What do you think of when I say "alpha male?"
Because what I think is, "Gag me. This isn't 1945." Alright, alright--that's a little harsh. But I have this sensitivity toward the demeaning of women's God-given roles, particularly the beautiful strength of a nurturing heart, and this is something close to my heart.
But last weekend, my husband and I watched Thor. And let's just say I had a change of heart.
Helllloooooo, alpha male.
Could be that I have a weakness for Norwegians, but really, I think it's more than that. I'm watching this movie that I expected to only-kind-of like, and falling in love with Thor's character. If you haven't seen it yet, it's at Redbox now. Go watch it and consider it homework.
So I'm sitting there, thinking to myself, what is it about this guy that I like so much? Why is his arrogance not bothering me at all? And how can I write characters who readers will love so much? Here are a few things I came up with. Please keep in mind that these are generalizations that will not apply to every character, every situation, or every reader. They're just helpful guidelines.
1) Women like a man who can take care of them. But they also want to have their own hero moment. That's why so many alpha male characters are strong, witty, or otherwise very gifted at something. A dashing physique is always a win, but think about characters like old-school Rick Castle (early episodes)--they show competence through intellect. Another character who comes to mind is McGarrett from the new Hawaii Five O. Who doesn't want a guy like that around? Be sure the heroine gets her own moment in the spotlight, too. We like a woman who's brave. She might not be fighting off dragons, but maybe she's got to make a tough choice by sacrificing something important to her. It helps if she's choosing the protection the hero is offering rather than having it dumped upon her. (Having a persistent hero wooing the heroine also works well because you're showing not only the hero's confidence, but also the heroine's own spunk.)
2) Women like a man with confidence. Sometimes this will include arrogance for an alpha male character, but you have to be careful that doesn't go too far. A little pride is charming so long as it's channelled in the right place. Think of Mr. Darcy. That's part of the reason we all love him. But if the arrogance is causing your hero to be demeaning toward your heroine, that's going to become a problem.
3) Women like a man who's suave. Think Cary Grant. The guy from Footloose. We like a man who knows how to compliment us. Awkward flirting might be cute in real life, but it's not cute in novels. At least, not more than once or twice. At heart, your hero's got to find his charm. Readers want to imagine themselves with this guy.
4) Women like a good leader. I honestly think this stems back to an innate desire for the marriage relationship to parallel the relationship with Christ and the church. So if you're thinking about how you can go about making your hero a good leader, look to God. Keep in mind your hero won't be perfect, though... he needs flaws. But he should have the capability of handling situations well. Once again, be careful you don't make your heroine look stupid in the process. You want these qualities of the hero to compliment the heroine, rather than stomping her down.
5) Women like a man who's romantic and sensitive under it all. The best alpha males are the ones who have a sensitive side, because we as women really like to see a tough, bad boy male character open up. It's a challenge to us. So first create the hard shell, and then show why it's there... what's the soft spot? The contrast this will have with the typical alpha male characteristics will help with sparks-fly romance.
Photos from http://moviecarpet.com/2011/01/11/french-thor-poster/, http://www.soundonsight.org/score-at-the-half-–%C2%A0hollywood%C2%A0-zero-audience-even-less/thor-movie-500x333/