Sunday, September 30, 2012

Men and the Greek Alphabet

If you read much romance of any sort, you’re likely acquainted with heroes. If you read M/M romance, you get twice the fun—an excellent reason to check out the genre, and one of the things that attracts readers.
Among the heroes, we’ve got three basic types: alpha, beta, and omega. Let’s start at the beginning and work through.

“A” is for alpha.
Okay…so what is an alpha male? He’s the take-charge guy, doesn’t show weakness; he’s successful at what he does. He’s likely to choose a “manly” career, such as law enforcement, physician, or attorney. He’s tough, and like the Energizer Bunny, keeps going, and going, and going no matter how much adversity gets in his way.

These days, alphas may have a couple of flaws—makes them more likeable and relatable for the reader. Maybe he has a soft spot for animals; maybe he brings his significant other breakfast in bed.

Pairing two alphas tends to result in terrific opportunities for delicious conflict. They both want to take charge, they’re stoic to a fault, and driven to succeed. They may work in the same field: two cops, for example, or my personal favorite, a doctor and a cop.

“B” is for beta.
This guy is more laid-back, in touch with his feelings, doesn’t feel the overwhelming need to be “macho.” Women like them—they make great friends. The beta has flaws, and we love him more for them.

I haven’t seen a pairing of two betas—not that it can’t be done, or hasn’t been done. The two guys might be too nice to each other to get a lot of sparks flying.

“O” is for omega.
Think of the definition of an alpha, and turn it on its head. The omega doesn’t take charge—he’s a follower, not a leader. He shows obvious weakness—physical or emotional or both. He may be too weak to propel his own career, and been seen as not successful. The omega lets his partner make the decisions, does what that guy wants; he might cry easily. Some say this character is a woman written as a man, but I disagree. A lot of heroines have more gumption than an omega hero.

I can’t see squeezing a story of any sort out of two omegas.

Alphabet Soup

Okay, we’ve looked at the alpha-alpha, beta-beta, and omega-omega possibilities. Now stir the pot.

Alpha and Beta—probably the most common set-up in M/M romance. One guy is more aggressive or powerful—an alpha trait. He might shake off weakness or deny there’s a problem. He’s a driven-to-succeed-full-steam-ahead kind of guy. His beta partner can be the initiator and make suggestions, and may be more likely to own up to a problem, like an injury or illness past or present. Often the beta is successful in his career and personal life and meshes with the alpha. He may allow the alpha to express a flaw, such as fear of commitment or an old hurt.

Alpha and Omega—this is mixing nitro with water. Think of the bodice-rippers of old, before the advent of the spunky heroine. The aggressive male, the weak-willed female. In this setting, our alpha is the little woman. The alpha will be in charge, call all the shots, and generally overwhelm his omega partner; he’ll also be protective. These stories may not be as satisfying unless the omega has a hidden strength and the alpha has a meaningful flaw.

Beta and Omega—the relaxed, sensitive beta will encourage the omega, praise his efforts, and try to please him. The beta partner will be in charge, more likely to make decisions. The beta may be the sympathetic friend the omega turns to after breaking up with an alpha. This pairing can lack the sort of fireworks that a story thrives on, as the omega’s passive pattern leaves little room for conflict.

No matter what you choose, in the end you’re working with characters. Create the character, and then decide what sort of a guy he is—don’t take an alpha template and fill it out or you’ll get a cardboard character that is flat and just about as tasty. Populate your story with three-dimensional people that intrigue readers.

Who knows? You might come up with more heroes than alpha, beta, and omega.
Zeta, anyone?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Writing Real Men

Want to know the inside scoop?
I'm at AKA Sarah Madison today, with an original article on how
to do just that.

I also have a contest going--one commenter on that post at AKA's will win an e-copy
of Going For Gold, the new Olympic anthology from MLR Press. Don't forget to leave a contact email for the contest.
Here's the link for your conveniece:
Writing Real Men


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Doctors as characters versus real people, or how to write a likeable doctor

Happy Sunday.

Here’s a snippet of a recent conversation with a friend:
“I’m writing a novel, and my hero is a doctor. I work in the accounting field, and know nothing about doctors or medicine. What’s the best way to find out what a doctor does?”
(upslanted eyebrows and pleading look at this point from friend).

Ever think about character careers? What's high powered? What's wimpy? What draws you to a book? Does the word “doctor” in the title get your engine revving?
Working in the medical field, I have to say medical personnel are sexy. What they do is sexy, and if they look good doing it, so much the better.
But what is it about doctors that we like? What’s true, and what’s not on the page?

“They have interesting jobs,” you say.

True, but not everything is glamour. A lot of it is drudgery, especially in the middle of the night. In a book, ever see a bleary-eyed doctor drag in at 2 a.m., cow lick sticking up and shirt buttoned crooked? Not likely. Our hero charges in gallantly in time to save the patient. He’s kind, witty, and doesn’t make snide comments to the staff. After all, we want the reader to like Dr. Tall dark and handsome, right?

“Okay,” you say, “but the doctor has that saving lives thing going on.”

True. But in between is a lot of day-to-day paperwork and rounds to see grumpy patients. Some doctors—like pathologists—don’t see live patients, but can make excellent characters. Even Emergency Department doctors don’t see a lot of life-saving action. Mostly it’s like a giant walk-in clinic interspersed with the occasional car accident, stabbing, or cardiac arrest.

What if you want to write a character and know nothing about his/her particular career?

If you can’t write what you know, one word: research.

Now I know some of you have broken out in a cold sweat, the likes of which are only exceeded by the word "synopsis." I’m not proposing you check out a hundred pounds of medical books from the public library. Most of your book will likely not require medical scenarios—doctors have personal lives too.

For the occasional vignette or life-saving scene, consult with a professional, someone who's had a front-row seat to see doctors in action. I can't emphasize this enough. There are sites available to do this, or maybe you know someone in the medical field who can answer your specific questions. It will save you time, give a more authentic flavor to your story, and have the reader turning the pages instead of saying “That could never happen!”

So to my friend with the pleading expression, I smiled and replied, “What would you like to know?”

Want to read about hot doctors in action? Check out the Meredith Medical Center serial in Everything Erotic.
LINK: Everything Erotic

Saturday, September 8, 2012


I'm reading a new book, out from an author who has a couple of dozen books out. It's M/M. It's a mystery/suspense. It's a romance. has sex. Of course, because sex sells, right? Mmm...maybe. This particular author has intimate scenes in these books. But the interesting thing is, this doesn't represent a huge part of the text. The majority of the words are dedicated to getting to know the main characters, the plot development (including the subplots), and conflict. There is sex. Just not all the time. A couple of times--that's it. It is written in an explicit format, but contains so much of what the characters are feeling (other than lust), how the character feels about what is happening, that the reader can't help but be drawn in. It's an extension of characterization, and quite masterful. I didn't miss having a large number of sex scenes--I was caught up in the characters, so much so that I didn't want the book to end. Masterful. I've read this author's early stuff, the most recent stuff, and everything in between. I have to say, each book is widely anticipated--but not because of the sex. The take-away here is keep in mind the characters and the plot. Make sex part of characterization, not just a sweaty explicit encounter. Your readers will love you for it, and anticipate your next release. Thoughts? Questions? Whitley Now out from MLR Press: GOING FOR GOLD