A Feminist’s Guide to Alpha Heroes

If I was a heroine in a book, I’d be an alpha. I’m headstrong, loyal, and don’t mince words. Or, as my husband might describe me: I’m stubborn, blind to my friend’s faults, and don’t have a filter between my brain and my mouth. He would say this very lovingly.

My husband is also an alpha by nature. When the two of us have to work together on projects,  we both want to be in charge. As you can imagine, the only way to get anything done—and to stay married—is to compromise. In other words, we both have to mix a little beta in with our dominant natures and become gammas.

Romance is fantasy, a way to escape into another world. We don’t have to make the compromises necessary for the real world. We also don’t have to spend the rest of our lives with the hero—although sometimes we’d like too—only as long as it takes to finish the book. And in my books, I like the hero strong, take charge, and a little damaged. In other words, a dark alpha. I like my heroine to be spunky and independent and just the right girl to put the hero in his place. Both of them learn to be humble in order to fall in love. This is pretty much the formula I like to read and write, at least in the romance genre.

A non-romance reading friend thought it weird that my favorite genres are paranormal, fantasy, science fiction, and historical romance. I also like romantic suspense with any kind of uniformed hero: cop, military, fireman. To her these categories are not related in anyway, but actually they are. They all have strong alpha heroes.

QuoteMy friend also thinks it’s hypocritical of me to like alpha romance heroes when I call myself a feminist. Obviously, I don’t see why those two things have to be mutually exclusive. Liking strong men does not mean I think they should earn more money or have more power than I.  Nor do I believe they have the right to abuse women.

I can see why people who are not familiar with our genre thinks it teaches women to be submissive. That’s an unfortunate effect  from the 80s and 90s throwback  “bodice rippers.” Most of today’s romance books—whichever genre—have strong heroines who doesn’t wait around for a man to save them and then fall in love with him because of some misguided hero-worship. They save themselves while falling in love with a hero who match their strength.

I say “most of,” because there are still books out there where the women are a little too submissive for my taste. There’s a fine line between an alpha hero being strong and being a bully.

VikingShipThe key for me when writing a take charge male character is to make his love interest equally strong. It’s a struggle, especially in the sex scenes. Our own Jessa Slade pointed out a scene in my paranormal VALHALLA’S KING manuscript where the vibe was a little too “rapey.” The hero kept pursuing even though the heroine physically backed off. I solved the problem by changing the scene to the heroine internally talking herself out of starting an intimate relationship with the hero because of her emotional baggage, but her body not paying any attention to what the mind wanted. Instead of backing off physically, she matches the hero’s moves.

We also have to keep in mind what our readers bring to the table. A critique partner read the scene where my hero and heroine first meet in A FLASH OF FEAR. To her, the hero was the most arrogant asshole she’d ever met and the heroine falling in love with this cop was unthinkable and unbelievable. And she should know, because my CP happened to once be in a relationship with a uniformed a-hole of magnificent magnitude.

That scene was written in the heroine’s point of view. I changed it to be from the hero’s instead, to show how his past experience colored his current behavior, and I toned down his sarcasm a little. As she read the scene again, my CP fell for him as quickly as my heroine did.

DemonKingOne writer I really admire for doing the super alpha hero matched with an equally strong heroine is Kresley Cole. I adore her Immortals After Dark series and in A KISS OF A DEMON king she does something extraordinary. Sabine, the Queen of Illusions, trapped Rydstrom Woede, the Demon King, and tortured him. Once Rydstrom frees himself, he’s out for revenge. How can an author show her hero go from wanting to hurt the heroine to instead falling in love with her? Answer, by very skillfully creating multifaceted characters whose motivation is totally believable.

TemptTwilightYour heroine doesn’t have to be all spunk and spitfire to match the strength of an alpha hero. In TEMPT ME AT TWILIGHT, the third book in Lisa Kleypas’s  historical The Hathaway series, Poppy is the youngest and quietist sister of the Hathaway family. But she’s a heroine with a spine of steel and calm unwavering strength. She’s more than a match for alpha hero Harry Ruthledge, a hotelier with a larger-than-most emotional baggage.

I’d like to go back to the point that romance is an escape and it’s okay to write and like characters who are over the top even if you would pop them in the nose in real life. Rebecca Zanetti’s Dark Protectors series is filled with yummy alpha heroes and the women who put them in their place. She recently received the hilarious review below from RayKayBooks, which includes a skit and the awesome quote: “If I had a boyfriend like that, I’d dump his ass. But since it’s in a book, I think it’s kind of hot.” And that pretty much sums up this discussion. 🙂

Who’s your favorite hero or heroine and why?


About Asa Maria Bradley

2016 Double RITA finalist, romance author, news junkie, physics instructor, and diver. Loves Norse mythology, ranch dressing, and cop shows. Lives with husband and rescue dog of indeterminate breed in Pacific Northwest. Represented by Sarah E. Younger of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency. Writers about sexy modern-day Vikings. More at www.asamariabradley.com and @AsaMariaBradley.

Posted on June 19, 2014, in Auth: Asa Maria Bradley and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. This is great! I am definitely not the shrinking violet type myself. but it’s hard to walk that line between becoming a chick with a dick (or a dick with a chick attached) and the feminine most women relate to. Me? I go hiking for entertainment and eschew pink. But there’s still something to be said for a good Barbara Cartland bodice ripper!


    • Hi Eva, I think you bring up a really good point about reader expectations in genre fiction, especially romance. I don’t want my heroine TSTL (To Stupid To Live) but I also want to make sure she’s so emotionally cold readers can’t relate to her.


  2. Love this! I laughed out loud and scared the birds outside the window. You are such a fun amazing writer. ❤


  3. It’s a funny line we walk because on the one hand I truly believe our “fantasy” books matter in real life. We write so much about communication and compromise and commitment, which I think helps make the world a better place. And yet, all my heroes have six-pack abs 🙂 which is a leeeeetle unrealistic. I guess I just want to have my cake and eat it too!


  4. I am all about listening to our bodies. Yet, it’s odd how sometimes we can tune out our own characters because, as authors, we have some sort of agenda for them. This is where pantsters have advantage over plotters (like me).


    • I do sometimes feel like I’m this deity moving chess pieces around in my own universe. Luckily my characters often balk at what I want them to do if it’s against their nature. Not sure what that says about my sanity, but it makes my books better. 🙂


  1. Pingback: Jumble Spoiler – 07/02/14 | Unclerave's Wordy Weblog

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