My short take on the various categories of hero found in romance novels was published in the July 2014 edition of Keynotes, the monthly publication put out by the New York City Chapter of Romance Writers of America.
So I thought I'd include it here after a long dry spell of not blogging. Anyway, here goes:
In the well-known pantheon of Greek letters, the Alpha hero has usually been the type favored by romance writers. You know the kind of guy I mean. He’s big, brawny, in-your-face fierce, brave, resourceful, successful, emotionally distant and, yeah, he always gets the girl. In short, he’s the acknowledged leader of the pack in every way.
Back in the day, his type was the hero of choice, the one almost every romance writer used. The touchstone, so to speak, of all things heroic and desirable in a male. Think some early Alphas. Kathleen Woodiwiss’s Wulfgar in “The Wolf and the Dove” or Rosemary Rogers’s Steve Morgan in “Sweet Savage Love.”
Then somewhere along the line, some writers and readers began to want something a little gentler and more flexible. And, voilà, Mr. Beta was born. So the guy usually dubbed “best friend of the hero” started to emerge from Alpha Man’s shadow.
But, hey, could Beta Boy really carry the heavy weight of a romance novel on his nice-guy shoulders? Or would he be so dang accommodating that he failed to generate any heat in either the heroine or the reader?
Maybe most folks didn’t want a hero who was hard as nails, but they also didn’t fancy one who constantly assumed the role of human doormat.
Goldilocks certainly didn’t crave either of those extremes. When she invaded the home of the three bears, she chose the comfy bed, the one that didn’t either dislocate her vertebrae with its rigidity or smother her in its deep folds. And no way would she abide porridge that either burned her mouth or turned it into an icicle. She wanted something vaguely approaching the golden mean.
In some sense that’s what happened to our Alpha and Beta heroes: a sneaky semi-merging of the two, with some of us slightly emphasizing one and some the other. It means that those traditionally fierce Alphas now willingly demonstrate their gentle side, while more laidback types (like Harry Braxton in Connie Brockway’s “As You Desire” or Carter Maguire in Nora Roberts’ “Vision in White”) always become take-no-prisoner protectors when the situation demands it.
So in this new incarnation exactly what do you call the hero? Alpha-Beta or Beta-Alpha depending on which type you emphasize? Or does the man deserve a completely different designation.
Well, it seems that romance writers, usually being well ahead of the curve, have already coined a special word to describe the guy. This modern male mashup is now referred to as—ta-da!—what else but Gamma.
So take your place in the spotlight, Gamma Guy—in my humble opinion almost the perfect type of hero. A little more like real men than the usual models because their personalities contain some of everything that would make them good hero material (strength, resourcefulness, intelligence, tenderness and humor), but not too much of anything that would make them either too boring or too abrasive for the heroine to love and keep around long after the author writes “The End.”