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:
- the quest for power
- the desire to not be responsible for once
- sympathy for the emotional plight
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.