Writing An Alpha Male

Alrighty, so this is a late post, I know but I’ve been deep in deadline hell and haven’t had time to breathe let alone post.


Jill asked me a couple of weeks ago about writing alpha males and since I love alphas, I thought I’d just whack my thoughts down and stick em up in a post.

So. The glorious alpha. Loathed and loved in equal measure. How does one write such a fabulous beast?

First up, think on this:  if you want to write a decent alpha male you have to find them sexy.

I know that seems self-evident but if you’re only writing an alpha because that’s what the publisher you’re targeting wants then stop. If you don’t find your hero sexy then no one else will either.

I write alphas because I find alphas sexy. I don’t think I could write a beta hero convincingly because I’d be forever trying to make him more alpha. If you find you keep trying to make your alpha more beta, don’t fight it. Write a gorgeous, funny, sexy beta and you’ll sell your book.

However, if alphas are your bag, then by all means, keep reading.

Right, so, alphas get a lot flak for being controlling douchebags and a-holes. In fact, a well written alpha MIGHT be both a douchebag and an a-hole but they will also be redeemable douchebags and a-holes. Because at the heart of an alpha hero – hell, of EVERY hero – is the fact that he’s a good man. Remember that. He might cover up his goodness with a layer of assholishness and douchebaggery (thanks Maisey Yates for the word), but underneath it, he’s essentially a good guy with a huge capacity for love.

Photo 21-11-13 8 32 03 pm
A handy diagram. Some people believe in the lower diagram. Some believe in the upper diagram. Guess which one I am?

For me, the key to writing a good alpha hero is character. An alpha hero is a man (obvs). And not just a man but a person. What I mean by that is that his alpha-ness is not the whole extent of his personality. He will have personality traits, a history, opinions, likes and dislikes. In other words he’s not a cardboard cutout with the words ALPHA stamped across him in large friendly letters. This is where alphas get a bad rap in my opinion. When writers create a hero who acts like a dick purely because they’re alpha males and all alpha males act like dicks.

An alpha hero MAY act like a dick but what stops him from being cardboard cutout is motivation. Giving the heroine a punishing kiss because that’s what an alpha male does, does not equal motivation. That equals a lack of understanding about character by the writer. Giving the heroine a punishing kiss because she’s talking and making him feel things he doesn’t want to feel and he can’t think of a good way to make her stop is motivation. Sure, he’s still a dick but then men are dicks sometimes.

So first in your list of things to remember when creating your alpha hero is to make them a person, not a cliché. They have the same fears and needs as everyone else. And that makes writing a post about how to write them difficult because one size does not fit all. The way your alpha hero works will be different from mine because they’re different people, with different backgrounds and histories. However, here are some core things about most alpha males that can help:

  1. Alphas are leaders. Protectors. They’re the ones who will take charge of a situation.  They are decisive and take action (see above punishing kiss). Sometimes they will be a dick about it but they are always trying to do what they see as the right thing.
  2. They won’t be shy about sharing their opinion even if this disagrees with other people’s. And they don’t avoid conflict when they feel passionately about something. However, remember that at heart they’re good guys. They will also be good listeners (and if they’re not, they will know and feel bad about it. At some point).
  3. They won’t want to talk about their feelings. They just brush that sh*t off.
  4. If something is wrong, their instinct will be to find out what the problem is and fix it. Especially if it’s to do with the heroine. They might go about it the wrong way but they will be coming from the standpoint of wanting to help her. Even if she doesn’t want them to.
  5. They will never physically harm the heroine in any way (unless she specifically asks him to) nor will they be needlessly cruel.

My heroes tend to be very strong alphas but that’s the way I like them. I also tend to forgive a hero many things if they’re well motivated.

I guess that’s the key really – you have to write the hero you like. Not everyone will like him like you do but there will always be people who will.

If you’ve got any questions about this or any other points you want to add or want me to go deeper into, leave me a comment. 🙂

Happy alpha-ing!


9 thoughts on “Writing An Alpha Male”

  1. Jackie,

    Thanks for answering my question! It’s definitely something I mull over and think over a lot. As a reader, sometimes alphas work for me and sometimes they don’t. It’s like you said, a lot of it depends on understanding their motivation and not coming off as a cliche. There are certain writers I trust to “get it right.” 🙂 Other times I like a nice beta hero.
    So as a writer, I feel like I’m kind of on the fence. Maybe I just have focus on creating my characters and not worrying too much, but I’ve definitely gotten editorial feedback that there wasn’t enough push pull of emotional conflict in my story and my hero “wasn’t alpha enough” so it’s something I think about. Having an alpha male does kind of bring in automatic conflict!

    1. I think it really boils down to the character and whether the writer manages to get it across, Jill. And I think you’re absolutely right. Sometimes we focus too much on the ‘alpha’ ‘beta’ traits and forget there’s a person behind those. So just write what you want to write.

      But if there’s not enough push/pull it’s probably because your characters are being too nice to each other. Does the hero let the heroine off too easily? Or does the heroine not call the hero on his bullshit enough? I find if the hero is being too understanding, you have to ask yourself whether he’d REALLY be that way or is it YOU wanting him to be nice. If the heroine walks off in a huff, does he follow and demand to be told what’s wrong? Or does he let her go knowing she has her own stuff to deal with? An alpha would follow and demand answers. And I think a beta let’s the heroine work it out for herself (I imagine). I mean, I don’t know but usually if there isn’t enough push/pull it’s because the characters aren’t confronting each other enough.

      1. Thanks for this, Jackie! My characters are definitely too nice too each other. I also think men in general are just harder for me to write, but I have two little boys so maybe that will come easier with time 🙂
        I’m working on it, but it’s still a bit of a slog. Thanks for the specific example of a conversation. That really helps.

        1. I think a lot of my insight has come from both paying attention to how other authors do it and from listening to the rhythyms of how men speak and what words they use. It certainly helps anyway.
          As for characters being too nice – get out the torture devices. Hehe. 🙂

  2. Finally able to read this. Fantastic! Thanks for the great tips. I adore alphas, and seeing them brought down a notch or two by the heroine. But at their heart I love that they are the true good guy and in the end, a hero in all senses of the word.

    1. THanks Kali! And yeah, I’m with you. In fact, the badder the bad boy, the more I love it because then he’s REALLY brought low by the heroine. In fact, she helps him find the good guy that’s really in there and I particularly love that dynamic.

  3. My problem with alpha males in romances ( as a reader) is that they are just never believable. Especially when the writer and comes out and tells you the guy is supposed to be am alpha. The two men I currently think of first when I try to picture an alpha male are Bill Clinton, and Vladimir Putin. Surely they are try alpha males? I can’;t see them EVER giving anyone a punishing kiss. They are usually very able to turn their feelings off and compartmentalize, and NO amount of talking from a heroine will make them flustered. In fact, i don’t think they would associate with someone that purposefully makes them flustered. I think most alpha males would be more likely to pass up such a complex mate and choose one they could depend on to back their every play.

  4. So my question; How can you make them believable? Surely men of that sort fall in love even in real life? But I can never get past the idea that strong Alphas simply wouldn’t put up with much disrespect or ever forgive it. Whenever I ask myself “what would the real life alphas I know about do?” My answer is usually ” either you are with me, or you are against me” sort of sorting…

  5. Good question, Martine. I think of ‘alpha’ as trait, not as a whole personality. They’re men like all other men, if only more idealized in a romance novel. I think quite a few alpha heroes in romance books come across as two dimensional and that’s the problem with the writer rather than alpha heroes as a whole. Anyway, the thing that characterizes them most is confidence. In themselves and their decisions. And as such, maybe not much flusters them. And I think that’s why heroines who fluster them actually work because that makes the heroine different.

    As to believable, I think they’re very believable if done right. And by right, I mean they come across as a person and not a two dimensional ‘alpha male’. And I think some alphas do think you’re either with me or against me, But more often they’ll be ‘ you can be either with me or against me, but fundamentally I don’t care. I’m going to go ahead and do what I want anyway’. 🙂

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