Beasts, Alphas, Doms, and the BDSM Line

First, I’d like to thank my anonymous reviewer for their compliment, in saying that my story was well-written. But second, I would like to address some concerns that this reviewer brought up.

For those of you who haven’t read the review, the subject is the mentality behind alphas and dominants, and what that tendency actually says about the person in question. This begs the question of whether an alpha can ever be considered a well-rounded character. Since one of my two main characters is a beast character, and he is the focal point, this tension is makes up the crux of my story.

“I have always found over-the-top ‘alphas’ or ‘doms’ to be more than a little repugnant…”

Alphas and dominants certainly cater to a particular taste. The stories that revolve around them often center around the issue of control. This is because being an alpha means being at the top of the food chain, and therefore usually at the top of a societal structure. Think “natural leader” who’s got the fate of his clan or community or business in his hands. (Note that when most fantasy or paranormal readers see the word “alpha,” they typically think “werewolf pack leader.”)

Control for an alpha is a double-edged sword. On the one edge, he has to keep control of his pack—settling squabbles, administering justice, appeasing offended parties, protecting against outside forces. He’s the politician and the ranking military commander at the same time. On the other edge, he has to keep control of himself; he’s the most powerful member of his community, and he’s accountable for how he handles that power. Theoretically, he has the ability to bring down the whole pack with him. Not to mention every life he is responsible for is on his conscience.

Now, let’s move on to beasts. If you’ve snooped around Beauty and the Beast stories and TV shows, you’ve probably noticed that there are two types of beast characters that writers present: the man who is beastly on the outside, and the man who is beastly on the inside. Often beastly characters end up ugly on the outside as a reflection of being ugly on the inside (i.e. by a curse or a spell). But there are exceptions where a kindly man is unfortunate enough to end up with a repulsive appearance by no fault of his own. The woman who can see through that guise is richly rewarded—either by the amazing character of the man underneath it all, or by a more material peeling back of the ugliness to grant the heroine a physical representation of the beautiful man she knew him to be all along.

Now let’s look at my alpha beast character specifically.

My reviewer is right: Rome is incomplete, and he is damaged. His parents were murdered when he was a child, leaving him orphaned, and he didn’t cope well. Then he got a beast persona shoved into his already-existing personality. And then his best friend and crush dumped him, and he doesn’t know the whole story of why. He’s been abandoned most of his life, he’s in a constant psychological battle for his sanity, and he doesn’t understand love.

What he does understand, is that he has issues—the kind that make him unsafe for people to be around. He feels a very strong connection to Labriella, but he doesn’t know what to do about it. He doesn’t trust himself to do the right thing, but he can’t bring himself to stay away from her either.

Labriella, for her part, does not stick around for the pain and pleasure of the experience. She sticks around because she feels the deep connection too. She sticks around because she wants Rome himself—even if that is impossible for him to comprehend. And she’s willing to demonstrate that by putting up with a lot.

If you think Labriella is the type to just “roll over” once she’s comfortable, though, you’re greatly mistaken. Rome has a way of bringing out the adventurous side of her. You’ve only had snippets of it so far. Remember, she’s used to that spark inside her being extinguished by the temple. Once she learns that Rome’s baiting her (rather than just trying to push her buttons)…well, let’s just say things’ll get a little steamy. Just give the tables time to turn.

What kind of relationship does that make this? Is it BDSM?
Well, Rome’s an alpha beast, so we’ve already got the “D” for “Dominance.” I did consider putting some light bondage into the story—the handcuffed or tied-wrists kind, not much beyond that. I’m still undecided as to whether that’s a good idea, though, because that might give you the idea that Rome has to tie her down to make her stay. And while he may think that, it doesn’t make it true. As for SM…well, the only pain between the main characters in this story should be incidental. Hurting one another isn’t going to make them happy or satisfied. In fact, Rome is deathly afraid of hurting her. Only a few love-bites might be on purpose.

The idea is that letting one person in can change everything. (…Well, that’s one of the ideas, anyway.) So, you’re right: Aggressive posturing is not the way. But my intent is not to glorify Rome’s aggressive posturing. The intent is to introduce a new element to soften it, and bring balance to the equation. And that element is Labriella.

So I would ask you this about Rome: Is he immature because he is an alpha? Or is he an immature alpha?

Because I would say that an alpha is supposed to take care of others. He shows his maturity by fulfilling this responsibility. But living alone does not facilitate relating to people. An alpha without at least one person to depend on him…How can he possibly learn how to be a good leader? How to be a good husband? How to be a good friend?

As for the kinds of women who are attracted to this kind of male character…

I theorize that there are 4 common draws to fictional alpha characters:

  1. the quest for power
  2. the desire to not be responsible for once
  3. sympathy for the emotional plight
  4. curiosity

Quest for Power. I’m talking about that man or woman who always has to be in control, be the best there is, or come out on top. They don’t care who they have to step on to get there. In fact, stepping on certain people might make them feel more powerful. And that’s good, because it’s all about them. They want to be that alpha. They’re jealous of him, so they’re studying him. One day, they’ll have more; they’ll be better. Or one day, they’ll have someone like him, to love and control. He’s the top dog, so they’ll make him submit, to prove that they are the only one who can do it.

Desire Not to be Responsible. Some people just plain get tired of being in control. They have to make all the hard decisions all day, every day. They always have to look out for themself, because nobody else will. They have to take care of their entire family, and they want to know who’s going to take care of them. Or they realize that they’re reserved or reclusive or socially awkward, or will always say “maybe later” to the person they’re actually dying to be with. To these people, an alpha male looks like the perfect solution. Maybe they’d push back in real life. But in the safety of their own head? He brings out their repressed wild side. And maybe, just maybe, they can trust him.

Sympathy for the Emotional Plight. It’s not about control at all; it’s about the person on the other end of it. The alpha has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he may or may not know how to handle it. Who’s going to help him? Who’s going to care for his heart, when everyone else just cares about what he is or isn’t doing for them? Who’s going to hold him when he comes home exhausted and broken at the end of a long day? Who’s going to be his sidekick when nobody wants to follow his lead, or when he doesn’t believe in himself, or when the problem’s too big for him to face alone? “I’LL DO IT!” scream ten million fangirls. Because it’s not just about where he has the power and the prowess and the bravado; it’s about where he doesn’t. (Otherwise, he would be a hatable character.)

Or maybe they look at the alpha male, and say, “Hey, that reminds me weirdly of me…or how accomplished I wish I was. Where’s my sidekick love-interest?”

Curiosity. These are the outsiders looking in. They’re not really sure what’s going on, or how they feel about it, but they’re interested to see a new-to-them concept play out. “To each his/her own” is their motto. They’re just wondering what some people’s “own” looks like. They want to see something new and exciting. They can’t wait to see what happens next, because it doesn’t play according to the usual rules of engagement. They want to dip their toe into the forbidden pool. Or they just want to slake their curiosity so they can stop wondering what all the fuss is about.

Feel free to chime in with another reason to add to my theory. Or if you’re thinking, ‘Heeeey, that’s not right!’, feel free to correct. What good is a theory, if it’s not perfected?

I will end by saying that I by no means think alpha males should appeal to everyone. I myself am rather on-the-fence about it. I don’t like a character to be too strong, but I don’t like them to be too weak either. For me, it comes down to what that character does with what is given to them—them learning how to use it, what they learn from having it, and watching them grow from it.

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6 responses to “Beasts, Alphas, Doms, and the BDSM Line

  1. Almost no one ever considers that maybe girls like bad boys because they identify with them. Thanks for writing. All four of your reasons to like alpha characters are sound. Sometimes it’s a mix of all of them.

  2. I hope you forgive this (one-off) indulgence because i want to explain things fully and not leave any misunderstandings or ambiguous statements as i perhaps did last time when i was trying to be brief. Feel free to copy into your blog if you want or delete if you like. Entirely up to you.

    I decided copying this over to my blog was the best course of action, as I’m not sure the mainstay of this entry is actually about my story; it sounds to me like this is more about alphas and BDSM in real life. I think that’s something better addressed on my blog, where I write nonfiction. So I took my anonymous reviewer’s advice and moved their comments here. I’m going to quote it first, and then answer, because I’m not sure if I’m going to leave the original comment up on FictionPress as a review (since it’s mostly not specifically about my story; it’s about moral and psychological theory).

    My previous review was never meant to upset or cause offence. It was an honest account of my reaction to ch 9 which i had only just read mintes before.

    OK. So in hindsight, i think that what was needed in my 1st review was an explanation as to what i meant by ‘over-the-top’ alphas or doms. But before i expand on that, let me say that i firmly believe that part of the problem with the common (mis)usage of these words is the recent assertion that people can be classified as either ‘doms’ or ‘subs, ‘alphas’ or ‘others’. That is simplistic to the point of idiotic. It is a myth that has gained acceptance because of a prevalence and romantisisation of this idea in popular fiction. No one is 100% either. Everyone is capable of being both. Everyone has an alpha or a sub inside them that surfaces when needed. The rest of the time, we all lie somewhere between the two extremes. Anything else is a waste of energy, is counterproductive, antisocial and frankly stupid. Yes, these extremes do exist bv i would argue that these individuals are ‘damaged’, ‘immature’, ‘chip on the shoulder’ specimens and not true reprisentatives of a healthy society generally.

    So when i said ‘over the top’ alphas i meant those extreme individuals who tend to exist in fiction, or in the highly contrived and artificial constructs of Dom/sub relationships (aka the BDSM ‘lifestyle’).

    For the record, let me say that fetishes don’t offend me. What 2 or more concenting adults get up to in the bedroom (whips, cuffs, nipple clamps, dress-ups, or even nothing at all) doesn’t bother me in the least little bit. It’s the contrived crap that goes on out of the bedroom that is so objectionable. Basically the ‘unnecessary aggressive posturing’. It is a sad and inescapable fact that it is inequality in a relationship (physical, social, financial, intellectual etc) that leads to abuse. The overwhelming weight of stats and scientific studies show this without doubt.

    Let me be clear that i am not saying that Rome would physically hurt Bre, but there are more kinds of abuse than the obvious physical kind.

    In your blog, you equated the term ‘alpha’ with ‘natural leader’. Ok. But there are many types of leaders and leadership styles. They may all be alphas (as i said, we all are under certain circumstances), but not all natural leaders ‘dominate’. It is like comparing a schoolyard bully with a student body captain. A dictator/mob boss with a president. All are natural leaders but one uses fear of physical harm and threats of reprisals to demand obedience and respect, the other uses concensus and a mandate to engender obedience and respect. The former i would describe as ‘over the top’ or extreme alphas. The latter is what (i think) you called ‘ideal’ alphas in your blog. Clearly, there is a real and profound difference between these 2 types of natural leaders or alphas.

    When i wrote my original review, i had just that minute finished reading ch 9 and had come away with what was definately the sense of Rome as an ‘extreme’ and not an ‘ideal’ alpha. He used Bres fear of him against her to make her yield to his wants/demands. I am of a scientific disposition. Science is my passion and my profession. When i have such a strong reaction to something (good or bad), i analyse why. I want to understand things. So what was it specifically about Rome and his actions in that chapter that i objected to? It was the losing of Bres control over her own person and fate AT ROMES’ HANDS that made it so abhorent to me. That is also what is so revolting about rape. Rome took advantage of her physical and social inferiority like a practised school bully. Basically, he dominated her in the true BDSM sense because he did not have the skills or the maturity to obtain her obedience or respect in any other way. In that moment, respect was inextricably linked with her submission- a classic BDSM mindset. These extreme doms (and their subs) believe it is their due as ‘alphas’ – a normal and acceptcle concequence of the natural order of things to behave like this. I however, see it as extreme and immature behaviour. Again, the words ‘damaged’ and ‘incomplete’ apply.

    Even though Rome didn’t use ropes or cuffs, he still physically restrained her in a ‘submissive’ posture desite her objections. Remember BDSM is not just about whips or physical pain. It’s about the exploitation of the inequality between 2 people. It’s about the excersising of control over another and the humiliation one person experiences at the hands of another- something Bre experiences in spades in that chapter. Bre herself at one point says something like ‘You’re turning into one of them’ (a Noble, who i think are the intended bullies of your story).

    Does it really matter why some women are drawn to these men? I’m sure that the 4 reasons you gave in your blog are all true and valid. The reality is, we both come from societies where we are free to enter AND LEAVE relationships like this. Maybe that is why we have become tollerant of the kinds of fantasies that idolise or even glorify the extreme dominant or alpha traits- because we know that in the real world, such men (or wonen) would be held accountable a face years and years in prison for inflicting the kind of abuse that Bre endures. Gaols are full of extreme alphas/doms… Like Ariel Castro. By consensus, society provides us with a safety net of sorts in the form of a legal justice system, imperfect as it may be. So we have the luxury of indulging in the ‘fantasy’ of extreme alphas without enduring the horrifying reality of them.

    I still maintain that the extreme alpha/dom (or bad boy, if you like, underlining the word ‘boy’) are damaged goods. That doms are just bullies by another name and their willing subs are their misguided enablers, whatever their reasons.

    Whether that analysis applies to your Rome, well… that is a matter of opinion. Not everyone will agree that it does. You said in your blog that there will be a powershift in Bre’s favour. Ok. In that case, my analysis will probably no longer apply.

    And finally, regardless, you can (and should) write what you feel is right for your story. Do whatever you like with, and to, your characters. But don’t be surprised if there is some less than positive reader blowback when the actions of the ‘hero’ swerve into extreme terraine, cross that invisible line and otherwise deteriorate into what most of us would consider extreme, criminal and almost unforgivable behaviour. The kind of behaviour that if it happened to someone we cared about, we would all assert our inner alphas and do what we could to stop it.

    This fascination with and romantisising or ‘mainstreaming’ of such extremes of behaviour will, i hope, prove little more than a fad. Fairy stories are the only place where we can tollerate wicked witches or selfless maidens and fairy godmothers because the 2 extremes are just not possible or sustainable in the real world.

    Ok. I think that’s about it. I hope i explained myself well enough. As i write this it is about midday on Jan 1st so i am still a tiny bit hung over from new years.

    Signing off with great respect,
    “GUEST”

    • Rest assured that I am neither alarmed, nor offended. I just like having something to think about – and I try to do that objectively. If that comes across as standoff-ish, I apologize.

      I will be the first to say I do not understand everything about the BDSM community – nor do I claim to. I admit to some curiosity about the mindset behind it, because (like you) I like analyzing why things have come to be. But what I have come to understand from reading up on the subject a little, is that the key to legitimate BDSM is that no matter how much the receptive party protests, it must be not only consensual, but wanted. This sets it apart from rape.

      Now, whether that is to everyone’s taste, is an entirely different story (pun not intended).

      I agree that everyone probably has a bit of “dominant” and “submissive” personality or tendencies inside of them, in some combination. I believe it is when those things are observably balanced, that we label the individual “mature.”

      But the most interesting fictional stories are rarely about mature individuals. The point (or secondary point) of the story is often to make them into a mature individual through the plot and encounters with other people. That is what I aim to do with Rome. Neither Rome nor Labriella is balanced at the beginning of the story. But that’s the journey. And, a lot of times, that’s the journey in real life, too.

      Rome is deeply flawed. I know this, because I wrote him that way on purpose. But I tried to write his story in such a way that you (as the reader) understand that he is not a jerk to his core – that he’s convinced himself that he is something that he is not, and that maybe what he needs is for someone he cares about to show him that he can be different. The plot is there to prove his character – to the reader, to Rome, and to the other characters.

      I see your point about leaving abusive relationships, and I agree with it. But I would also like to point out that many times in our society, people bail out of a commitment to another person simply because it’s “too hard” or it no longer suits them. I’m not saying that’s the case in my story; I even pointed out that Gian would have been a better choice. But there is that other element in human relationships, where we’re drawn to someone in particular and we have no idea why our minds have such trouble letting go.

      So many times in realistic fiction, the woman proves her power and self-discipline and independence by leaving a relational situation. But what if the woman’s real power (when she realizes it) is to turn the whole situation on its head? What happens when a woman who’s been ostracized and stepped on all her life, realizes that she’s the one who can get the scary guy to rethink things and change his mind? That she’s now one of the most important pieces on the chessboard, even though everything about her disposition and position scream otherwise?

      That’s what I want to explore.

      Now, I would like to clarify that my aim is not actually to glorify alphas or dominants. One of my aims is actually to show that sometimes being the kinder, gentler party means wielding a strength in meekness that is severely downplayed in our culture. Hardly anybody tries to “kill [someone] with kindness,” so to speak. We underestimate the effect.

      Back to the scene you’re referring to in chapter 9. The dominance factor in the scene was not meant to showcase a fault in Rome’s humanity. It was meant to pit Rome’s beast nature against his humanity. He literally has another entity inside him, and that entity follows different societal rules: the rules of the wild. You only have to observe a pair of domestic dogs playing, to see that the nature of the game is to determine who ends up on top with their teeth to the other’s throat, and who ends up belly-up (literally). You could call that aggressive posturing, if you want. But on some level, it’s primal instinct, and it determines the pecking order in a pack. Rome has to learn how to balance that instinct, with the inclinations of his humanity. And for someone who has lived in survival mode for so long, that’s not going to be easy.

      Consequently, when Labriella said Rome was like the other nobles now, she actually made a mistake – and one he calls her on. Labriella is right in the sense that Rome is starting to blend into the noble scene, but that is because he is falling back on what his upbringing taught him about etiquette, and because he is calculating his every move. In actuality, he views every situation he goes into like an animal predator, with pricks of human conscience that sometimes take over. Prevalence shifts back and forth between the two sides, and the more Rome is around Labriella the more he becomes aware of it, because his human and beast sides approach her differently. It’s like Dr. Jekyll becoming aware of Mr. Hyde, and trying to figure out which one he wants to be (and whether making that decision is even possible).

      I guess that means I am mixing two different kinds of “alpha.” But in this case, what I’m mixing is not an alpha in the sense of a dominant from the BDSM Scene. I’m mixing an alpha human leader, with an alpha pack leader – which can be an explosive combination in the right personality.

      I do know that this type of story will not appeal to everyone; I’m sure there will be pushback. But I kind of expect that the person who picks up my story will know what they are getting themselves into. I make no effort to hide that my story is about a beast (and all the connotations that go with that), and I included abbreviated warnings in my summary about the content. I even spelled out those warnings in the Author’s Notes inside my first chapter, and warned about them on my profile page. Most of the readers I’m drawing in are probably werewolf fans, so they’re familiar with the wolf-human struggle (especially where alphas are concerned). I know I haven’t specifically said what Rome is, and I’ll tell you right now that he’s not a wolf. But claws and fangs don’t exactly say “healthy human.” Maybe on my next revision, I’ll have to drop more hints. Or maybe I’ll take stuff out, throw other stuff in.

      But no matter what I end up doing, please remember that Rome is a fictional character, and based on what is inside of him, he is not the kind of character who could exist in real life. Nor is he meant to take on the personalities and tendencies of real-life people to whom one might draw parallels. He is a Chronicles of Riddick-like character, who has deep flaws and makes an involuntary hero.

      • I’m re-posting this from FictionPress to my blog for the sake of conversational sequence.

        Hi again. Very last review entry from me (i promise).

        1) Thanks for not merely dismissing my comments as just mindless or prejudiced dissing. A less intelligent or less serious author would have. I consider it a complement that you invested so much time and thought into your replies and i hope that if nothing else, it was a worthwhile intellectual excercise for you. So many authors and readers (mostly very impressionable young women caught up in the romance) don’t think or care about the right or wrong of it. I do and i now believe that you do too.

        2) I’ve just read your blog reply and actually agree with pretty much everything you said. You are absolutely correct about the BDSM consent thing. But even a brief exploration of the fiction of that genre reveals a much murkier side, not too far from the surface (which is true for humanity generally, i suppose). In any case, that is another issue altogether and i agree, unrelated to any critique of your writing style. I am not the moral or thought police. It’s just that sometimes, i gotta say what i feel.

        3) You ARE a gifted writer. The kind that will always write just to feel happy and healthy, whether or not your work is published. As a voracious reader, let me tell you that that is a completely awesome thing (and i never say ‘awesome’ so… yeah). There are and will continue to be many thousands who will read and re-read your story and love it. I would never wish to discourage or stiffle your creativity or put my own moral borders around your imaginative work. The world would be poorer for it.

        4) And lastly, please don’t feel obliged to reply to this or even to leave it up once you’ve read it. It is really just my (anonymous) acknowledgement of your reply on your blog. Believe it or not, i rarely review. I am time-poor and would rather spend the time i do have reading than critiqueing (or checking my spelling 🙂 ) and it is in fact a compliment to you that i thought your writing rich and well-crafted enough to do so.

        Thank you for your time, hard work and talent.

        Am now bowing out/signing off for the last time (so if you get another guest review, it isn’t me)…

        “GUEST”

      • Well, I am sincerely appreciative that you took the time to review my story, so thank you. 🙂 When readers are silent, it’s hard for me to gauge where I’m at as far as questionable content – whether I’ve got the desired shock value, or whether I’m crossing a line. And I do want to analyze what I’m doing to cause certain reactions, so that I can make sure to cause the right ones and for the right reasons. I’m still learning, after all. And I get the sense that writing is forever a learning process of trial and error.

        Thank you for your compliments. 🙂 I can only hope that others will be as receptive to my work. You’re right; I need to write it, whether people are ok with it or not. But I do want people to enjoy reading my work as much as I enjoy entertaining the story in my head and writing it down – hopefully enough to buy it one day.

        Until then, I better get back to actually writing fiction! 😉

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