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?


  1. What the heck would a Zeta be? Great post.


  2. Hi, Harlie.
    A Zeta can be anything you want him to be--a custom model ;~)