Christy Carlyle on the Beauty of a Beta Hero

Daniel Craig as James Bond

It’s no surprise that alpha heroes are popular. I often think of James Bond when envisioning the ultimate alpha male. There’s something undeniably appealing about a brooding, domineering, ruthless hero—a man who will go to any lengths to achieve goals and get what he wants, which, of course, includes the heroine. It’s difficult not to admire a powerful man who commands respect from others, either through wealth and status, extreme charisma, or his hard won achievements.

The best part of an alpha hero is that no matter how intimidating or dominating he may seem at the start of a story, the heroine’s love saves, tempers, or transforms him. That’s when we get to see a bit of his tender side.

But what of the heroes who are tender from page one? Sometimes they are referred to as beta heroes, and I must admit to having a particular fondness for them. Thankfully, writers generally don’t create cookie cutter characters. Most heroes fall somewhere between alpha and beta. There’s even a term—gamma hero—for those who are hard to define and include characteristics of both. So while thinking of betas as polar opposites of alphas, it’s important to keep in mind that the two types often have aspects in common.

Jeremy Northam as George Knightley
Jeremy Northam as George Knightley

George Knightley in Jane Austen’s Emma is often held up as a good example of a beta hero, yet he’s also a wealthy landowner in the story. He’s handsome and appealing, and is shown to be decisive and commanding when the situation calls for it. However, Knightley’s key attributes are that he’s honorable and a gentleman. He’s also friendly and likable, kind and reliable, even humorous. For most of the novel, he’s quite laid back and easygoing, though that changes when he begins opposing Emma around the same time he decides he must have her for his own.ONE-TEMPTING-PROPOSAL400

So how can we distinguish a beta hero? And why is he so appealing? I think it has to do with emotion. Betas tend to be more aware of their emotions, perhaps in better control of them overall than the darker style of romance hero. Kindness, openness, and a general “good” guy vibe tend to be hallmarks too.

When I wrote the hero of my second Accidental Heirs novel, One Tempting Proposal, I knew Sebastian would be a reluctant duke. Still he was a kind, protective older brother, and a man who would take on his title and inherited duties without too much fuss. He’s not a scoundrel or an infamous lover. He’s a decent man thrown into an unexpected situation, and when he agrees to the heroine’s proposal that they engage in a fake engagement, part of his motivation is that he already recognizes his attraction to her.

I love reading about the bad boy hero as much as anyone, but I have to admit the “good guy” heroes who aren’t afraid to show their softer side really melt my heart.

So, tell me. Which do you prefer? The alpha hero or beta? If you’re a beta hero fan, please feel free to recommend any beta hero historical romances to me!

5 Responses

  1. Barbara Monajem

    Hurray for beta heroes! I love them too, Christy. One of my favorite beta heroes is the Duke of Sale in Georgette Heyer’s The Foundling — which isn’t really a romance in the standard way (because the hero and heroine don’t get much page time together), but more a story of a young man finding himself. If I think of any others to recommend, I’ll post more comments.

    I just wrote a story with a hero who’s quite beta–a gentleman scholar called upon to play a more alpha role, that of a spy. He doesn’t like being ruthless at all, but when called upon, he of course steps up. 🙂

    • Christy Carlyle

      Thanks, Barbara, for commenting and your recommendations! 🙂 I love the sound of your story. Is that a new release or one that’s still on its way?

      • Barbara Monajem

        Thanks for asking, Christy. It’s almost finished and should be released later this year. I love the idea of a gamma hero — sounds like a perfect compromise. 🙂

  2. ki pha

    Oh yes! I’m definitely a lover of beta heroes. I have to admit though, they are very rare on my bookshelf surrounded by their polar opposites and gamma heroes. If you haven’t already read Julia Quinn, pretty sure you ha e, she has some great betas, To Sir Phillip with Love, Just Like Heaven… Courtney Milan also has lovable betas in her Brother Sinister series with The Duchess War and A Kiss For Midwinter. And Sherry Thomas has Not Quite a Husband.

    • Christy Carlyle

      I do LOVE Julia Quinn and her heroes. Love Courtney Milan too. I’ve been meaning to read that one by Sherry Thomas too. I’ll move it higher on my TBR list. 🙂