Creating The Beta Hero
Instructor: Michele R.
IDENTIFY THE BETA HERO
Let me begin by quoting from an article titled "Writers' Heroes Romance
Their Readers" published in USA TODAY:
For years, the romance
hero was an "alpha male"—a leader, a tough guy who had to be in control.
Then in the mid-'80s, a more sensitive "beta male" hero was introduced.
And now there's a hybrid that some call a "gamma male," an alpha with a
sensitive side. "As far as I'm concerned, any good hero is still an
alpha male," best-selling author Jayne Ann Krentz says. "No one wants to
read about a beta hero."
Source: "Writers' Heroes Romance Their Readers" by
Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY
what the heck are y’all doing here? Maybe you're here because readers DO
want to read about beta heroes. But what is a beta hero? Do you know?
Let's find out. Answer the five questions at the top of your handouts.
Beta heroes are:
Shy, silent, and/or sweet.
Easygoing, but not pushovers.
ANSWERS: A. 0 B. 1 C. 2
a heroine starts crying, a beta hero will:
Immediately offer comfort.
Awkwardly offer to fix the problem.
Cry with her.
ANSWERS: A. 2 B. 1 C. 0
the heroine asks, "What are you thinking?" The beta hero will reply:
"How beautiful you are."
"What kind of beer goes good with Cheetos."
ANSWERS: A. 2 B. 2 C. 2
beta hero's home looks like:
The cover of House Beautiful.
B. The inside of a
Dusty, but tidy with garage-sale furniture and a state-of-the-art
ANSWERS: A. 0 B. 1 C. 2
beta hero handles emotional pain by:
Using physical activity to exhaust himself so he doesn't have to think.
Using humor to deflect how he's really feeling.
Discussing how he feels with his best friend or his dad.
ANSWERS: A. 1 B. 2 C. 0
Add up your points. Who got 10 points? Please come to the front and pick
up a pin. It says "Beta Babe Alert! I'm A 10—I Know How To Score My
interested in what names authors use to categorize heroes. They want
believable, interesting, complex men that they can sigh—and drool—over.
Whether it's the tormented hero from Dinah McCall's JACKSON RULE or the
lovesick accountant in my romantic comedy BRIDE IN TRAINING, readers
want heroes they believe deserve the heroine's love.
The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master
Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders, the authors
examine eight hero archetypes. Their definition of The Best Friend fits
well with the concept of the beta hero. The following information is
taken from an article by Tami Cowden posted on the All About Romance
The Best Friend: This
man doesn't enjoy confrontation and can sometimes be unassertive because
he doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. But he'll always be there. We
all knew this guy in high school and didn’t appreciate him. If we were
smart, though, he’s the guy we married. He's a people person and he'll
always put the needs of others first. He's practical … so he'd assess
what could be done and get to work. He'll be very determined because
he's responsible for the heroine.
Source: "We Need a Hero: A Look at the Eight Hero Archetypes" by Tami D.
All About Romance Website
line with his "best friend" qualities, a beta hero makes a great sudden
daddy—he adjusts more easily to than an alpha male. He's also an
excellent role model: Women think he's sweet, kids know he'll play catch
or tea party, bosses know they can rely on him to get last-minute
projects completed, and men know they can trust him with their
girlfriends. Within these expectations lie the seeds for potential
conflict! For example, in BRIDE IN TRAINING, Ross Cameron, my wanna-be
bad boy, falls in lust with his uncle's fiancée—what's a nice guy to
Beta heroes need to grow, change, learn. Nice doesn't equal perfect. An
easygoing guy who's funny and sweet hides his feelings more effectively
and feels pain more deeply than an alpha hero (who will, when angry or
upset, stomp around, growl, and hit stuff). A beta hero hides his pain
behind a smile, a joke, or a quiet reserve. A beta hero is more likely
to walk away from a confrontation or do what he believes the heroine
wants than to stand his ground and fight it out. This isn't wimp
behavior because he's not afraid for himself, he's afraid for the person
he cares about.
CREATE THE BETA HERO
Now that we've identified the beta hero, let's discuss how to create
one. According to J. Madison Davis, who wrote Novelist's Essential
Guide to Creating Plot:
"[A character] is a set
of inherent qualities in the imitation of a human being. What we call a
character in a novel, play or movie bears close resemblance to a human
being but is not one. People are far more complicated than characters.
People are far less predictable than characters. Characters are designed
to seem complicated and to act in some surprising ways, but they are
actually more consistent than people. The behaviors that seem surprising
from characters are based upon a clear conception of their identities.
In the simplest sort of story, for example, there are good guys and bad
guys. The conception of their identities is very simple, and their
behavior is predicted by what the author values as good or bad."
Romance heroes are, in essence, the ideals of the author packaged in a
tight pair of jeans and a sexy grin. To create a hero is to create an
inherent set of specific qualities. Each hero type has general
characteristics that are refined by the author. It's important to
remember that your hero may not completely align with all qualities
associated with the beta or the alpha or the whatever. He is first and
foremost YOUR creation and he doesn't have to fit anywhere but in your
Let's look at some qualities for our nice-guy prototype. The beta hero:
© Is kind,
© Doesn't enjoy
confrontation, but won’t back down on an issue he wants resolved
© Is always
available to the heroine or to others who need his help
© Is an extrovert
or an introvert
© Is practical,
down to earth, assesses situations before making decisions
© Has a great
sense of humor
© Tends to be Mr.
Nice Guy/Everyday Joe
© Is the kind
neighbor, the best friend, the good Samaritan
So now we have a basic
idea about what a beta hero might be like. Let's assess how he got that
Davis writes: "People's motivations are very confusing and usually dimly
understood. The newspapers are full of terrible stories about kids who
grow up in brutal households. One kid grows up to become a killer;
another grows up to become a tireless worker to prevent child abuse."
What's interesting about this assessment is that you can create a hero
or a villain using the same set of circumstances. Consider, too, that
the same set of circumstances can create an alpha hero or a beta hero.
In romance novels, a hero's motivations, while not always revealed right
away, are not confusing and are understood. There's a clarity
about why characters do what they do in fiction that is not evident for
people operating in the real world. The background of your beta hero—his
childhood, his education, his relationships—is very important in
creating his motivations for being the person he is in your book. You
have the freedom to create any kind of past that explains his actions
and choices today.
There are tools that
may useful in helping you create the beta hero. Before I talk about
these tools, I'd like to point out that there are a lot of people in the
world who try to figure out and categorize human beings. For every
technique discovered to determine behavior, there are not only
exceptions to the so-called rules, there are other people attempting to
discredit the technique. I don't want to challenge your belief systems,
but I do want to give you some ideas you can use to create a Beta Hero.
Beta heroes are usually younger siblings—more than likely they are
middle children. They can also be only children, but if they are, they
probably have strong female influences in their upbringing.
Characteristics of the middle child:
Flexible, Diplomatic, Peacemaker, Generous, Social, Competitive
"Middle children are good mediators and have superior cooperation
skills. They don't have their parents all to themselves or get their own
way. Therefore, they learn to negotiate and compromise."
Characteristics of the last born child:
Risk Takers, Outgoing, Creative, Sense of Humor, Question Authority
"Youngest children in the family are typically outgoing and great at
motivating other people. They are also affectionate, uncomplicated, and
sometimes a little absent-minded."
Source: Birth Order Fact Sheet ---
Sure, a beta hero can
be a cop or a fireman or a paratrooper, but these types of jobs are
difficult fits for him (unless he has some kind of desk job within these
types of departments). Possible jobs suited for beta heroes: social
worker, Forest Ranger, environmentalist, teacher, artist, counselor,
politician, singer, doctor, novelist, nursing home director.
According to a recent
study, "a child's place in the family birth order may place a role in
the type of occupations that will interested him or her as an adult."
"One of the strongest
findings was the fact that only children and first-born children tended
to have more cognitive and analytical interests, while later-borns were
more artistic and oriented to the outdoors."
Source: Birth Order
Affects Career Interests, Study Shows
If you want to be extremely particular in your creation of a beta hero,
consider the etymology of certain names. (Etymology is the study of the
origins of words.) Beta heroes won't have a name like "Rock." Try for
soft-sounding names like Benjamin, Charles, John, Phillip, Seth, and so
forth. At babynames.com you can look up names by meaning. I also suggest
tooling around on behindthename.com—it has a lot of interesting
information and a huge database of names.
You might also consider naming your hero after someone in history or in
mythology with whom you want him to be identified. Or maybe, he displays
the opposite qualities of that historical or mythological figure … it's
entirely up to you.
You don't need to be an
astrologer to use the traits of certain sun signs as blueprint for your
beta hero. I'm definitely not an astrologer, but I think the sun signs
are very useful tools when it's time to create the good and bad
qualities of a character. It also helps you determine a birth date for
your guy. <g> I chose the signs I feel most closely mirror a beta hero's
personality. My source for the following information is
http://www.astrology-online.com. You might also check into
numerology—a fascinating way to determine personality traits. Try
Creative Numerology at:
Taurus (The Bull) --- April 21 to May 21
Traits: Patient and reliable, warmhearted and loving, persistent and
determined, placid and security loving
Possible Flaws: jealous and possessive, resentful and inflexible,
self-indulgent and greedy
Cancer (The Crab) --- June 22 to July 22
Traits: Emotional and loving, intuitive and imaginative,
shrewd and cautious, protective and sympathetic
Changeable and moody,
overemotional and touchy, clinging and unable to let go
Virgo (The Virgin) --- August 23 to September 23
Traits: Modest and shy, meticulous and reliable, practical and diligent,
intelligent and analytical
Fussy and a worrier,
overcritical and harsh, perfectionist and conservative
Libra (The Scales) --- September 24 to October 23
Traits: Diplomatic and urbane, romantic and charming,
easygoing and sociable, idealistic and peaceable
Possible Flaws: Indecisive and changeable, gullible and easily
influenced, flirtatious and self-indulgent
Sagittarius (The Archer) --- November 23 to December 21
Traits: Optimistic and freedom-loving, jovial and good-humored, honest
and straightforward, intellectual and philosophical
Possible Flaws: Blindly optimistic and careless, irresponsible and
superficial, tactless and restless
Pisces (The Fishes) --- February 20 to March 20
Traits: Imaginative and sensitive, compassionate and kind, selfless and
intuitive and sympathetic
Possible Flaws: Escapist and idealistic, secretive and vague,
weak-willed and easily led
According to Health World Online:
“Just as everyone has an individual face or thumb print, according to
Ayurveda, each person has a particular pattern of energy—an individual
combination of physical, mental and emotional characteristics—which is
his or her constitution. This constitution is determined at conception
by a number of factors and is the same throughout one's life. … Ayurveda
identifies three basic types of energy or functional principles that are
present in everybody and everything. All people have vata, pitta and
kapha, but one is usually primary, one secondary and the third least
Determining a dominant dosha for your hero is another tool you can use
to create characteristics. Each dosha has physical attributes, too, that
you can use when creating your beta hero, but for now, we’ll go over the
basic information and the internal/emotional characteristics.
VATA is movement and it’s represented by the elements of space and air.
Vata people are flexible and creative, alert and restless. They walk,
talk and think fast, but are easily fatigued. They often feel unstable
and ungrounded and lack confidence and boldness. Out of balance, vata
people are fearful, nervous, and anxious. Vata types earn money quickly
and spend it quickly. They are not good planners and as a consequence
may suffer economic hardship.
PITTA is metabolism and it’s represented by the elements of fire and
water. Pitta people have many qualities of fire … they have warm bodies,
penetrating ideas, sharp intelligence, and good powers of comprehension.
Out of balance, they are easily agitated and aggressive and tend toward
hate, anger, and jealousy. Pitta people like to be leaders and planners
and seek material prosperity.
KAPHA is lubrication and it’s represented by the elements earth and
water. Kapha people have strength, endurance, and stamina. They are
calm, tolerant, forgiving. They have sweet, loving dispositions and have
an excellent long-term memory. Kaphas are good at holding onto their
money. Kapha types can become lethargic. When out of balance, kaphas
tend to experience greed, envy, attachment, and possessiveness.
Source: Ayurveda: A Brief Introduction and Guide to the Three Doshas ©
Dr. Vasant Lad
A beta hero’s dominant dosha is kapha. Like the elements of kapha, earth
and water, he’s very grounded, but he can also “go with the flow.”
More Information About
Give Your Character A
According to SchemaTherapy.com: “Coping styles as normal attempts on the
part of the child to survive in a difficult childhood environment.
Unfortunately, we keep repeating our coping styles throughout adulthood,
even when we no longer need them to survive. … these coping styles lead
us to act in ways that end up blocking our development…”
other words, an emotional schema equals inner conflict for your hero.
SchemaTherapy.com puts schemas into three categories:
Surrender (Gives in to schemas and repeats them)
(Finds ways to escape or block out schemas)
(Does the opposite of the feelings created by schemas)
and a good overview can be found at the Advanced Cognitive Therapy of
New York website. The Schema Therapy website also has a specific
breakdown at its site that’s valuable. (The websites are listed on the
Beta Hero handout.) For our purposes, I’ve taken certain schemas and
their definitions from the Advanced Cognitive Therapy of New York to use
for creating our beta hero, but chances are you can take any schema and
make it fit with your hero. Here are the ones I choose:
Disconnection & Rejection
Abandonment/Instability: You expect instability, unreliability, or loss
of anyone you are close to.
Emotional Deprivation: You believe that your primary emotional needs for
nurturance, empathy, affection, and protection will never be met by
Defectiveness/Shame: You feel that you are defective, bad, unwanted,
inferior, or invalid.
Subjugation: You feel coerced to surrender your needs and emotions to
other people, avoiding anger, retaliation, or abandonment.
Self-Sacrifice: You voluntarily meet the needs of other people at the
expense of your own gratification.
EXAMPLES OF THE BETA HERO
Just a note here: Beta
heroes are better suited for romantic comedies because their
personalities are more capable of handling crazy circumstances and
outrageous events. The difference between a beta hero and an alpha hero
in a romantic comedy is that the beta hero will laugh at himself and the
situation and the alpha hero won't. In other words, the reader laughs
WITH the beta hero and laughs AT the alpha hero.
Examples of Beta
Heroes From Movies
· Jack (Bill Pullman), the nice younger brother, in
"While You Were Sleeping"
Who has seen "While You
Were Sleeping"? Give me an example of Beta Hero behavior and explain why
Example: He's playing
cards with his comatose brother and says, "Whoever gets the high card,
gets Lucy." (No direct confrontation.)
· Shane (Keanu
Reeves), the kind-hearted ex-quarterback, in "The Replacements"
Who has seen "The
Replacements"? Give me an example of Beta Hero behavior and explain why
Example: He steps in to
protect his deaf teammate from the insults of the team’s former
quarterback. When the quarterback hits him, he takes the punch then
says, "Had enough?" (Protects his friends; Wants to avoid confrontation;
attempts to defuse situation with humor.)
· Robbie (Adam Sandler), the heartbroken romantic, in "The
Who has seen "The
Wedding Singer"? Give me an example of Beta Hero behavior and explain
why it's beta.
Example: First clue
he's a beta—he's wedding singer. He takes an underage kid who's been
drinking at the wedding outside to puke in the Dumpster. (Taking care of
others who he perceives needs him.) This is when he meets the heroine,
Julia. Sense of humor to deal with situations: "No one could puke more
than that kid. I think I saw boot come out of him."
Examples of Beta
Heroes From Novels
· Peter, the lovelorn tongue-tied doctor, from GOOD
IN BED by Jennifer Weiner
Who has read GOOD IN
BED? Give me an example of Beta Hero behavior and explain why it's beta.
Example: He offers
constant support for her without demanding a thing. He doesn't even make
his feelings known until almost the end of the book. (Patience,
kindness, putting his own feelings/needs aside to meet the heroine's.)
· Ross, the bad-boy wanna-be, from BRIDE IN TRAINING
by Michele R. Bardsley
Who has read BRIDE IN
TRAINING? Give me an example of Beta Hero behavior and explain why it's
Example: He's a wanna-be
bad-boy … so he's already someone who doesn't fit well in the skin of a
Harley-riding, leather-jacket-wearing hard case. He takes care of the
heroine after she falls ill, despite the fact she doesn't him like him
· Race, the thief with a heart of gold, from RACE AGAINST TIME by
Who has read RACE
AGAINST TIME? Give me an example of Beta Hero behavior and explain why
Example: The heroine
leaves out food for the anonymous burglar who's been stealing food from
the homes of people living in a small mountainside community. In thanks,
he picks wild flowers and leaves them on her dining room table.
And that's the beta
hero! Thank you so much for attending the workshop.