I was thinking recently about the characters I’ve presented to you so far in this series — Brighid, the shy, self-conscious girl who nearly got left behind; Hunter, the go-with-the-flow rockstar who stumbles into both triumph and trouble, and struggles to get out of the latter as often as he revels in achieving the former; and Mace, the ultimate rockstar, who could have any girl he wants, except the one who landed in his lap virtually by accident and already belonged to someone else, heart and soul.
And now I’m set to introduce you to David, the quiet, intelligent older brother shunted out of the center spotlight by his ambitious little brother and pulled away from one of his dreams to focus instead on success they can share; and Piper, a socially anxious intern facing sexism in her job and under incredible pressure after a terrible loss. Even reaching back to Logan in the series prequel — we have an easygoing, gregarious artist type whose ambitions have been contained to his craft and his business, where he’s been successful enough to be satisfied.
After some criticism of Hunter as a “beta hero” — a term I’d never even considered before, because anything not extreme “alpha” to me is just “normal” — I’ve had to consider who these characters are, and why it is they’re not “alphas.”
In the larger series, Declan certainly could be and definitely has his “alpha-hole” moments. Mace sometimes is alpha, being the “big dog” in the room and knowing it.
Rhys defies description, so there’s no point in trying to put him in either box. Kieran has been offered the “big dog” shoes and wanted no part of it, and now does his best to keep a low profile, for reasons he keeps to himself (for now).
Alex, in his own way, IS an alpha, but he’s an alpha in a mostly-gentle, caring, protective way, which actually matches up better with real-life wolf pack behavior than these stereotypes that have been established in romantic fiction.
So why so few “alphas” in my little fictional world? Well, we have a few more alpha-ish guys and ladies coming later on, including some very strong female main characters who’ve learned the hard way that their independence is a vital part of their happiness and won’t easily be won over by even a handsome rockstar. But for now, these are the characters who fit in these stories I’ve told so far. They’re each unique, each dealing with their own demons, their own secrets and failings.
And that, for me, is key. I fall back on my conviction that my characters should be realistic, even when dealing with a fantasy world and a rockstar lifestyle. And not every rockstar or business success story is a Type-A, alpha personality. And the ones who aren’t Type A have gotten where they are after their talent, or their will to succeed, has pushed them to reach for dreams that most people rule out for themselves. They’re successful because they’ve had to push past the challenges of their personality types to get to where they are the successes they are today.
And that’s the kind of people my non-alpha characters are — people who’ve faced their foibles and managed to get around the roadblocks to success that they create.
Brighid, as shy and self-conscious as she is, manages to not only succeed in her professional sphere, but to enthrall not one, but two major rockstars. Hunter, despite his traumatic past and his go-with-the-flow attitude, knows his career is his salvation and works his ass off to succeed, even confronting and sometimes leading his fellow band members, despite that not being a natural thing for him. Once he knows where he’s supposed to be, he puts in the effort.
David is about to be faced with challenges he never could have imagined, and he’s going to have to decide whether to follow the advice he gave Hunter, and fight for something for pretty much the first time in his life. And Piper has pulled herself up by her bootstraps and forced herself to appear confident, even when she doesn’t feel confident, and she’ll be challenged to fight for what she wants, too.
These characters all start off, and sometimes fall back into, insecurity or shyness or putting themselves last or feeling like they don’t deserve happiness — and their stories aren’t just the journey to a romantic happily-ever-after but the journey to grow beyond the confines of where they started (with their trauma, their weaknesses) and eventually emerge as better versions of themselves. And I don’t mean perfect people — I mean themselves, just a little bit better. I want these characters and the people who love them to accept them for who they are. I want their love interests to inspire them to be better, but to make it clear that they are loved as they are. Somewhere between a perfect stereotype of a love interest and the reality of a flawed human being is where these characters exist. And that’s where I want them.
Why? Because I want my readers to see themselves, or their friends, family members or lovers, in these characters. I want them to recognize in them the real people around them, and to consider that everyone deserves to be the hero of their own story, without having to be the stereotype, without having to remake themselves in a perfected image, without having to fix every flaw and foible they have to fit an idealized mold.
Maybe I’ve set myself an impossible task — to make realistic, flawed people a romantic ideal that will stick with a reader and make them want to not just see these characters succeed and find happiness, but find the ideal inside the flawed person, the way we do with the real-life people we love, knowing — as Brighid says — that they’re not perfect but they are perfect for us (or at least the us we invest in the characters we inhabit inside the pages of a book).
I want these characters to face their challenges, their flaws, and triumph. I want them to be the person you meet who fascinates you not because they’re so incredibly perfect but because their puzzle pieces are tangible and feel good to the fingers in your mind as you watch them come together. I want them to be people you’d bump into on the bus or find as a new co-worker, and then, perhaps improbably, connect with so deeply that you feel life would be somehow less without them.
So, no, I don’t have a lot of “alpha” characters in my books. There’s plenty out there if that’s your thing. And if you think some of my heroes are “betas” — again, do some research on actual wolf social structure — that’s fine, too. To me, they’re just people, striving for happiness in the same kind of haphazard, mistake-prone, learn-as-you-go way that most of us do in real life.
OK — with some magic, and a goddess, mythological creatures and unbelievable secrets mixed in, just to keep things interesting. But even rockstars and immortals have problems, and love can be as elusive over the course of millennia as it is over the course of years. But when you find it… Alpha or beta, rockstar, demigod or regular joe, you clasp it to your heart and soul with everything you’ve got, because it’s a precious gift you never want to lose.