:58 pm
  35. Oh, gosh, people just keep coming up with great stuff! I love Jennifer’s description of the Marines getting misty-eyed over marshmallow peeps (lucky for them somebody knows to SEND such things)…and Tracey’s perfect-balance phrase about men who “go alpha” when it counts…and Charlotte’s observation about men getting away with far more assertiveness than women.

    All wonderfully vivid, whether sad or sweet or realistic — which, come to think of it, is exactly what we want people to say about our books!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | May 26, 2010, 9:12 pm
  36. Hi Laurie.
    The alpha male question is a great one, but I have to admit, I immediately thought of alpha FEMALES I work and associate with. These are women with very strong personalities and concepts of how things should be done. They immediately take the lead on something whether it’s their place to do it or not.
    So, then, how does that translate to the alpha males? I have a boss who has delusional thoughts of being an alpha male, but his idea of that is micro managing. He exudes the aura of being omnicient while those who works around him realize that’s just a cover for insecurity.

    The ideal alpha male would know WHEN to step in and take charge without stomping all over others who ALSO know how to handle the situation and were “first on the scene”. If he’s first on the scene, he gets to be in charge, but if someone of equal skill and knowledge has reached that coveted pinnacle first then the ideal alpha male has to know how to stay in the shadow complement that person’s abilities or work equally with them toward the same goal. The true hero or alpha male doesn’t NEED to be the hero but is willing to accept the role out of necessity or a sense of responsibility.

    Alpha males who are, or are portrayed as, cocky turn me off immediately. I can’t tolerate arrogance. A guy who swaggers into a room, or a scene in a book, with an obvious high opinion of himself is going to get skimmed over by me. (That’s okay, because I’m sure he’d skim over me, as well because most likely I’d be a threat to his ego. haha!)

    I hope this rambling makes sense.

    Posted by Laurie Adams | May 26, 2010, 10:01 pm
  37. I hope it’s not too late to ask about the class mentioned in Laurie’s bio. Does it cover the same things covered here?

    If there is more, where can I get that information? Thank you.

    Posted by Elaine | May 26, 2010, 10:23 pm
  38. Late now, Laurie so I’ll probably have the briefest post, but I can sum up my alpha male experience in a few sentences.

    My daddy was one and then I married one. Poor dh is having health problems so he’s unable to do EVERYTHING, but he’s hanging in there amazingly well.
    So no matter how hard I try, my heros turn out to be mega alpha. Easy to spot my biggest problem…making them likeable. I am always looking for tricks in the story to get my alpha hero show his big, loving heart.

    Great stuff in the blog today. Thanks to all!


    Posted by Petrina Aubol | May 26, 2010, 10:29 pm
  39. Hi Laurie,

    I’m married to an Alpha Male. Although he’s calm and fairly quiet, he definitely has all situations under control. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him either. Many of my friends are intimidated just by his presence. And yes, I do get frustrated because he always thinks he’s right and has a better way of doing everything. Oh, but the PASSION always makes me forget my woes!

    Jennifer Bickerton

    Posted by Jennifer Bickerton | May 26, 2010, 10:50 pm
  40. Elaine..if you follow the link at the bottom of Laurie’s post, it will take you to her online class sign up….I can guarantee you’ll love any class you take from Laurie!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | May 26, 2010, 10:58 pm
  41. Alpha males – in my experience – aren’t alpha in ALL areas. And it’s those areas of vulnerability that endear us to them – and make us indispensable to them!

    Posted by Kris Tualla | May 27, 2010, 1:14 am
  42. Hi, all –

    I just wanted to pop back in this morning and thank Laurie and everyone else for a fantastic discussion today! For those of you who haven’t visited or commented before, please come by for more lectures. This is the type of dialogue we want to keep strong at RU.

    Thanks again, all!

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | May 27, 2010, 7:39 am
  43. What a kick, getting up this morning and finding still MORE thoughtful posts on here — I was telling a friend, Romance University bloggers are an exceptional group!

    Thanks to Laurie A for flagging the distinction between wanting and needing to be the leader…Elaine and Carrie for the class info Q&A (and, yep, the class DOES go beyond what we’ve done here)…Petrina and Jennifer for the perspective from being an alpha’s daughter / wife…and Kris and Kelsey for clocking in even after (I think) we officially closed up shop, because it’s always fun to see more action.

    I’ll check back later in case I missed anything, but — assuming I haven’t — here’s a huge THANK YOU to all of you who contributed. It’s gonna be such fun sharing these ideas (well, except for maybe a few of those on how to get around an alpha…gotta keep SOME secrets!) with my husband.

    Thanks, everybody!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | May 27, 2010, 10:31 am
  44. Hi Laurie,

    What can I add that hasn’t already been said? First of all, most doctors are alpha males, but some are betas faking alphas because they are expected, after all, to be alphas. And when I’m not hanging with docs, I’m usually hanging with ranchers who also tend to be alpha. The thing I can say, is, that I communicate well with them. In work relationships alphas really appreciate a woman who can say what needs to be said and cut to the heart of the matter, fight them when they’re wrong, thank them when they’re right and help them when they need it (without asking for help). They also vastly appreciate a woman who might catch them in a mistake or a faux paux and never, ever, let it be known. As far as being with them, I think the most endearing thing about them, is this; once you’ve won an alpha’s heart, (as a friend, coworker, lover and or wife) they will, once in a great while, go to great lengths to show you how special you are to them. Because this is so rare, it is incredibly touching.
    Susan Yarina-author-nurse-rancher
    PS. I really enjoyed other’s takes on the alpha male…

    Posted by Susan Yarina | May 27, 2010, 3:15 pm
    • Susan, what a lovely take on alpha doctors-ranchers from an author-nurse-rancher who’s seen the best of them! You’ve got me wanting to go find one of each and win him as a friend-coworker-lover-wif

      Oops, that last might be a bit awkward. Never mind!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | May 28, 2010, 2:48 am
  45. My older brother is kind of an alpha male – but then, with what he’s faced in life, he’s kind of had to be. As for writing them, I think the biggest challenge is making sure they don’t come off looking like jerks and making the reader wonder what the heroine sees in them. When they start to wonder about that, then you’ve kind of lost them.

    Posted by Margay | May 28, 2010, 9:19 am
  46. Margay, the idea of an alpha male who “has to be” is intriguing — because it leads to the question of whether alphas are Born or Made.

    If, for instance, your brother hadn’t gone the alpha route then we can assume things would’ve gotten pretty awful, but how much of a choice did he HAVE? Did he become alpha because of circumstances or because it was in his genetic coding?

    Fascinating food for thought…thank you!

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | May 28, 2010, 8:00 pm
  47. Elaine..if you follow the link at the bottom of Laurie’s post, it will take you to her online class sign up….I can guarantee you’ll love any class you take from Laurie!


    Posted by Emily | June 3, 2010, 12:38 pm

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