Make My Heroes Beta, Please

Alpha heroes abound throughout genre fiction, and nowhere more blatantly than in the romance genre and all its subcategories. If it's all the same to you, I'll take a beta hero any day, thanks. 
 
OK, that sounds a little snarky, but I'm kind of over the whole larger-than-life, my-way-or-the-highway, macho male role and the fragile (but spunky! or sweet! or nurturing!) female role interplay in fiction. (I'm using “role” here to mean the attributes generally assigned to the genders. I've read LGBT and poly romances where one main character or the other could easily be the “male” or “female,” as if that's the only way two or more people can have a relationship. Oh, please.) I like imperfect people, because I have something in common with them.

Image from Kittendales calendarI like men who can cry and be unapologetic about it, and women who can make quick, not-stupid decisions. I like men who think, who can cook, who doubt, who know nothing about cars, and who can touch another man in friendship without worrying that his buddies will think he's gay. I like women who lack the biological impulse for children, or who can clear a pool table after a single break, or who like math. I like characters with the imagination to see past their own pain. Over at SFR Brigade, Rachel Leigh Smith said, “My perfect hero is a man of compassion.” I agree, and I'll take it further: both main characters should have it, at least in some measure, or they're liable to be bitchy, selfish asshats who I don't want to spend 10 minutes with, let alone the few hours it takes me to read the book.
 
I prefer reading about balanced relationships, where each participant brings something besides hot sex and love to the partnership. I'm kind of annoyed with the male role having the exciting career/talent/quest that figures in the plot, and the female role having the throwaway career/talent/quest that's mentioned once or twice. (Personally, I have a hard time understanding how someone wants to be a stay-at-home partner who keeps house and raises children, but that's an admitted bias on my part, and I don't judge others who have a different life.) 
 
A paranormal romance I read recently had the alpha-male-shifter character start out thinking the woman's nursing career as disposable and her fighting skills as negligible, but by the end of the book, he came to realize neither were true and he'd have to change his attitudes if he wanted a long-term relationship with her. Other things about the book annoyed me (I'd have kicked the hero's ass, metaphorically speaking, a whole lot sooner than the heroine did, and the villains were mostly cardboard cutouts), but the relationship growth plot-line really worked. I'll forgive plot or pacing flaws when the people in the relationship have to negotiate a compromise for keeping everyone happy and able to make a contribution, and to find that balance. 
 
So, what do you think? Am I wishing I were that kitten on the guitar?

4 Comments


  1. You are correct about romance novels. One odd fact, they are very traditional in that every heroine wants to get married and have kids even though they are written as the cutting edge of modernism: Liberal political beliefs, eco friendly, animal lover, etc. I remember one book where the woman caught hell from the hero guide because she removed a rock from under her sleeping bag at night and did not replace it EXACTLY the next morning.
    If there was a Nuclear war and every human was killed, except for the protagonist and her favorite hunk, it would be a hapy ending. There are not that believable.


    1. Philip, I’m also bothered by the notion that the pinnacle of a “happily ever after” (HEA) in romance is marriage and offspring. I’m pleased when I run into stories where HEA is non-traditional. The most recent example I can think of is IN THE BLACK by Sheryl Nantus. The main characters each have obligations that mean they can’t marry, and children would be out of the question. I remember reading a historical romance where a woman was on the run from an abusive husband, after miscarrying something like four times, and after meeting her hero and learning that love doesn’t mean she has to be a broodmare or a punching bag, in the epilogue, the author has her married to the hero and giving birth to her sixth child with the him. Argh!


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