The term alpha male is ubiquitous in the romance genre. We’ve read about alphas and their six-pack abs and thousand mile stares, but these traits are just window dressing without in-depth character development. Today, Rie Warren tells us how to create a believable alpha male.
Welcome back, Rie!
The Making of a Believable Alpha Male
Ten steps to writing a hot sexy alpha male, not an a$$hole. Alpha males are my specialty, my bread and hubba bubba butter, and they’re definitely a breed apart.
Some of the main complaints from readers and editors about alpha males are they come across as rude, crude, un-relatable, and unredeemable. How are we going to solve those issues while creating a strong male character? Keep reading to find out.
1. It all starts with personality and voice. Your alpha male isn’t going to sit around navel gazing. Hell, no. He’s not going to question his course of action. He’s going to take. The alpha male will be decisive, firm but fair, and sometimes cutthroat.
In terms of his actual voice, he’ll be gruff, gritty, and a little rough around the edges. How far you want to take that is up to you, but the chances are he won’t be spouting poetry or listening to Beethoven. Dirty talking is a bonus, but it must be tempered with moments of tenderness shown for his woman.
2. The alpha male in a romance novel ultimately needs to be marriage material, not a man-whore. Readers like their strong men to respect the women in their lives. You can start showing that early on with how your hero treats his colleagues, female friends, and family.
In the first book of my Carolina Bad Boys—Stone, At Your Service—Josh Stone has sworn off getting seriously involved with women after his wife left him and their young son. He has a series of meaningless flings that end at the very beginning of the story, which could have caused my readers to think badly of him. How did I grab reader empathy? By showing in the first chapter he’s a good, loving father with strong family values.
By the end of the book of course he realized he wanted that one thing he’d been dead set against: Commitment and marriage with his one true love. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves because that’s step #10.
3. Which begs the question: How do you build reader empathy?
This is a fun challenge (yes, I am slightly masochistic). There are actually a number of ways to give your macho tough guy a heart of gold readers will keep rooting for.
Did he experience a family tragedy? Something that made him rise to the challenge and persevere? Does he do volunteer work on the side none of his friends know about because he wants to maintain his bad boy image? Something as small as your studly alpha male rescuing a dog or cat and taking it home . . . Perhaps he helps a friend in need get back on his feet. All those little touches warm the reader’s heart.
4. Another big crowd pleaser, and to me this is a huge cornerstone to every sexy alpha male. He will do anything for the people in his life. Including, in the case of my Josh Stone, pretending to be his best buddy’s gay lover during a romance writing convention. Oh, yeah.
He’ll also get physical to protect those closest to him when push comes to shove. He may be a bit of a hot head, but when it’s crisis time he remains calm, cool and able to see the situation through to the end.
At his core he is a good, kind, strong man.
5. Now we’re getting to the nitty-gritty. How about the alpha male’s appearance, name, profession? Let’s face it. This dude isn’t going to wear seersucker suits and go by the name of Biff. Right? He’s a badass! He’s sexy without trying, and frankly he doesn’t really care one way or the other. It’s just how he is. He’ll have a strong name and strong features to go with his persona.
Profession is a fun one to discuss. Personally I think you can go in any direction with this, and your character will guide you to the right answer. I did have a hard time coming up with Josh Stone’s career until I took my mommy-van into the local auto garage with a flat tire. Inspiration struck, and that’s how my sexy mechanic was born! His best buddy on the other hand—Nicky Love from Carolina Bad Boys Book #2—is a male romance writer in a world dominated by women. And guess what? He isn’t any less alpha for it.
6. Idiosyncrasies and the use of vulnerability are character points to play with. And by that I mean adding traits that make readers go all gooey inside and weak in the knees.
For instance, I’ve written a big, buff, wrong-side-of-the-tracks boxer (he’s my and my agent’s secret 2015 weapon). He’s a fighting machine in the ring, but he wears sexy glasses to read and is hooked on fantasy novels. The alpha male x closet geek = UBER HOT!
Your alpha guy must have at least one hidden weakness, and it’s that vulnerability which—when revealed—could be the romantic turning point in the book. Maybe it leads to a black moment. Maybe it spurs the HEA. There are so many possibilities to consider, and that’s what makes writing a bad boy so exciting.
7. Bring on the sex! Oh yes, oh yes. It’s going to be a little raunchy. A lot dirty. He might be dominant, but he’ll let his lady take him for a ride, too. Panties optional action, but also add in some tender moments of intimacy. It’s up to you how explicit you want to make it.
8. In the case of the alpha male it really is true: Actions speak louder than words. This gives you a great opportunity to employ show versus tell. Is he going to woo his woman with diamonds and furs? Probably not. Is he going to do something special for his lady no one else would think to do? Something that means absolutely everything to her? Bingo. These intimate gestures should be dropped in throughout the story as they prove your hero is paying close attention to the woman he’s falling in love with.
What woman—or reader—doesn’t want a man like that?
9. THIS IS IT. If your hero can win his leading lady’s heart through believable character and plot-driven actions, he will win over your readers too. All the groundwork you’ve laid above should get you to this point.
There’s only one thing left to nail down . . .
10. Final transformation. The love story must be complete. Your hardcore dude doesn’t change who he is at heart, but he completely opens himself up to love in a way he hasn’t before. Cue *le sighs* and swoons from your readers.
And now it’s question time. Name your favorite alpha male from a book, TV series, or the silver screen. Why did this particular character get under your skin?
Under His Guard (Forever Yours – February 2015)
In the year 2071, the war has reached a turning point for the rebel army, the Freelanders. As they battle the InterNations government, the Freelanders vow to fight to the last man—and there are fewer and fewer men . . .
Tough rebel soldier Darke has lost a lot in the war: his family . . . his friends . . . his lovers. His only respite from heartbreak and grief is the tender moments he spends with Leon, a brave warrior who has proven himself countless times on the battlefield. Fearful of getting hurt again, Darke tries to ignore their undeniable attraction . . .
When Leon is seized by the enemy and infected with a deadly virus, he becomes a walking time bomb set to wipe out the entire rebel population. With time running out for Leon and the Freelanders, Darke must face his feelings for Leon and race to find a cure.
For more alpha males with a twist from Rie Warren, have a look at her Don’t Tell series, a mix of M/M and M/F romance.
Bio: Badass, sassafras Rie Warren is the author of Sugar Daddy and the Don’t Tell series—a breakthrough trilogy that crosses traditional publishing boundaries beginning with In His Command.
She lives in gorgeous Charleston, South Carolina, with her small family where she basks in the sunshine during the day, and adjourns to her woman cave at night. A nocturnal creature, she stays up way too late talking to herself, her characters, and anyone who will listen. She’s all about writing with heat, heart, and a hint of the dark, and she doesn’t shy away from the impossible.
Rie’s work has been called “edgy”, “daring”, and “some of the sexiest smut around”.
- AMM: Why We Love (and Resent) Alpha Males
- Beta Males: Hidden Gems?
- Writing the Alpha Male
- Bad Boys: What’cha Gonna Do?
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for May 24-28: Scott Eagan, Laurie Schnebly Campbell & C.J. Redwine